The Lion, The Witch, and the Whaaaat – Astrology in Narnia?
Over the course of the past year a lot of astrologers have been talking about this new book that came out in January called Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis by a scholar named Michael Ward. In the book the author argues that C. S. Lewis patterned his seven book Chronicles of Narnia series after the seven visible planets of Medieval astrology/cosmology. Lynn Hayes covered it on her blog the other day, and Christine wrote an article on it last month.
Astrologers are interested in this because it paints one of the major literary works of the 20th century in a completely new light, and it perhaps suggests that C.S. Lewis himself was somewhat amenable to astrology despite his Christian background.
A number of people have been rather surprised by Ward’s discovery, and while I was rather impressed and excited about the extent to which he was able to draw out the symbolism that C. S. Lewis was using in his Narnia books and other writings, I think that a lot of people have overlooked the fact that there is a pretty explicit reference to astrology in one of the books already, more subtle allusions aside.
In the seventh book of the Narnia series, The Last Battle, towards the beginning of the book when everyone in Narnia is talking about the return of Aslan, a centaur named Roonwit shows up and there is this interesting dialog about dire astrological portents:
“Sire,” he said, “You know how long I have lived and studied the stars; for we Centaurs live longer than you men, and even longer than your kind, Unicorn. Never in all my days have I seen such terrible things written in the skies as there have been nightly since this year began. The stars say nothing of the coming of Aslan, nor of peace, nor or joy. … The stars never lie, but Men and Beasts do.”
This passage always struck me as being particularly evocative and moving from an astrologer’s perspective. Obviously Lewis’ was partially drawing on the Bible, with its references to astrology surrounding the second coming of Christ in Luke 21:25:
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring…
On a side note, it is also notable that J. K. Rowling gave a tip of the hat to Lewis’ centaur astrologer character by having one of her own in the Harry Potter series, although her centaur, Firenze, seems like he was made to be a bit more ambiguous about the ability of astrologers to read the stars, as well as about the subject of free-will in general. Listen to this passage from the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer/Philosopher’s Stone :
“What have you been telling him?” growled Bane. “Remember, Firenze, we are sworn not to set ourselves against the heavens. Have we not read what is to come in the movements of the planets?”
Ronan pawed the ground nervously. “I’m sure Firenze thought he was acting for the best,” he said in his gloomy voice.
Bane kicked his legs in anger.
“For the best! What is that to do with us? Centaurs are concerned with what has been foretold! It is not our business to run around like donkeys after stray humans in our forest!”
“Do you see that unicorn?” Firenze bellowed at Bane. “Do you not understand why it was killed? Or have the planets not let you in on that secret? I set myself against what is lurking in this forest, Bane, yes, with humans alongside me if I must.”
Firenze: “Good luck, Harry Potter,” said Firenze. “The planets have been read wrongly before now, even by centaurs. I hope this is one of those times.” (page 15, source)
What is interesting is that Lewis and Rowling are both examples of modern authors who were subtly tapping into a long-standing tradition of incorporating astrological motifs and philosophical themes into their literary works.
These references have a way of subtly keeping astrology alive in the collective conscious of their readers, and although they probably don’t even realize it, the reader has been introduced to some of the fundamental cosmological and philosophical premises that astrologers have been practicing and debating for centuries.