Recovering the Medieval Imagination

“Isn’t Jupiter splendid these nights?” he exclaimed to one correspondent in 1938; “Do you ever notice Venus these mornings at about quarter past seven?” he asked his godson in 1946. “She has been terrifically bright lately, almost better than Jupiter.”

Sound familiar? How about Hagrid’s conversation with the Centaurs in Philosopher’s Stone? “Mars is bright tonight…”

But this isn’t a Centaur. It is C. S. Lewis. The quotations are from C. S. Lewis and the Star of Bethlehem, an excerpt taken from Dr. Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia in Christianity Today’s Books and Culture. I commend it to your attention for these reasons:

1. If you haven’t bought Dr. Ward’s book yet, this is a reminder of the several reasons you should. The book is about the Narniad, yes, and Lewis’ understanding of the planets, of course. More importantly, in discussing these subjects, the book is also about the intersection of literature and theology, and about the artistry that makes some books “great.” For fans of Ms. Rowling’s books, especially those who have read Unlocking Harry Potter or who otherwise have an interest in her traditional symbolism, spiritual meaning, and alchemical artistry, Planet Narnia will reward every hour invested with two or three ideas worth more than the price of the book.

2. This Star of Bethlehem excerpt touches on Lewis’ argument with naturalist (i.e., God-excluded) science. Prof. James Como has written and said that C. S. Lewis is at least as relevant, perhaps more, today than when he was alive. Dr. Ward introduces, through a brief discussion of the historical break between astrology and astronomy, one point of special relevance; naturalism, what Phillip Johnson calls the “state religion” of the US and UK, has only become much more the rule of thinking than when Lewis wrote Miracles — and the consequences of this dominance are what we read about in our newspapers every morning (if you, too, are a dinosaur who reads a morning paper). Harry Potter fans and serious readers will find this interesting, at least I did, because it is “naturalism fatigue” or “postmodern Sehnsucht” that drives a large part of Pottermania and the love of realist fantasy-fiction. This genre above all others serves a religious or mythological function in a desacralized culture.

3. Dr. Ward introduces the heart of the Medieval Imagination. The conclusion of the article is about Lewis’ belief (though not quoted) that “Christ is the principle of cohesion by which all things hold together,” a Logos epistemology explaining that we can only know anything because of the Logos bridging the gap between that something and the Logos reason of the subject observing it. This is Lewis’ Dangerous Idea and perhaps the Oxbridge don’s greatest contribution to philosophy, theology, and Christian apologetics (which is to put myself way out on a limb!).

Why would a Harry Potter reader care about this? I suggest that a large part of the success of Ms. Rowling’s novels, whatever her “struggle to believe” and “doubts about religion” (which are both characteristics she shares with all her readers qua postmodern, even her most religious fans), is their Christian content, near-explicit and subliminal. This resonates with our hearts or “cardiac intelligence,” clearly, even among non-believers and the Christ-o-phobic. Why?

“Because there was not anything made not Logos made” (John 1:3) to include our conceptions and capacity for conception. The Christian content of the books connects “what is just going on in our heads” with what is most real, even if only in our imaginations, and, in making this connection, making us human, as much as “being human” means “having a spiritual orientation.”

Or so I think. I look forward, as always to your comments and corrections, and to your thoughts about Dr. Ward’s book excerpt.


  1. The sky is quite jovial these days in the pre-dawn skies. Looking east both Jupiter with his red spot (Calvary) attended by the lovely Venus (the Morning Star) can both be seen together quite bright around 7 a.m. HogPros in North America can enjoy a spectacular total eclipse of the full moon (Luna) on February 20 from 10 to 10:52 p.m. if the view is clear. No better time than now to be reading Dr. Ward’s book.

  2. Arabella Figg says

    I’m rather muddled this week because of sleep deprivation, but shall try to not appear too idiotic.

    I haven’t read the book, but I like the concept of “cardiac intelligence.” It makes me think of Romans 1, in that God has revealed himself throughout nature and our own hearts.

    ‘The Christian content of the books connects “what is just going on in our heads” with what is most real, even if only in our imaginations…'” makes me think of Lewis’ argument in The Silver Chair about choosing Aslan, even if he’s proved not real, because it’s better to choose “false” goodness than “real” badness.

    One of the most interesting books I’ve read was astronomer Michael R. Molnar’s The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi. In the interest of excising myth, we Christians too often throw out the baby with the bathwater and don’t seriously examine how astrology/astronomy can fit together as a jumping-off point for our understanding of the world and spiritual concepts.

    Is it merely a pretty visual that the stars reflect upon dead Dobby’s eyes?

    Mrs. Fleasley is giving me the eye, as if I’d do a better job unraveling a ball of yarn…

  3. I have the book and it’s next to be read!

    Meanwhile, regarding the lunar eclipse 20 February 2008, see: for more information.

    Happy eclipsing!

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