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Planet Narnia

Please don't close the door behind you.

Postby Jill-at-the-Well » 30 Jan 2008, 08:42

Having read over this forum, and the other one, and read one article by Michael Ward, I come to these conclusions (this is rather long, but if you read all of it I'll love you forever. But if not, then at least read the last paragraph, it sums up what I wanted to say):

It is entirely possible that C.S. Lewis may have thought of the books as corresponding to the spheres - after all, the planetary section toward That Hideous Strength is one of the most ravishing things I have ever read, so clearly he loved that particular mythological idea. And having read over the spheres that are supposed to go with each book, they do make a good deal of sense. The idea of seven as the perfect number, matching up with the seven days of creation, of the week, the seven planets, is found in Chesterton as well. It makes sense that Lewis would let it play into his books. I like the idea, and I think it is a good one. It fits, it is pleasing and satisfying.

However...

I don't think that this is "THE unifying theme to the books." As though the books are pointless and mismatched without it. He seems to me to say a good deal of nonsense in an introduction I read. "Why do three of the books seem to be clear Biblical allegories while the other four have no obvious scriptural foundation?" What?!? Both halves of that seem to me to be nonsense. Neither LWW, nor TMN, nor TLB are "clear Biblical allegories." I could go through and point out the vast differences between the Biblical story and those three books, point out the enormous sections of plot that do not directly connect to the Bible, but it's so late it's early and you all know the books well enough to render this unnecessary. And the other four do have scriptural foundation - or if not directly scriptural, then certainly relation to our walk with God. All the story of Aslan's involvement throughout Shasta's life? The way Aslan's call to Jill so closely parallels the call to the woman at the well - and to me?

Basically, Ward's arrogance grates on me. I'm sorry to all of you who have met him in person and are going to yell at me for this - but I think he thinks way too much of himself for figuring this out. I never thought the books lacked cohesion, and I tend to be sensitive to things not fitting together right. I think that those scholars who have commented on the books disconnection are stuck in a rut of books having to all be written the same way, like most of the mass-produced fantasy novels out today. God does not always manifest himself in the same way to us here - why should Aslan always be present in the same way in Narnia? Whoever said that books in a series must follow a formulaic plot? "The majority of Lewis scholars, however, have neither dismissed the Chronicles as a regrettable jumble nor regarded the jumble as a good thing." What scholars is he refering to, exactly? If someone could post me references to articles or books that mention this I would appreciate it.

And besides, how is Father Christmas' appearance random in a book where the repeated phrase is "always winter and never Christmas?"

In final conclusion - I think that he is probably right, that Lewis did have these things in mind. It makes a good deal of sense, and it fits with Lewis' other writings, and the idea of it brings me a sense of joy and rightness. But I think that it is false to say that the Chronicles are "a jumble" without this discovery. And I wish, oh I wish with all my heart, so much that I get tears in my eyes for the wishing, that this beautiful discovery could have been made by someone who would have humbly delighted in it, instead of an arrogant person who would act like he had discovered the secret of the universe and made it possible for us to finally really enjoy the Narnia books. It is like you lived in a beautiful house that had a secret room in it, and instead of your dear cousin whispering, "Come this way and see what I've found!" the obnoxious neighbor boy marched in with his nose in the air to say that all your relations had been wondering what was wrong with this house and he had figured out why it seemed wrong because he knew the builder's real plan. When you didn't think there was anything wrong with the house in the first place. You would have loved the secret room - thought it wonderful and beautiful - but instead you are just annoyed with him for acting like it's the only thing that makes the house any good and he practically owns the house since he discovered it. It is a glorious discovery, but not the most important thing, not what makes the house - or the books - worthwhile.
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"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.
"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."
"There is no other stream," said the Lion.
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Postby repectabiggle » 30 Jan 2008, 14:43

I did read all your post. :toothy-grin:

Again, I think everybody objecting to the book would do well to read it, because I really think they're objecting to it based on little snippets they've read. Back when I first heard the idea I thought "Oh, that'd be nice, but it's probably not true," and the more I thought about it, the less I thought it was likely to be true. However, the full book really makes the little snippets seem rather lame and very unlike the argument itself.

