Tag Archives: Narnia Chronicles

Planet series – Jupiter (in progress) day 3

‘Jupiter’ (in progress).

Today’s progress on ‘Jupiter’. I wanted to create a luminous backdrop for the painting – the sea is a glaze of blues and gloss varnish, which you can see slightly better in this image ..

(This is the second in a series of seven paintings inspired by the seven planets as understood in Medieval cosmology, and the seven books of Narnia, which as the writer Michael Ward discovered, were themselves inspired by the seven planets. For more about the series, click on ‘Home’, above, and scroll through previous posts).

As mentioned in a previous post, I decided to paint Castle Tioram as the theme for ‘Jupiter’. Jupiter rules the months of February and March and I’ll be including trees, flora and fauna related to the planet as the painting progresses.

Fairy Tales ..

Castle Tioram, photo Rose Strang September 2018

 

 

 

 

 

I first visited Castle Tioram (pronounced ‘Cheerum’) in the Ardnamurchan Peninsula in 1992, and returned again for the first time since then in September last year. It was a beautiful, entrancing place back then, and still is. The Ardnamurchan Peninsula is one of Scotland’s most remote and un-spoiled areas of landscape. Ancient forests grow right down to the coast. Mosses, lichens and rare plants flourish in the relatively unpolluted atmosphere – the forest’s ecosystem is more or less untouched, save for a very few pathways and single track roads that weave through the area.

If you’re interested in forest ecosystems you’ll know that forest trees ‘talk’ to one-another in a sense. They communicate via their complex root system, so that younger trees, or weaker trees are fed nutrients by older trees – they’re interdependent. Before a tree dies, it sends nutrients to the roots of nearby trees. When the forest root-system is disturbed by, for example, motorways cutting one area off from another, the forest ecosystem is destroyed. An ancient forest is a sort of entity in a sense (or a community if you like!)

So Tolkien wasn’t far wrong, and C.S. Lewis (a close friend of Tolkien for decades) shared this reverence for nature – both author’s books featured the idea of conscious trees. Lewis’s stories featured dryads (tree spirits) able to ‘leave’ the physical tree and travel far distances to communicate important news. (in The Last Battle for example a dryad tells King Rillian that her tree, miles away, is being destroyed along with the rest of the forest).

In the east part of Ardnamurchan, further inland, is one of Europe’s rare original oak forests. It’s called Ariundle (derived from Scottish Gaelic Àiridh –  meaning a shieling or collection of small huts and Fhionndail – a fair meadow). So, ‘a collection of huts in the fair meadow’. Ariundle is a remnant of the ancient coastal oakwood that formerly stretched along the Atlantic coast from Spain and Portugal to Norway.

Ariundle Oak Forest in Ardnamurchan

 

 

 

 

In early medieval times Castle Tioram and Ardnamurchan were far busier places than nowadays. The highways of the ancient world across Scandinavia and the north of Scotland were sea-routes – quicker to navigate than land before modern times when roads were cut through mountains and forests.

The north and west of Scotland as a whole was teeming with activity. There were numerous wars of independence and during the Middle ages, Scottish castles were often burned and destroyed during war-times to prevent them being occupied by incoming armies (which is what happened to Castle Tioram).

Towards the end of the 18th century (post-Culloden) Highland clearances, then the industrial revolution almost entirely emptied some areas of the west coast. Anyone who hadn’t emigrated, or been forced to emigrate, to America and Canada moved to the cities and towns for work.

The one upside of this is that the landscape has been left untouched. Castle Tioram, situated on a rocky outcrop in a glass-like sea surrounded by wild forest, can have quite an impact on visitors to the place –  it does look almost other-worldy, or mythical.

Maybe it’s just nostalgia that makes people respond with emotion to the castle, a sentiment or belief that things were better in times past. Looking into early Scottish history though, there are as always two stories – one from ruling leaders, post war, and the story discovered in ancient Gaelic manuscripts. Tioram was never defeated in battle, for hundreds of years it was relatively peaceable (for those times at least, when feuds were common throughout Europe).

The castle and surrounding area was home to a large community ruled by the MacDonalds under the complex laws of the early clan system. This society enjoyed thriving art, literary and music traditions, and although the more democratic approach to running society appeared chaotic or ‘barbaric’ to outsiders, it now looks ahead of its time. Men and women inherited title and property, children of the ruling monarchs were often placed in the poorest households of the clan, while poorer children in the community were adopted temporarily by the ruling family. This encouraged connections, the learning of skills, and a balanced community.

