Popular readers of C.S. Lewis and A Pilgrim in Narnia may be surprised that I have not been won over by Michael Ward’s thesis in Planet Narnia. It is an elegant, sophisticated, symmetrical, and well-argued idea about how C.S. Lewis constructed The Chronicles of Narnia. It is also, I think, one of the most important resources we have for reading Narnia.
I just happen to think his thesis is wrong.
Readers are often puzzled by my response as they are obviously won over by the beautiful synchronicity of Ward’s argument. “How can you not believe this?” I am asked when people find out that I don’t believe Michael’s argument in The Narnia Code and Planet Narnia. Often enough, people are baffled. One person cried, though people are usually more curious than anything else.
It is true, I am not won over. I have not voiced abroad my concerns about the work, but neither have I kept it as a secret. The academic world of Lewis studies, which is pretty small and supportive, has apparently picked up my thoughts. When they wanted to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Planet Narnia, the editors of An Unexpected Journal reached out to me for a response to the book. Most of the articles in celebration volume are laudatory (as one would hope), and they wanted a counterpoint from someone who was not won over.
Now, there are plenty of reasons why I should not write such an article.
First, the Lewis studies world is tiny. By example, I was having dinner with Michael Ward in Oxford just a few hours after I polished off my rough draft of the article. It was a good dinner and we were part of a good discussion afterward. I am friends with his friends. I like the work he does and the contribution he has made. Why would I take him on?
Second, An Unexpected Journal has an interesting core design. Here is the first line of their About page:
An Unexpected Journal is the endeavor of a merry band of Houston Baptist University Master of Arts in Apologetics students and alumni.
If you take a look at the last few editions, they have done some pretty interesting things. They have taken literature, pop culture, and theology and elevated the student conversation beyond a blog collective to an engaging e-zine. Well done.
But notice who teaches in the MA program at HBU?
Third, I don’t want to take time in my life to be a controversialist. I don’t have time, frankly. And I don’t like the feeling of controversy. It eats at my mind. I worry about it. The disagreement sits in my gut. There are loads of wonderful fans of Michael’s books, films, classes, and podcasts who have been transformed by his work. The idea of disappointing them–or looking like I’m trying to slay their friend and master–sits poorly with me.
Moreover, as an emerging scholar, my choice to take on a leading light in the field is a bit peculiar. Asking for trouble is not wise.
So why did I do this thing? My reasons are weak but numerous.
First, frankly, I was won over by the title of the collective project, An Unexpected Journal. Very cool, and I have thought of submitting something for some time. I imagined it would be an Inklings inspired poem or speculation, but they approached me about the PN celebration edition.
Second, I am not being sardonic or falsely gracious when I say that Planet Narnia is an essential reading resource for Narnia. Not just Narnia, actually. I think it is even more valuable as a resource for the Ransom Cycle. I hope, actually, to someday teach a high school semester of English using The Narnia Code and the Chronicles. Planet Narnia has helped me clarify my thoughts about C.S. Lewis’ work and helped me root myself more deeply into the soil of Lewis’ imagination. In short, Michael’s work has helped me read closely and can help others to do the same.
So in writing, I am not just honouring Michael’s work, but suggesting where we can move forward with it. I think there is a better way to read Michael’s “data”–a better way to put the text of Narnia in conversation with the medieval world that gives light and colour to much of the work.
Third, I had already organized a series of blog posts for January and February 2019 where I break down the different parts of the argument. Basically, I had the article written when the request came in. An Unexpected Journal showed up and gave me a chance to publish a 4000-word argument in a single article. Then I can use my blog to attend to various parts of the thesis, hopefully in conversation with the other contributors and readers.
So this article works well to launch a Considering the Planet Narnia Series. In 2019, I will be dealing with questions like:
- What is the Planet Narnia Thesis and Why is it Important?
- What do we do with the Planet Narnia conspiracy theory?
- Why I think C.S. Lewis would have rejected the Planet Narnia Thesis?
- What is a better way to read Planet Narnia‘s main argument?
- With all the fans, why has so little academic attention been paid to the Planet Narnia Thesis?
- Am I Just Resistant to New Ideas? (i.e., am I just a jerk?)
Then I will open the blog to you, dear readers, so you can show me why I am still wrong.
Because of interest, partnership, helpfulness, and the hope to honour in disagreement–these are the reasons I took on this task. Meanwhile, I hope that you will look at the 2018 Advent edition of An Unexpected Journal, where you will see some guest bloggers to A Pilgrim in Narnia, as well as authors we’ve discussed here. Perhaps you can even turn the digital page to my own article, “(Re)Considering the Planet Narnia Thesis.” Perceptive readers of Planet Narnia will see some puns that I’ve hidden throughout the piece, including the title. I hope you enjoy, and maybe I’ll win a few over to my dark side. Even if I don’t, I do hope that I help people in critically considering how we read, how we do research, and the way we deepen our reading of a classic text.