Now, as much as I love the whole thing, I'm trying really hard not to designate myself the sole internet defender of the work, because I'd probably do it poorly (probably already have) and internet arguments (not in the pejorative sense--I know we're all friends here) tend to rile me up too much for my own good! If I'm going to be any sort of champion, my shield will bear the motto "Read the Book," because I'm convinced that objectors will find their objections met in the book and find themselves struck by the whole thing as much as I am. If not. . .well, but we'll see.

I understand completely what you're saying about Dr Ward, Jill, but I think that's just his excitement, couple with or driven by his certainty, coming through; I really don't think it's arrogance.

At any rate, I really do hope that everybody reads the book. If I have to mail my copy around, I will! :toothy-grin:

Cheers!
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Postby Jill-at-the-Well » 30 Jan 2008, 17:22

Thanks for reading, respectabiggle! (Incidentally, that's a marvelous username.)

I think I will read the book - I'll get it next time I go to the library, if it's available. I'm fascinated by the idea, and perhaps Ward will improve on further acquaintance. Nonetheless, I stand by my final conclusions.
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"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.
"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."
"There is no other stream," said the Lion.
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Postby repectabiggle » 30 Jan 2008, 17:33

Fair enough!

However, I seem to have missed the S in my username when I first created it. Ugh. I wonder if John can fix that or if I'd need to re-register.
Last edited by repectabiggle on 30 Jan 2008, 17:36, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Jill-at-the-Well » 30 Jan 2008, 17:35

Lol, I didn't even notice! Hopefully he can find a way for you to change it.
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"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.
"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."
"There is no other stream," said the Lion.
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Postby KnightOfFaith » 30 Jan 2008, 18:58

I too read your post, Jill, and I agree with nearly all of it. It was also probably the easiest thing I'll ever have to do to have someone love me forever :wink:

repectabiggle (<-no "s" :-) ), while I understand your feeling that one must read Ward's book (which will probably happen for me this weekend) I just wanted to make clear what it is that I'll be looking for as I read, and I would encourage others to do the same.

In his essay "On Criticism" (found in the collection Of Other Worlds) Lewis writes:

"No story can be devised by the wit of man which cannot be interpreted allegorically by the wit of some other man...The mere fact that you can allegorize the work before you is of itself no proof that it is an allegory. Of course you can allegorize it. You can allegorize anything, whether in art or real life...We ought not to allegorize any work until we have plainly set out the reasons for regarding it as an allegory at all."

As documented in the other forum, Lewis expressed most notably in the afterword to Pilgrim's Regress that he detested hidden/private meanings. He also wrote about how he wrote his children's stories, which can be found in the short essay "It All Began With a Picture" in the same collection Of Other Worlds, and no mention at all was made to the seven heavens as a backdrop to writing the stories, while significant discussion of allusions to Christian themes were mentioned. And I know of no letter of his that refers to a secret meaning or another layer of significant meaning to his stories, even though he wrote extensively to his readers about his Narnia series.

We are not dealing with an author like Soren Kierkegaard for example, who believed that the reader should uncover his private and elaborate secret meaning (like Either/Or for example) because "the task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted." We are dealing with a writer who is adamantly against this and who at the end of his life gave the following advice to aspiring authors:

"The way for a person to develop a style is (a) to know exactly what he wants to say, and (b) to be sure he is saying exactly that. The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean. If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him. I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left of the right the readers will most certainly go into it"

Therefore, from what I know of Lewis and his writings, I have no reason to believe that there is a significant hidden theme underlying the Chronicles in the way Ward describes on his website. The mere fact that Ward can allegorize the books (if indeed he can, which I have significant reservations about) says nothing to me, as well as to Lewis. What I'll be looking for is the prima facie case that Ward will need to lay out for me to believe Lewis intended to secretly base (or allegorize) the books on the 7 heavens.
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Postby a_hnau » 09 Mar 2008, 17:04

Hi, all. 'Fraid I've come rather late to the party having just finished "Planet Narnia". I think there are three key things to consider in response to this book;

- is he 'right'?
- has he said anything which seems obviously 'just wrong'?
- are there things in the book which are 'right' and which the average reader (or even the non-average reader, which covers many of us) might not have thought of themselves?