It wasn’t all peaceable of course, there were the numerous complex feuds between clans, and the wars of independence which occurred between the 13th to 18th centuries. In 1715 the then chief of Clan Donald, Allan MacDonald, torched the castle before joining the battle at Sherriffmuir (1715 Jacobite rebellion – thanks for correction Murdo MacDonald!) He expected to lose, and didn’t want the castle to fall in to government hands. The final battle took place in 1745 at Culloden, and after this the Scottish clan system was destroyed (also due to the fact that many Scottish clan chiefs bought into the new feudal system as it offered unlimited opportunities for wealth and land) and Scotland never regained independence.

All of that explains some of the historical reasons why we respond to such places, but maybe our response to castle ruins in a wild remote landscape is also related to the power of fairy tale or archetypes – it ‘speaks’ to us of something important and valuable. In Ardnamurchan the air feels different because it is different – it’s clean, scented with salty brine, sun-warmed wood, mossy forest floors and the honey of heather throughout summer – it feels idyllic. Nowadays we understand the environmental fragility of such places.

In an earlier post I described C.S. Lewis’s fascination with Medieval mythology and cosmology – an era in which he believed imagination held an important philosophical role. From a different perspective Jung also explored this area – focusing on the importance of archetypes in the collective human psyche. Early Medieval thinking hadn’t yet lost that sense of universality, and connection to nature.

A castle on a remote island reminds us of a thousand different myths and fairy tales – tangled forests, ogres, battles, knights, magicians, princesses plotting escape, not to mention Camelot – a legend based on dreams of a lost golden age and the search for a mysterious holy grail. One conflict of the story is the battle of Pagan and Christian religions – neither of which comes out on top, interestingly. The myth goes (of course!) that both Merlin (Pagan) and Arthur (Christian) will return again.

It all reminds me of this sort of art …

From ‘Très Riches Heures’. 15th cent’  French illuminated manuscript

From ‘Très Riches Heures’. 15th cent’ French illuminated manuscript

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Gothic or pre-renaissance style of painting is a continuation of Byzantine art. It made way for new ideas of realism in art – perspective and so on – leading to high renaissance art and ‘the age of reason’. Boticelli was sn artistic bridge between these styles and Northern renaissance art sometimes referred back to this earlier era stylistically.

All of this is ideal subject matter for my Jupiter painting, relating also to the Jupiterian book from the Narnia Chronicles The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe which centres on the idea of Winter passed, guilt forgiven – restoration of a golden age of peace in the sea-side castle of Cair Paravel after years of cold and brutality, but this comes after challenges, sacrifice and re-birth (the Christian element of the story – though there are many themes).

In this story, the dryads and trees of Narnia are still fully alive (in later books they have to be re-awakened) and since the oak is the tree most closely associated with Jupiter, that’s another reason to paint Ardnamurchan, one of the few places where you can enjoy fully living forests.

Here’s a link with more about Ariundle – https://www.wildlochaber.com/ardnamurchan/wildlife/ariundle-oakwood

Ariundle Forest . https://www.nnr.scot (Scotland’s National Nature Reserves, website)

Planets Series – Jupiter (in progress) day 2

‘Jupiter’ (painting in progress)

Above, today’s progress on ‘Jupiter’.

That’s just the background layer, so it looks a bit pantomime-backdrop at the moment, possibly a bit Visit Scotland, but it will look very different within a week. The raised marks are from a previous painting, but since I’ll be painting oak branches these will be incorporated as part of the gnarly texture of tree-bark.

It’s the same size as my previous painting Saturn, this image gives an idea of scale …

 

 

 

I hope there aren’t too many Medievalist experts reading my blog! Reading back over the past posts on this planet series, I need to correct a couple of details. It’s typical of my approach to a subject since I write as I explore, but I’ll get there!

(This is the second in a series of seven paintings inspired by the seven planets as understood in Medieval cosmology, and the seven books of Narnia, which as the writer Michael Ward discovered, were themselves inspired by the seven planets) …

I’ll write a description of the Medieval view of the cosmos below, then I’ll describe a little more about C.S. Lewis’s views on imagination and reason, as explained in Michael Ward’s excellent book Planet Narnia

Medieval view of the cosmos in everyday life and in art ..

Medieval philosophy, astrology, astronomy, science and religion in the western world all more or less interconnected, though it wouldn’t be described as a rigid or unchanging system of thought and belief.

Some religious groups – Gnostics for example, might accept aspects or theories prevalent in the Medieval view of the cosmos, but not others. Similar to any time including our own it would be misleading to say that Western society was ‘of a mind’, to use a Scottish-ism!

