What a star is

As the film of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about to grace our screens perhaps it’s good to point out the science-faith questions raised by this, the fifth book in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series. Eustace spends much of his time at sea looking at only the scientific explanation for events, and I’m sure a slightly more thorough study of the book would be interesting from a science-faith point of view. But this quote has been burning a hole in my pocket since I heard it mentioned on a BBC programme about ‘The Narnia Code‘ in 2009.

Here, Eustace is reminded of a great truth by Ramandu, the keeper of Aslan’s Table at the world’s end.

‘I am Ramandu. But I see that you stare at one another and have not heard this name. And no wonder, for the days when I was a star had ceased long before any of you knew this world, and all the constellations have changed.’

‘Golly,’ said Edmund under his breath. ‘He’s a retired star.’

…’In our world,’ said Eustace, ‘a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.’

‘Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of…’

CS Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn treader, 1955.

From chapter 14: The beginning of the end of the world


3 thoughts on “What a star is

  1. Richard Hosking November 10, 2010 / 10:01 am

    Stellar blog!

    ‘We are star stuff …’ was Carl Sagan’s pithy summary of a 1957 astrophysics paper which showed that most earthly elements first formed in stars. The article incorporated Fred Hoyle’s prediction of an exquisitely balanced energy state which allowed carbon (and so life) to exist, causing Hoyle to grumble that the Universe was a ‘put up job’ (see Test of Faith DVD). Impressively, the paper opens with two lines from Shakespeare:

    ‘It is the stars, The stars above us, govern our conditions’ (King Lear, Act IV, Scene 3)
    ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves.’ (Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene 2)

    I wondered whether C.S. Lewis was aware of Fred Hoyle’s earlier ideas of ‘stellar nucleosynthesis’, for it seems we’re also made from retired stars ‘… which,’ as Sagan’s quote continues ‘has taken its destiny into its own hands.’ Sagan, an astrophysicist who popularised the glory of the heavens, was the son of Ukrainian/Austro-Hungarian Jewish immigrants whose European relatives perished in the Holocaust – a moral darkness the scientific enlightenment could not illuminate. However, long before any of us knew this world, a Hebrew poet wrote that the stars declared the glory of a Law Giver whose commands are radiant, and (when kept) give light to the eyes (Psalm 19:7-8,11).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stellar_nucleosynthesis
    http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/d/davidson-sagan.html

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  2. Richard Hosking November 18, 2010 / 3:42 pm

    Prof Brian Cox participates in an interesting 30 min discussion of Carl Sagan’s life which touches on science/faith issues (from BBC Radio 4’s ‘Great Lives’ series) at link below:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00scvqk

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