For what it's worth, I'd answer;

- is he right? I don't know, but even if it's wrong, it's wrong in interesting ways.
- is there anything obviously 'wrong'? Can't immediately answer this one - there are things which when I read them, I thought "I didn't read what Lewis wrote, in that way" - but I'd have to go back and look very carefully to see if I'm the one who's missed it. There are things he hasn't said that I would have referred to, but how thick a book would it have been.
- does it point out things that many of us wouldn't have spotted, but we immediately recognise as 'right', as making connections we hadn't grasped - absolutely.

Certainly I enjoyed the things I learned about the seven planets, and the way that Ward weaves together elements from Lewis's books - it's relatively rare that a writer on Lewis moves between Narnia, the Trilogy, Till We Have Faces, the poems, plus additional material from letters, the theological books, ... Whatever we think of Ward's core hypothesis, he knows his stuff, and is worth listening to.
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Postby Paul F. Ford » 09 Mar 2008, 17:40

a_hnau wrote:I think there are three key things to consider in response to this book;

- is he 'right'?
- has he said anything which seems obviously 'just wrong'?
- are there things in the book which are 'right' and which the average reader (or even the non-average reader, which covers many of us) might not have thought of themselves?

For what it's worth, I'd answer;

- is he right? I don't know, but even if it's wrong, it's wrong in interesting ways.
- is there anything obviously 'wrong'? Can't immediately answer this one - there are things which when I read them, I thought "I didn't read what Lewis wrote, in that way" - but I'd have to go back and look very carefully to see if I'm the one who's missed it. There are things he hasn't said that I would have referred to, but how thick a book would it have been.
- does it point out things that many of us wouldn't have spotted, but we immediately recognise as 'right', as making connections we hadn't grasped - absolutely.

Certainly I enjoyed the things I learned about the seven planets, and the way that Ward weaves together elements from Lewis's books - it's relatively rare that a writer on Lewis moves between Narnia, the Trilogy, Till We Have Faces, the poems, plus additional material from letters, the theological books, ... Whatever we think of Ward's core hypothesis, he knows his stuff, and is worth listening to.


Well said! In his essay "On Criticism" (Of Other Worlds: Essay and Stories) Lewis wrote,
It is the author who intends; the book means. . . . the meaning of a book is the series or systems of emotions, reflections, and attitudes produced by reading it.
. . . this product differs with different readers. . . . The ideally true or right meaning would be that shared . . . by the largest number of the best readers after repeated and careful readings over several generations, different periods, nationalities, moods, degrees of alertness, private pre-occupations, states of health, spirits, and the like cancelling one another out when . . . they cannot be fused so as to enrich one another.

Dr. Ward is incorrect if he claims that Lewis intended a parallel of the Chronicles to the seven planetary spheres. If he is only saying that our understanding of the meaning of the Chronicles can be enhanced by our understanding of medieval cosmology, that is another thing.

Back in the late 1970's, when I was writing my Companion to Narnia,, I studied this line of inquiry and dismissed it when I saw I was trying to force such an interpretation as THE one intended by Lewis. I revisited the matter when I read Dr. Ward's 2003 article, weighed it again, and again found it unconvincing.