The Medieval view of the cosmos did feed in to every day life though, it was (as we might say nowadays) fairly mainstream. Ordinary working folks might pray to or invoke a planetary influence. Science of the time included the Medieval understanding of the cosmos, the practice of magic was wide-spread, and included evocation of planetary influence. Writers, musicians and artists would create cosmic and theological allegories, the most famous example probably being Dante’s Inferno.

Or more earthy in tone, Chaucer’s character in The Wife of Bath bewails the influence of Mars on her nature –  all Chaucer’s stories deal with the influence of the planets, some as entire allegories, woven imaginatively into the narrative so it can be enjoyed as a story, and as inspiration or contemplation.

Planetary influence was like a lens of myriad colourful and emotive aspects through which artists could explore and observe the world and human nature. It could be described also as a world of external influence playing on the human psyche (interesting to compare it to the influence of Freud on creativity in modern times – Hitchcock films etc).

C.S. Lewis’s interest in Medieval cosmology …

C.S. Lewis was a Medieval Classics scholar and teacher, who felt that society had lost something magical and profound in the post-Copernican world (i.e. when scientific discovery of space altered our view of the cosmos, and by association a certain way of believing, of faith), and although he spent most of his life writing on Christianity and classical literature, his creative output always dealt with planetary influences.

This is why it’s surprising that Michael Ward’s discovery –  that the seven books of Narnia were each influenced by the seven Medieval planets – wasn’t recognised sooner. He believes that this had much to do with the fact that most scholars studying the work of Lewis were Christians, so put simply they’d be a bit shifty about the mention of gods in the plural, not to mention astrology. (if you’ve got a strong stomach you can find numerous right-wing Christians of dubious sanity on Youtube declaiming that C.S. Lewis is an evil Pagan.) Or, atheist ‘rational’ scholars might dismiss the Medievalist aspects as superstition – they might view the form of romance, or fairy tale as not worthy of serious study – i.e. sci-fi or children’s novels.

C.S. Lewis had meaningful or profound reasons for writing in the form of a children’s story. Probably one of the most simple was that it was the only way he could successfully integrate  Medieval cosmology in a post-war literary climate where harsh realism was more zeitgeisty. As Ward observes, he opposed the harsh negative, or nihilist, tone of the literature of his time for philosophical reasons.

He knew too, that the Medieval view of the cosmos, which in many ways incorporated Pagan approaches to belief, did incorporate the concept of one god.

Medieval understanding of the Cosmos …

In Medieval thought, there were three layers: Earth, the Celestial Realm and the Empyrean.

‘As above so below’ referred to the idea that earth and everything in it was a reflection of the heavens, but the influence of the heavens could not be experienced directly because everything ‘sub-lunar’ – beneath the moon, was separated from the direct influence of the cosmos.

People sought harmony with the planetary influences: ‘as above-so below’, and it was believed their influence could be invoked via ‘talismans’ – objects, plants, animals places etc that related to, or were influenced by a certain planet.

(For example copper relates to Venus, tin to Jupiter, silver to the moon and so on) …

Above the earth, the moon drew a sort of veil between the celestial realms and earth. The celestial realms were where the planets resided. The planets, in turn, were influenced by what was termed ‘the divine’ – the realm beyond the planets –  the Emypyrean.

Going back farther in time, think of the mysterious inscription on the tomb of Isis: I am all that was, all that is, and all that shall ever be, and no man hath lifted the veil from my face. It’s interesting also to explore the mythology of Gnosticism, usually at odds with Christian belief, which has a ‘creation myth’ around the idea of this veil – ‘In Our Time – Gnosticism ).

To some branches of thought, the Divine, or the Empyrean, was the unknowable; the One God, ‘all that is’, veiled and beyond human comprehension. In Christian orthodox practice it might be referred to as ‘He’ or ‘our Father’, but the Gnostic view, for example, was that its actual form was unknown and unknowable.

A few posts ago, I described how I became interested in Medieval cosmology via exploring Freemasonic symbology. I’ve been amateurishly dipping in to these religious, esoteric or spiritually related subjects since the age of twenty or so, including religious beliefs of the Essenes, Cathars, Rosicrucians and Gnostics among several (I’ve still never felt compelled to actually join a religious or spiritual group though!) I do find a fascinating harmony in Medieval cosmology, and I’m finding this recent research rewarding, I think partly because exploring it helps clarify the interrelated patterns and connections between all these belief systems.

