I first became acquainted with C.S.Lewis’s classic Chronicles of Narnia as a college student when I took a modern mythology class with Dr. Clyde Kilby. Dr. Kilby was a friend of both Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, and his collection of the writings of the Inklings, as Lewis and his colleagues were called, was the beginning of what is now the world-renowned Wade Collection at my alma mater, Wheaton College.
Since they were first published in the 1950s, the books in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series have been translated into more than thirty different languages, made into major motion pictures, and established as classics of English literature. Despite their wide popularity, readers and literary scholars alike have been mystified by unanswered questions about the symbolism purported to be behind the series.
In The Narnia Code: C. S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens, Lewis scholar and lecturer Dr. Michael Ward reveals the organizing key behind the seven books. Hailed by the London Times Literary Supplement as “the foremost living Lewis scholar,” Ward has devoted years of study to reevaluating Lewis’s literary and theological outlook. His academic work Planet Narnia was the subject of a BBC documentary watched by millions of people that will be released here in the U.S. this fall.
I have to admit that I was skeptical when I started reading the book. A secret code that Lewis never divulged to anyone? C’mon…
Dr. Alan Jacobs, professor of English at Wheaton College, was also skeptical when he first heard of Michael Ward’s claim to have discovered a “secret imaginative key” to the Narnia books. But he later said, “My own castle of skepticism was gradually but utterly demolished as I read [Planet Narnia.]”
“The Narnia books are mysterious on three levels,” comments Ward. “The basic story with its incongruities, the biblical parallels, and then a third level of meaning that ties together all the puzzling elements. That’s the mystery I wanted to uncover: the Narnia ‘code’ waiting to be cracked.”
But I still wondered, why wouldn’t Lewis have told anyone if such a code actually existed?
Dr. Ward has an intriguing explanation: “Assuming that Lewis did have a plan behind the series, is it really possible that he could have kept the plan to himself and told no one about it? Did he have the sort of personality capable of sitting on a big secret of this kind?
“The most striking example of his secretiveness was when he got married and kept it secret for the best part of a year. And his autobiography Surprised by Joy avoided mentioning so many important things that one of his friends joked a better title would have been Suppressed by Jack! The more I found out about his personality, the more I suspected there was a hidden meaning to Narnia.”
I’m not going to be a spoiler and give away the code, but if you’re a Narnia fan as I am, this is one book you’ll want to add to your collection.
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