I agree with you, a_hnau, with KnightOfFaith, and with Jill-at-the-Well.
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Postby a_hnau » 14 Mar 2008, 22:48

Not totally connected, but I've just watched (for the third time, once when it was released at the cinema and now twice on DVD), Kenneth Branagh's "As You Like It". This and his "Much Ado" are two of my all-time favourite films. Having just also re-read Planet Narnia it struck me that of course the melancholy Jacques in AYLI is "Saturnine", the good Duke is "Jovial", and the usurping Duke is "Martial" in that planet's negative aspect. I'm sure I'm not the first to notice the parallels that could be drawn between "As You Like It" and "That Hideous Strength". So being reminded of the characteristics of the seven heavens is definitely proving fruitful.
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Postby carol » 31 Mar 2008, 07:10

When I said that the ideas were not new, it was because I recall such ideas being discussed on this very forum, about eight years ago, by some well-read and erudite minds....

Now, I have just found an interesting comment made by Douglas Gresham, in a very recent interview in relation to the upcoming Prince Caspian film:

And yes, people do go out of their way to try to find all kinds of hidden meanings. We seem to be a species that loves conspiracy theories: "There has to be a hidden meaning, there has to be a hidden structure." A very nice man and a friend of mine, Michael Ward, has recently written and published a book all about how Narnian Chronicles are all based on the seven planets of the medieval astronomical system. I like Michael enormously, but I think his book is nonsense.


You can read the context of this quote (a bit broader discussion of allegory) at this location: http://www.narniaweb.com/news.asp?id=1543&dl=16486955
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Postby a_hnau » 31 Mar 2008, 16:40

carol wrote:When I said that the ideas were not new, it was because I recall such ideas being discussed on this very forum, about eight years ago, by some well-read and erudite minds....

Now, I have just found an interesting comment made by Douglas Gresham, in a very recent interview in relation to the upcoming Prince Caspian film:

And yes, people do go out of their way to try to find all kinds of hidden meanings. We seem to be a species that loves conspiracy theories: "There has to be a hidden meaning, there has to be a hidden structure." A very nice man and a friend of mine, Michael Ward, has recently written and published a book all about how Narnian Chronicles are all based on the seven planets of the medieval astronomical system. I like Michael enormously, but I think his book is nonsense.


With all due respect to Douglas Gresham, Ward's book is not 'nonsense'. This may be hyperbole on Gresham's part to emphasise very strongly that he disagrees with Ward's conclusion i.e. that Lewis intended deliberately to fit his Narnia books into a scheme based on the seven planets; but (as I've said previously in this thread) much of what Ward says is nevertheless true and insightful, and clearly based on a deep knowledge of Lewis's work and the medieval and other literary and philosophical background.

Actually, having read Douglas Gresham's latest book, Jack's Life, I'm afraid I found it very unhelpful; it appears (though this is nowhere stated) to be aimed at a young readership, and (just in my personal opinion) oversimplifies (in some cases I would go so far as to say trivialises) some very complex issues in a way that begs a number of the questions the readers may ask, and also in ways that I'm not personally clear that Lewis himself would have subscribed to.

Certainly it's Ward's book I would take onto a desert island, and that's saying something, given that normally I would give the highest value to the material written by the person closest to Lewis.
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Postby carol » 02 Apr 2008, 08:04

"Jack's Life" is indeed aimed at the younger reader, and deliberately begins with a very accessible writing style, moving into a more mature style as the chapters unfold, leading the young reader into the story. [this is based on what I heard the writer say at a gathering in 2006]
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Postby Stanley Anderson » 23 Apr 2008, 20:59

I just read a review of the book in the current issue of First Things (I was hoping it might be online on the First Things website so I could link to it, but it is apparently not). I have to admit that the review and the examples it provided made the book sound quite interesting and feasible. I don't think an author has to be explicitly conscious of a process in order to incorporate it into his work, although something as ambitious as the Ward suggests would likely have to be pretty conscious (just as I'm convinced my "chessboard" theory of THS would have to be a pretty conscious effort on Lewis' part to have it all work out in such amazing detail).

