The Horse and His Boy, Planet Narnia, and Mercury


several months ago now we read CS Lewis's The Horse and His Boy together. At the time I meant to reread the relevant chapter in Michael Ward's Planet Narnia, but other things happened and I have only just got back to this.

Ward's main thesis is that Lewis constructed the entire Narnian series - seven books - based on the Medieval astrological view of the world as made up of seven concentric spheres surrounding our Earth. The seven in order ascending from Earth are Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn - in astronomical terms broadly heading through the inner system first and then the outer one, but that is an entirely different way of looking at the phenomena.

If you're interested in this very compelling attempt to unravel Lewis's imaginative and metaphorical construction, the book is well worth it (  and is now available in a variety of formats (years ago when I bought it it was hardback only :) ). Briefly, Ward looks at key themes, recurrent words and phrases, prominence of particular objects and what they are made of, and a whole diverse mix of bits and pieces to establish connections between each book and one or other of the seven planets.

So The Horse and his Boy is characterised by a heavy pairing of twins or associations - Gemini the Twins being ruled by Mercury in medieval thinking. Indeed, the whole plot is driven by the reuniting of sundered twins, and in Archenland, apparently, twins are common. Not only that, but mythologically speaking, Castor and Pollux are respectively said to be a great horseman and a great boxer, a direct parallel to Cor and Corin. Beyond specific human pairings, the journey is constantly being forced to confront paired choices of direction etc.

Mercury is also, of course, the messenger of the gods, and Shasta's primary role is as messenger. Again more widely, messengers and messages fill the book, along with a need for haste and being fleet-of-foot. There are also frequent references to language, and in particular contrasting the dullness of (most, not all) Calormene poetry/song with the liveliness of that of Narnia and Archenland. But not only are words important - on specific occasions silence is the appropriate response... recognising the limitations of language as well as the potential. And arguably, Lewis's own use of language on multiple levels is at its best in this book (or Dawn Treader, for different reasons).

Anyway, I was convinced by Ward's arguments, and rereading the book made it seem altogether compelling that both The Horse and His Boy and the whole Narnia series had this underlying metaphor behind it. At very minimum, the book sheds some fascinating lights on Lewis's use of language and his ability to draw on Medieval and earlier imagery and metaphor - this is nowhere near so obvious in Narnia as it is in Lord of the Rings, but arguably that's because Tolkien wanted to make it much more in-your-face than Lewis did. One of my favourite examples was Lewis's use of "tingling" in a variety of places. Now, one of the Old English words for star was tingul (or tungol) from which Lewis's mind went to "twinkle twinkle little star" and hence a linguistic pun between "tingle" and stellar influences. Ward's book is full of these little, rather delightful derivations and etymologies (sometimes false etymologies used for their punning effect) that Lewis's academic studies would have suggested to him.


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