Influence of the planets in the Narnia Chronicles …

The process is made even more rewarding with the added clarity and insight of Michael Ward’s ‘Planet Narnia’. The book doesn’t just explore the planetary influence in the Narnia Chronicles, it also makes sense (to a lay person such as myself) of the experience Lewis is aiming for; he wants the reader to be immersed in these books, in a way that is quite unique.

Artists and writers often deal with different layers of meaning in their work, but Lewis’s incorporation of planetary influence went further because it was deliberately hidden –  unknowable by the reader even while they experience the influence of the planets as they read.

Ward observes that Lewis had a mischievous mind; though an honest and unusually self-effacing character, he did enjoy secrets and he might have wondered if the penny would drop for readers of his books in his own lifetime (in fact it was fifty years after his death!)

His intention was not just secrecy though, it was intended as a mystical experience – it had to be hidden in order to give that experience and not simply a one-dimensional intellectual understanding. Not only children but adults reading the Narnia Chronicles would be unaware that each was written ‘under the influence’ of each planet – stories, plots and characters woven from an understanding of the mythology and qualities of each planet, with no direct mention of the planets themselves.

The poetic effect feels profound while reading the stories, for example the Jupiterian theme of ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’; Winter passed and guilt forgiven is (as Michael Ward explains) how Lewis put it when describing the influence of Jupiter in his poem ‘The Planets’.

This idea is woven into the pivotal moment  in the story when Edmund realises his guilt and regrets his allegiance both towards the witch, and his own selfish motivation – this is described at the same time as the melting snow, appearance of flowers and long-awaited arrival of spring.

Lewis had come to question a purely rational approach to understanding faith, and that’s a huge subject to get into and best understood by reading Michael Ward’s, or C.S. Lewis’s books, but something that occurred to me as I was reading this subject was the notion of an initiation – a ritual that’s experienced in, for example, the freemasonic tradition (as mentioned before I do believe that freemasonary organisations have unfair influence, and I question the organisation’s practices, just to be clear!) Part of the esoteric or hidden aspect of freemasonry is the initiation ceremony, which must remain secret because otherwise it’s rational, no longer an experience. And that brings it back to Lewis’s ‘Contemplation and Enjoyment’.

The difference between the two is more complex than ‘Subjectivity/Enjoyment’ and ‘Objectivity/Contemplation’. (I mentioned this in the previous post as a way to paraphrase C.S. Lewis’s quote from ‘Meditation in a Toolshed’, but that’s an oversimplification) . Among other things, it’s an acknowledgement of imagination – rationality places us outside an experience, ‘knowing’, Lewis argues, is deeper – it’s all-encompassing, eluding reason, because rational understanding separates us from experiencing, or as C.S. Lewis would say – Enjoyment.

I’m not giving these ideas their proper due; better that people read the sources themselves, but to me it offers a deeper appreciation of a more holistic, imaginative understanding and perception, which feeds into my work as an artist.

I’ll leave it there just now – that’s a long read for a person casually dropping in to this blog! But it’s also helpful to write here so I don’t forget. I might write up these posts as a booklet at some point …

Planets series in progress – 4

(In progress) January. Nightscape. Oil on 40×40″ wood panel. Rose Strang

Above – today’s continuing experimentation on the painting – ‘January’.

I’m currently painting a series of seven paintings inspired by the Medieval view of the cosmos and the Narniad. You can read the earlier posts here – 1 , 2  and 3

The current planet I’m exploring is Saturn, related to December and January. In the last post I described my interest in the planets as a subject, and I’m not too structured about this, so other than exploring the planets in their Medieval order I wouldn’t be described as academic in my approach! It’s simply inspiration for painting a new series.

My painting process is usually quite experimental – often I’ll create layers then scrape back to reveal earlier parts of the work and I tend to feel my way through a subject – there’s a certain amount of planning and preparation but usually it’s a messy process, so although today’s painting looks like a wave, that might change by tomorrow.

The painting (which is about 3.5×3.5 feet on wood) started with a thin layer of green onto white gesso, then a layer of black, followed by droplets to suggest stars. I experimented with Saturn-appropriate constellations (Capricorn and Aquarius) but it didn’t quite work for me visually, so I scraped back a few layers at the bottom to reveal interesting green patterns below, suggesting a nocturnal seascape, today’s layer of wet gesso will be left to dry, then I’ll scrape back to more layers beneath, possibly add in a few details and then I’ll see how it looks/feels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(In progress) January. Nightscape. Oil on 40×40″ wood panel. Rose Strang

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atmosphere is the elusive thing I try to capture in paintings, so with the melancholic, heavy associations with Saturn this is going to be a fairly moody dark painting let’s face it, but I do want it to evoke a sense of mystery or magic.