And Lewis was clearly enamored of the "character" of the various spheres since he embeds them so intergrally into the Space Trilogy (and elsewhere of course), especially THS. As a delightful and "deep" (to me at least) example of this, in my chessboard theory, the descent of the gods at St. Annes has its contrasting parallel in the Banquet at Belbury chapter where, in a very direct and rich way, the animals attacking the banquet guests correspond with the gods "influencing" the company downstairs at St. Annes (not to mention the contrast of the gods at St. Annes being "above" man, and the animals at Belbury "below"). I won't go into the whole thing except to note the wonderful capstone of the animal scene that so nicely parallels the coming, finally, of Glund (Jupiter) to St. Annes. Please read the whole paragraph or section in the Banquet at Belbury chapter about the entrance of the elephant and its almost gleeful or "jovial" path of wild and utter manic destruction into the room. The part I'll quote though, is the last line of that scene: "Here surely came the King of the world." Whew! the whole scene with all the various animals is exhilarating (horrible as it is of course) when "seen" as the counterpart to the descent of the gods scene at St. Annes. Compare them side-to-side to get the full impact.

Anyway, I don't know what all Ward goes into, not having read the book yet, but the First Things review gives many good and interesting examples and I'm now curious to read it. Since Lewis wrote the Narnia books after the Space Trilogy, if he was so very strongly enamored of the planetary character in SP, it is not a stretch to think of him making it all the more rich in the Narnia books (by the way, I don't know if Ward makes this point, but I seem to remember one of Lewis' letters talking about the Narnia books' creation and saying that he originally wrote LWW and then later was going to stop at VDT and saying it had to be three volumes, or, if not, then seven (maybe Sven can tell me if I'm remembering correctly). If this is true, he certainly must have had "seven-ness" in mind and it would flow directly out of the idea of seven spheres for anyone familiar with his fascination with medieval concepts.

As a side note, I have my own "key" to the books of Narnia, not just of the various volumes, but also to the order (the original published order of course, not that "mechanical" travesty of semi-chronological:-). I don't know if Ward's "planets" key also accounts for the written order or not, but one of the reasons I "like" my "key" to the books (I hope I can avoid the arrogance that bothers JatW:-) is precisely the fact that it suggests a "natural" progression for the order of the books. I originally posted the idea many years ago on these forums, and I think I even reposted it at carol's request years later (and yet that last time was still years ago), so I'm tempted to post it again here, just because it has been quite a while and it fits in (sor of) with this thread (at least the "key to Narnia" idea being talked about). So, anyway, here it is:
-----------------------------------------------
[The “key] has to with a sort of "journey" that a typical Christian might take in going from unbeliever to believer to mature Christian (again, I say "typical" -- of course each person's journey is different, some radically so, but there are certain generalities that probably apply to many Christians' walk.) To me, the books, looking at what appear to be a different primary theme in each book, seem to follow this typical journey in a sort of symbolic way.

And when I say that, a flood of other lesser (but still important) themes and caveats and digressions enter my mind. But I have to limit myself to a rather simplistic exposition here. (And keep in mind that these primary themes or "steps" often overlap, so that one does not "end" before the next "begins". Still, there is a typical order of exposure to them, I think)

So. Typically a person's first encounter with the Christian Faith is his conviction of sin and subsequent confrontation with the Christ in his sacrifice on the cross and the Resurrection and redemption of the sinner. And this is exactly the primary theme of LWW as the "proper" first book in the series.

Lewis mentions in several places in his works that one of the first things that a new Christian will encounter after conversion, and one to be aware of in advance, is a sort of dry spell where the initial rush of joy or ecstasy that a Christian may have felt falls away, so that the determination of will to follow Christ can be strengthened. And this seems to be one of, if not THE primary theme of PC as we see when the children find themselves in the dilapidated ruins of Cair Paravel and begin traveling along so that they must "walk by faith" even though they cannot initially see Aslan as clearly as Lucy (who, even she, must take on faith for part of the journey)

As a Christian continues in the faith one of the things that most people begin facing is the confrontation of their life with Christian morals and the changes they need to start working on. I think VDT can be seen as a sort of episodic morality play where the characters are presented with various moral situations on the various islands and adventures.

