Narnia, Iraq, and the Moors of Al-Andalus

The Narnia Code: C. S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven HeavensThe Narnia Code: C. S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens by Michael Ward

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I went into this book pretty sceptically, because really, in the post-The Da Vinci Code era, who could possibly take seriously a book with a title like this? However, forty pages or so into the book, I found myself wishing that the author had written a real, scholarly book, since his theory was sounding fairly plausible. And then a few pages later he admitted that The Narnia Code is actually the popularized version of his published phD thesis, Planet Narnia The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis. So now I’m dying to get my hands on the “grownup” version.

Ward contends that C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, far from being the “hodgepodge” of J.R.R. Tolkien’s dismissive analysis, is actually far more internally consistent than readers and scholars in the past 50 years have been able to discover. The unifying principle, according to Ward, is that Lewis based each book on one of the seven Medieval “planets” (Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, and Saturn). The theory sounded bizarre to me at first, but Ward’s appeals to Lewis’ other works (his knowledge of the corpus appears encyclopedic), including the Space Trilogy, essays, and poetry (did you know Lewis wrote poetry? I didn’t.) eventually convinced me.

For anyone who has read and enjoyed the Narnia books (especially if, like me, you’ve been bothered by apparent inconsistencies like the appearance of Father Christmas, or just the apparent randomness of how the books proceed), this book will deepen your enjoyment and expand your appreciation of C.S. Lewis’ genius.

God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 by David Levering Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m constantly on the lookout for books that I want my homeschooled kids to read in high school so that they’ll have a good understanding of Middle Eastern/Islamic history and its relation to Europe and Western history. And this is a great example of a book I will impose upon my now-seven-year-old in about ten years.

Lewis’ prose is elegant and illuminating, although his encyclopedic coverage of so many historical figures during the first half of the book is a little overwhelming. He paints a vivid historical picture of a world long gone–Moorish Spain during the early Middle Ages. My favorite part by far was his extended treatment of Charlemagne and Abd al-Rahman I, founder of the Umayyad Emirate of Cordoba. The two men lived during the same time period in kingdoms that bordered one another, and yet their worlds and outlooks were so different. Charlemagne struggled to learn to read, while Abd al-Rahman was writing pensive lyric poetry, just to name one example.

This is a book that will make you pine for Muslim Spain and mourn the celebrated Battle of Poitiers. You’ll never think of Europe and Western civilization in the same way.

Caveat: Lewis’ treatment of Muhammad may scandalize some Muslims (although he’s equally cynical in his treatment of Christianity).

The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles: A Woman's Fight to Save Two OrphansThe Flying Carpet of Small Miracles: A Woman’s Fight to Save Two Orphans by Hala Jaber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a story of the 2003 Iraq invasion and its aftermath, with a focus on the shatteringly human face of “collateral damage.” As a Lebanese reporter married to a British photographer, Hala Jaber is well positioned to give us a nuanced view of the events in Iraq.

The book weaves together the story of the many Iraqis she interviewed with her own story of infertility. I only gave it four stars because I’m not sure how well the two stories really go together.

Despite having a somewhat happy ending, Jaber’s story is quite a downer. Still, I appreciated her perspective and the vivid and very human picture she paints of Iraq.

This is actually the first book I’ve read about the Iraq War, which happened while I was on a Mormon mission, and therefore virtually isolated from any outside news. I still feel like I have a sort of 20-month historical wrinkle in my memory. I remember coming home and feeling like Rip Van Winkle. 2001-2003 was quite a time period to miss.

Does anyone have any recommendations for something to read to get me up to speed on the invasion of Iraq, the Patriot Act, and whatever else happened between October 10, 2001 and June 9, 2003?

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2 thoughts on “Narnia, Iraq, and the Moors of Al-Andalus

  • April 18, 2012 at 8:51 am

    I highly recommend “The Black Banners” by Ali H. Soufan. The first half is prior to October 2001 but the remainder covers the period you mention.


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