As mentioned in previous posts, I’m reading several books at the moment related to the subject of the Medieval view of the planets, in particular Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia , in which he describes and explores his discovery that the seven books of Narnia are each inspired by the seven planets as understood in medieval times, also the philosophy and mythology that surrounded their view of the cosmos.

C.S. Lewis felt that myth was one of the most effective means of conveying the more abstract themes of spirituality or metaphysical ideas, partly because he felt that myth and story sparked imagination – abstract perception beyond the purely factual or observable (that’s an epic subject in itself – one I explored way back in the mists of time at art college, but I’m not writing in any sort of academic capacity here, thankfully for me!). He began the Narnia Chronicles in the early 1950’s,having decided that children’s stories were the ideal form for what he wanted to communicate.

He’d also been inspired by George MacDonald’s writing, and when you read MacDonald’s books you do see the influence. Like MacDonald, Lewis had also written fiction for adults, but similarly their children’s stories had the most popular and enduring appeal.

The sense of depth behind the apparently simple tales in books such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Princess and the Goblin (by MacDonald) is partly due to the underlying wealth of mythology and philosophy, and the magical atmosphere created is also partly due to this underlying (or hidden) meaning, but I think it’s also the fact both authors were (to use a contemporary literary term ) ‘show not tell’ writers.

It’s maybe best described as magic realism –  grounded in the senses and more effective in some ways than writing pure fantasy or a form of science fiction which might alienate the reader with too heavy a slant on stranger, or unknown aspects (though Lewis’s ‘Space Trilogy’ written in the 1930’s was classed as sci-fi).

It’s different from pure allegory, in as much as the reader isn’t required to spot and understand obvious parallels to enjoy the story, though the stories touch on subjects that refer to myths (for example Norse and Greek), or Christian biblical themes. Lewis wanted to inspire imagination, so although the Narnia Chronicles often deal with moral issues or choices, it’s more about a search for truth. That’s a simple way of putting it though  – a way of becoming more fully conscious is maybe a better way to describe it.

I think I’ll explore that theme more when I tackle the subject of Jupiter in my next painting, because I think C.S. Lewis writes about it in a completely unique way that we easily (usually with a mixture of amusement and/or discomfort) recognise as all too human, it’s worth exploring.

On the subject of atmosphere though, Michael Ward explores this quality in some depth in Planet Narnia, he terms it donegality. I think his is a brilliant way of perceiving atmosphere in the Narniad – I won’t go into that here, but recommend you read his book since it’s a fairly complex, rewarding theme.

As a child, this atmospheric quality of the Narniad had a profound impact on me and it’s one I’ve noted in other people who grew up reading these books; whenever I’m in a landscape that feels magical, or particularly alive, I associate it with a ‘Narnian’ quality – for example the rich, cool-green dampness of mossy grass underfoot in a still forest, to me immediately conjures up one of my favourite passages from The Magician’s Nephew, from the chapter titled The Wood Between the Worlds:

The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky. All the light was green light that came through the leaves: but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals, and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. The pool he had just got out of was not the only pool. There were dozens of others – a pool every few yards as far as his eye could reach. You could almost feel the trees drinking the water up with their roots. This wood was very much alive.

Illustration: Pauline Baynes. The Narnia Chronicles. ‘The Magician’s Nephew’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mood is enhanced by the beautiful illustrations by Pauline Baynes, which are so much part of the experience of reading these books.

The Magician’s Nephew is associated with the planet Venus, and the above description is very Venusian in feel, in complete contrast to the heavy dark energy of Saturn that influences The Last Battle – last of the Narnia Chronicles.

I’ve also realised that gradually my painting (atmosphere-wise) appears to be heading towards the end of the book where the stars fall out of the sky and Father Time crushes the sun in his hand so the world of Narnia turns black and icy cold.

Illustration: Pauline Baynes. The Narnia Chronicles. ‘The Last Battle’

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a stark, haunting vision, but described by Lewis it’s nonetheless beautifully atmospheric. And, as I’m writing this, I’m thinking ‘of course Rose – paint a scene from imagination from each of the books’.

Whatever I paint I’d better get on with it as these first three planet paintings have to be submitted to the upcoming Battersea Art Fair by the 24th Of February (I’m showing with the Limetree Gallery) and I still have Jupiter and Mars to complete! Towards June I’ll be creating a Sun-themed painting, to coincide with an exhibition and event I’ll be holding at Abbeyhill Studio on the summer solstice (I’ll post more nearer the time).