I wrote, some years ago, that C S Lewis was now one of those authors - like Shakespeare, Dickens and Lewis' chum, Tolkien - whose collected works have been vastly outnumbered by works about them.
Indeed, new books on Lewis appear, it seems, almost every month, but none has been quite so radical or has stimulated quiet so much debate as Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C S Lewis by Dr Michael Ward...
The author of Planet Narnia argues that Lewis' celebrated cycle of children's novels, 'The Chronicles of Narnia', is based on an understanding of medieval cosmology.
Lewis was a medievalist and was, indeed, fascinated by astronomy which is no doubt why there are so many astronomical/astrological references within his books about Narnia.
And it is from these facts that Michael Ward has extrapolated a theory that each of the seven volumes has a mystical connection with a different planet that, in turn, provides the key to its meaning and symbolism.
Dr Ward developed his theory in 2003 after reading Lewis' poem, 'The Planets', which refers to the influence of Jupiter with the words: “winter passed/And guilt forgiv’n” - which are two of the themes in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
From this beginning, Ward has gone on to propose a thesis in which the seven planets known of in medieval cosmology provides the theme for the seven Narnian Chronicles, So, for example, Prince Caspian is seen as essentially a war story and, therefore, inspired by Mars. Similarly, The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader' is the solar novel full of references to gold and light as well as another sun symbol, the dragon, while The Horse and His Boy is based on Mercury, the planet ruling the star sign Gemini, and features characters who are twins.
The Planet Narnia theory is now to be explored in an hour-long television documentary, The Narnia Code, broadcast on BBC 1 tomorrow evening - Thursday 16 April - at 10:35 pm
The programme is the work of Norman Stone who directed the original television play about C S Lewis, Shadowlands, and, as you will see from this advance peek into the cracking of the code, I am one of the contributors to the programme...
You may, like me, remain skeptical about Michael Ward's claims, but The Narnia Code is fascinating if, for no other reason, than because it reminds us what another Oxford don, Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), once observed:
"Words mean so much more than we mean to express when we use them: so a whole book ought to mean a great deal more than the writer meant."
You can read more about Michael Ward's book and his cosmic theories on his official web-site, Planet Narnia.