Dr Michael Ward Delivers Annual C.S. Lewis Legacy Lecture
BY CAMILLE TODD
This year’s third annual C.S. Lewis Legacy Lecture series featured Dr. Michael Ward, a premier C.S. Lewis scholar. A Senior Research Fellow at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford University, he came to Westminster College to discuss the influential author and his widely popular books, the Chronicles of Narnia.
Dr. Ward’s first lecture at 11 a.m. on Thursday Feb. 26, focused on C.S. Lewis as a person, his journey to Christian belief, and his explanation for the meaning of life. Entitled “The Theological Imagination of C.S. Lewis,” the lecture discussed the need for imagination as the precondition for rational and theological knowledge. Lewis’ journey to Christianity built upon his intellectual discussions with colleagues such as famous author J.R.R. Tolkien. His views on religion eventually turned into a sort of apologetic Christianity, involving respect for all religions with the thought that they still have merit even though they are not completely correct. For him, meaning then comes from believing and finding truth, while recognizing that our fundamental faculty from God is to find meaning in our lives.
Dr. Ward’s second lecture at 7:30 p.m. focused more on the book series the Chronicles of Narnia. Entitled “Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis,” this talk went into detail about the deeper meaning and inspiration behind the books. Dr. Ward theorized that not only does the series contain Christian themes, but also pagan symbols. A professor of English Literature from the Medieval and Renaissance periods, Lewis was quite interested in literature in the sixteenth century. During this time, Copernicus claimed that our solar system was actually heliocentric rather than geocentric, which was the accepted theory for centuries. This geocentric solar system included the seven heavens of the moon, the sun, and the planets. These bodies all had roots in paganism, with names like Jupiter and Venus bringing with them certain characteristics and meanings.
Lewis thought that the characters of these planets had value as spiritual symbols, which were worthwhile for his generation that experienced horrible war. Thus, each book in the Chronicles of Narnia corresponds to a different entity and contains powerful symbolism pertaining to its theme. For example, the second book Prince Caspian is a battle story corresponding to Mars, the god of war. In ancient times, Mars was also a god of vegetation, and in the book, trees come to life and become soldiers in the battle. Every other book corresponds with a pagan character, and the series ends with Saturn or Father Time, complete with his scythe and hourglass, who brings death and destruction. Dr. Ward’s complex theory has been widely accepted by academia as the highly probable meaning behind the series, and his thesis has even been picked up by BBC, who produced a special and published a book on the topic.
A charismatic speaker, Dr. Ward captured the attention of his audiences at both lectures and delivered interesting theories on C.S. Lewis and the meaning behind the world of Narnia. He was given a standing ovation in the Church of St. Mary Aldermanbury after his first lecture, and congratulatory support from various audience members after his nighttime lecture. In an email on Friday to the school, facilitator and Harrod-C.S. Lewis Professor of Religious Studies, Dr. Cliff Cain, thanked the Westminster community for their attendance and interest, citing this year’s event a success.
Next year’s C.S. Lewis Legacy Lecture will be delivered by Westminster professor emeritus Dr. Bill Young, who will speak about the relevance of Native American traditions.