chalcedony_cat: fan from the v&a (Default)
[personal profile] chalcedony_cat
I had some of a post, but my computer ated it.

So I will dive in again! Planet Narnia by Michael Ward. It is fascinating; Ward argues that there is a unity to the Chronicles of Narnia because Lewis was basing the atmosphere of each book off of the medieval symbolic spiritual meaning of a particular planet. (This is not astrology in the modern sense.) I'm finding it a complicated thesis to summarise here, in part because 'atmosphere' is such a difficult thing to talk about -- Lewis apparently found it so himself, and wrote about his frustrations with trying to do critical analysis on a quality which didn't have a lot of useful critical language. IIRC he wrote about it a lot in On Stories, which I haven't read yet but now really want to.

Anyway... Ward argues that this unity underlies the series, and I've just gotten into the part of the book where he starts giving examples, one novel (and planet) at a time. Lewis was very concerned with the ideas symbolised by Jupiter, because he felt that they were being entirely lost due to the traumas of the 20th century, and thus people were finding it more and more difficult to understand what it meant to be truly 'Jovial'. He wrote a lot of poetry about it, and the planets in general, and put it into his science fiction trilogy (which I have not been able to read due to horrible triggery stuff), and so when he began Narnia he was still very focused on it. Thus The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is full of Jovian energy, which is all about overcoming winter and generous peace-loving kingship and pomp and joy, which the book certainly has its fair share of. Of course, Lewis was also describing his idea of what Incarnation and Salvation might look like in a world different than our own, so there's a lot of other stuff going on too, but Ward argues that the ways in which Lewis describes & uses Aslan are themselves Jovian -- the lion, the king in his rich pavilion, the dancing with the girls, etc etc.

I am, so far, finding it a pretty convincing thesis, in part because a lot of the elements of the novel which worked for me as a kid and then seemed weird as an adult -- like Father Christmas showing up -- make a great deal of sense if Lewis is trying to show a lot of forms of generous, magnanimous kingship. I'd come up with this on my own between hearing about Ward's thesis & starting the book, but Father Christmas (Santa Claus) is the one referent modern people still have for 'jovial' -- large, loud, associated with red (at least red-faced if not wearing red clothes), generous and powerful and warm and, well, jovial. Jolly. So it fits in with the atmosphere, yes, even if it doesn't fit in on a lot of other axes.

It is nice to be reading literary criticism of the sort which makes me think and think and think. Once my thoughts have cohered some more I may take a stab at this 'atmosphere' thing myself, since I knew exactly what Ward and the quoted Lewis were talking about, and it's something I've found surprisingly difficult to communicate.
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