Daily immersion in and memorization of Scripture is something that a Christian must eventually consider and is the next "step", if you will, in their walk. And this seems to be one of the main themes of The Silver Chair where Jill and Eustace are supposed to memorize and repeat to themselves and be intimately familiar with the four signs given to Jill by Aslan. It is precisely their laziness in this task and lack of perseverance that results in many of their problems in the book. Being so familiar with them that they become second nature would have helped them many times throughout the book.

As Lewis indicates, Pride is one of the hardest things for the Christian to let go of, and so often it comes as one of the "later" steps to be fully confronted and dealt with (though of course it is an ongoing battle with no "sharply defined" beginning or end). And the issue of pride seems, to me, to be the central theme that we see in HHB -- we see it primarily in Bree, but also in Rabadash, and in the other characters like Aravis and Shasta.

It seems a common enough idea among prospective Christians that the way they should investigate the religion is to read the Bible from cover to cover, starting with Genesis and going straight through to The Revelation. But this rarely works out that way (how many people have “eagerly” started that task and never got past the first few chapters of Genesis?). As indicated above, the first encounter is most often with Christ himself in the Gospels. Most "beginnings" tend to come rather late in the game. And so the juxtaposition of Old Testament with New and the intermeshing of prophesies in the OT with their fulfillment in the NT and the grand picture of God's hand running throughout the entire Bible is something that one doesn't get a very robust sense of until quite a ways into their Christian journey. It is only then that things begin to "make sense" with a sort of "ah, look -- we see Jesus' necessity even back here in Genesis". And of course this is the sort of thing we encounter in MN where we "discover" many things that were only hinted about in the earlier books, and LWW in particular.

And of course last things properly come last -- The Revelation of John, again is something new Christians like to "hover" over (and blessed are they for it! I wouldn't have anyone "hold off" on reading it), but it is something that is more enriching for the mature Faith with its all encompassing reassurance and "completion" of end things. And this is of course what we find in LB which starts out, and continues till nearly the end with such devastating events, until they are completely overshadowed by the glorious and powerful ending.

------------------------------------------
Well that is the gist of it. End of side-track:-),
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…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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Postby Jill-at-the-Well » 23 Apr 2008, 22:38

Aww... you're sweet. And no, I was not bothered one bit, in fact I loved your "key." Parts of it have actually come to my mind before - there is a reason my name is what it is. Guess what my biggest struggle is?

And dash it all, I don't have a copy of THS with me. I really want to look up what you were saying about the animals at Belbury and find all the correspondences. I like matching-up things in general, but have a distinct distaste for arrogance... of course Lewis would say that that means I am especially arrogant myself. Rats.

I like reading people's posts on this forum so much.
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"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.
"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."
"There is no other stream," said the Lion.
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Postby Stanley Anderson » 24 Apr 2008, 20:20

Jill-at-the-Well wrote:...I don't have a copy of THS with me. I really want to look up what you were saying about the animals at Belbury and find all the correspondences.


I hope I made clear that that is just one very small portion of the parallels between St. Anne's and Belbury/NICE. There really is a pretty amazing lineup, almost like opposing chess pieces on a chessboard between the characters, places, events and situations for the two "camps". Mind you, they don't connect to actual chess pieces, just the "matching opposition" aspect -- except for the very interesting parallel to the chess king piece for Ransom and Alcasan, both "heads" of the opposing camps and interestingly, like the king in a chess game that can only move one space at a time, are both very limited in their movement, Ransom by his injured foot, and Alcasan by, well, his extreme circumstances:-)

But there are tons more examples that I could go on for pages about (and have at times here in the past:-)

--Stanley
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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