And so we reach the final book of CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia – the last to be published and the last chronologically. The Last Battle was also the first of my 20 Books of Summer, read at the beginning of June, and I’ve been mulling over how to approach writing about it ever since. I couldn’t find my childhood paperback, so read it from my Folio set (right).
The first half of the book is taken up with the story of the greedy ape Shift and the Eeyoreish donkey Puzzle. Puzzle thinks that Shift is his friend, even though he ends up doing everything for him. Shift is of course just using him, and when he finds a lion skin rug comes up with a plan to make Puzzle into a false Aslan, and use him, with Shift as his ‘spokesape’ to get the Narnians to do his will and to benefit his trading relations with the Calormenes, who worship the evil Tash.
It’s a few chapters in when Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole are recalled to Narnia with a jerk and a bump from the train they were in by Tirian, a descendant of Caspian, who with his unicorn Jewel are investigating the strange goings on in this corner of Narnia. Tirian ends up captured after giving himself up to Aslan after killing two Calormenes who were abusing a Narnian talking horse. This is when Eustace and Jill arrive, and it is the resourceful Jill that sneaks into the stable Shift is calling ‘Aslan’s’, to find poor Puzzle is as much of a captive too. Captives freed, it’s time to put things right – cue a big battle, in which Eustace and Jill will be reunited with all of the other children, Diggory and Polly, and Lucy, Edmund and Peter, but not Susan, who is ‘no longer a friend of Narnia’.
I was so glad that I couldn’t remember any of this book before re-reading. I just knew that Susan didn’t reappear. So, when we reached the ending I was truly shocked, again and again.
It is hard to discuss the book any further without spoilers, so
!!! SPOILER ALERT !!! !!! SPOILER ALERT !!! !!! SPOILER ALERT !!!
The first shock is that the Narnians are defeated.
The second shock is that Aslan plays vengeful God again, getting Father Time to open a door through which all followers of Aslan left will go – then he destroys the old world – and all those who stayed behind, including all the dwarves, bar one, all the lizards and salamanders from The Silver Chair who were to be awakened at the end of the world, the Calormenes too. Narnia is destroyed in a scenario that surely comes out of his earlier adult SF trilogy.
The third shock is that Aslan directs everyone to keep going upward and they reach the new Narnia, notably glimpsed at in The Silver Chair. This is Aslan’s Country and they’re reunited with Reepicheep (left, which was nice) and all the dead Kings – all immortalised at their best. We get a series of ‘Revelations’!
1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5)
As I’m essentially an agnostic/atheist, I don’t usually quote from the bible, but it seems appropriate here as Narnia is, of course, the ‘New Jerusalem’. It’s not done lightly, there’s a heavy hand telling us that they have all died and gone to heaven… as finally explained on the very last page. Taking it down in tone, it was just like Malcolm Crowe’s realisation at the end of the film, The Sixth Sense!
It also made me want to know if Susan had lost her faith – is that why she was ‘no longer a friend of Narnia’? Annoyingly, a window is left for her to return to Aslan’s country – to be re-born, and Lewis never wrote any more about her. In most of literature, discovering that seven members of your family and friends had died in a train crash. You either want to be with them again = back in the faith (unless you end your own life to be so), or distance yourself from the trauma and make your own path through life. My hope would be for the latter…
!!! END OF SPOILER ALERT !!!
Returning to the first half of the book. I’m sure Aesop will have written an animal fable that inspired the story of Shift and Puzzle, but I was puzzled (sic), why Lewis would choose to start the last book with a fable before careering off into false god territory, with the enforced impersonation of Aslan by Puzzle, and the Calormene worship of Tash, and we have the problematic depiction of the Calormenes as bad Orientals once again from The Horse and His Boy. It does effectively divide the characters into believers and non-believers, holy and unholy, those who will be saved and those who won’t.
I can’t say I enjoyed The Last Battle. I appreciate Lewis had a lot of loose ends to sew up – most of which he did – others, e.g. Susan, he didn’t. It does bring the Chronicles of Narnia to a definitive end though. Here are my links to all my posts:
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardobe
- Prince Caspian
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
- The SIlver Chair
- The Horse and His Boy
- The Magician’s Nephew
- The Last Battle (here)
A huge thank you to Chris for hosting the #Narniathon21 readalong which I have enjoyed so much. I will be joining in the July read of From Spare Oom and War Drobe by Katherine Langrish, in which the celebrated children’s author revisits Narnia for herself.
Also I’ve ordered a copy of Neil Gaiman’s with P Craig Russell’s graphic novel The Problem of Susan and other stories to see how he envisaged Susan Pevensie’s Narnian afterlife.
I have particularly enjoyed re-reading a children’s classic each month, and plan to keep on doing this where I can – but beginning with a series of novels which I haven’t read – Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence – beginning in August. You’re welcome to join in. I won’t have time to devote to accompanying posts of Chris’s marvellous level of scholarship, but it’d be great to have you read along with me. I’ll remind you nearer August.