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Michael Ward: ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ Are Mini-Masterpieces of Medieval Scholarship

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If you’ve read C.S. LewisChronicles of Narnia, perhaps the books have seemed to be a “hodge podge” of styles. But was it all intentional? Did Lewis have a uniting theory behind these books?

Dr. Michael Ward says yes. In this video from Southeastern’s Center of Faith and Culture, Ward presents his eye-opening theory, which he’s previously explained in his book Planet Narnia and the BBC documentary The Narnia Code.

Dr. Ward will return to Southeastern Seminary on Sept. 18, 2018 to continue the conversation about C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia. Learn more and pre-register now.

Here are some highlights:

On whether the Narnia books are “random.”
“The books do seem to be comprised out of very various literary materials, don’t they? You can’t deny it. The only question is why would Lewis do something which is seemingly so random? And indeed, is it actually random or is it apparently random? Because Lewis was not the kind of person who did things randomly or carelessly. He was a very rigorous and consistent thinker.”

Why Ward understands skepticism about his theory.
“It’s a very big claim that I’m making, that Lewis had a secret but intentional plan for the Narnia books which he told nobody about (not even close friends like Tolkien) and that nobody noticed for several decades until I came along and discovered it. How arrogant a claim is that? That is preposterous. If anyone came to me with such a claim, I would look at them very carefully before believing them.”

A summary of five background points.
“Lewis could be secretive, himself, just personally. Lewis’s whole theory of consciousness involved one whole mode of consciousness that necessarily entailed a kind of hiddenness or invisibility (when you look along the beam [of light]). We found a theological equivalent of that in the all-pervasive principle of cohesion whereby the universe holds together, namely Christ. We’re looking along this Christ-drenched universe every minute of every day; we can’t get out of it. We found a literary version of that in the pervasive quality of a well told tale. And then we found how God could be masked behind a pagan veil, dressed up as Zeus or Jupiter or whoever it may be. Those are our five background points. With those in place, I hope it will be less of a stretch to believe that Lewis could be up to something very sophisticated and secretive in the Narnia Chronicles.”

The Chronicles of Narnia are not just well told tales. They are mini-masterpieces of medieval scholarship.

On Lewis’s more important (but forgotten) book.
“When Lewis published [English Literature in the Sixteenth Century: Excluding Drama], he wrote to a friend and said, ‘Thank goodness I’ve finished this big academic work I’ve been engaged in these last fifteen years.’ And then he adds, ‘It was the top tune all those years. And all the other books I published during that period were just its little twiddly bits.’ Which means that Narnia and Screwtape and Mere Christianity were, as far as Lewis was concerned, just the little twiddly bits of this massive intellectual enterprise. But we now know Lewis for the twiddly bits, and virtually nobody has read the top tune. How ironic! We get things absolutely back to front. If we want to understand the man who wrote Narnia, we want to understand the man who writes this.”

Was Narnia a hodge podge — or something more?
“On the surface, then, Narnia looks like a hodge podge. Tolkien got that much right. But then the real world itself often looks like a hodge podge, doesn’t it? When we see accidents happen and all sorts of inexplicable things occur, can we really believe that God is in charge? Can we really believe that there is intelligent design in this universe and God is working his purposes out? Doesn’t everything suggest the opposite it does.

“But the Christian belief is ‘no.’ God’s divine purposes are at work. The universe is teeming with creative intelligence if only we have eyes to see it and ears to hear it. The heavens are telling the glory of God. There is no speech, their voice is not heard with the literal ear, yet their voice goes out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world. Everything speaks of God’s loving, creative purpose — for those who have the God-given faith to perceive it — down to the curve of every wave and the flight of every insect. And Lewis and Narnia gives us a marvelous, imaginative correlative of that Christian truth.”

The universe is teeming with creative intelligence if only we have eyes to see it and ears to hear it.

On the greatness of the Narnia books.
“These works are not just well told tales. They’re not just Christianly edifying. They are mini-masterpieces of medieval scholarship as well. They’re even better than we thought they were.”

Dr. Ward will return to Southeastern Seminary on Sept. 18, 2018 to continue the conversation about C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia. Learn more and pre-register now.

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Center for Faith and Culture

The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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