Thursday, July 10, 2008
The Last Battle
Lewis, C.S. 1956. The Last Battle.
In the last days of Narnia, far up to the west beyond Lantern Waste and close beside the great waterfall, there lived an Ape. He was so old that no one could remember when he had first come to live in those parts, and he was the cleverest, ugliest, most wrinkled Ape you can imagine. He had a little house, built of wood and thatched with leaves, up in the fork of a great tree, and his name was Shift. There were very few Talking Beasts or Men or Dwarfs, or people of any sort, in that part of the wood, but Shift had one friend and neighbour who was a donkey called Puzzle. At least they both said they were friends, but from the way things went on you might have thought Puzzle was more like Shift's servant than his friend.
The beginning of the end starts with one donkey, one ape, and one lion skin that floats downstream. From that skin an evil plot is born, and from that plot much blood is shed and much harm is done for every living thing (man, animal, tree, etc.) in Narnia. Shift's plot? To have Puzzle wear the lion skin and "be" Aslan for curious persons to gaze upon from a distance. Shift's real plot? To use the name of Aslan to get exactly what he wants.
It has been many generations since King Rilian ruled. Now his descendant, a king named Tirian, reigns. Though his luck seems to change overnight. One day a king, the next a prisoner. And all because "Aslan" has arrived back in Narnia.
Using the famed line "He's not a tame lion" people reason away all the signs that this is NOT Aslan. He commands the destruction of trees with spirits? Not a tame lion. He demands talking beasts to become his slaves? Not a tame lion. Demands servitude and exile from dwarfs? Not a tame lion. It's easy to say from our perspective that these animals, these individuals are a bit too gullible. But when you stop and think about it, the reader knows more, has experienced more. There haven't been any Aslan spottings in hundreds perhaps a thousand years. What the average Narnian knows is just stories passed down generation by generation by generation. Is it really so hard to see that perhaps their faith has more doubt than certainty? The truth is the average Narnian has not had any "use" for Aslan and his stories in their practical lives. So their faith isn't as "active" as it could be, should be perhaps.
King Tirian won't be fooled for long. He starts off highly suspicious and remains so for the most part. Once he's been captured, imprisoned, Tirian starts to think, to really think about Narnia, about Narnian history, about what he knows to be true, to be right. He realizes that humans from another world have always always been a part of the action. That the arrival of humans almost always accompanies these Aslan sightings. There is always a link. So he delivers a heartfelt prayer that these human saviors will come once again and fight for Narnia, to fight for freedom, to fight for right.
His prayer is answered in a way, but not in the way he hoped. I hope this isn't too much of a spoiler for readers. But it is called The Last Battle for a reason. Narnia is coming to an end. The world, the country, is dying. Tirian and the humans who arrive--Jill, Eustace, Lucy, Edmund, Peter, Digory, and Polly--are there to witness the end of Narnia and the beginning of their after lives.
As a child, I enjoyed this one. I would have put it above many of the other books in the series--including Horse and His Boy and Silver Chair--but as an adult I have a new perspective altogether. While some of the aspects of this one work for me, there were quite a few significant problems.
I'm not sure if other readers will share my quibbles or not. They may have different issues than I do. Among one of the reasons why people may find the last one disappointing is that...
all the humans die. Jill. Eustace. Peter. Edmund. Lucy. Digory. Polly. Most of them (I think most of them) die as a result of a train accident. (The Pevensie parents die as well but we still don't see them in the book.) I'm not sure if killing off all your characters will leave readers satisfied. Yes, the characters themselves are happy. But the deaths of so many seem tragic to me. Not that death itself is tragic. (Death can be a good thing. It can be a blessing.)
Second. Susan is missing. She's no longer a "friend" of Narnia. This is 'tragic' for several reasons. One is that technically speaking she will have lost her mother, father, two brothers, and a sister. She'll be all alone in the world. Two is the not-so-subtle theme that you can lose your salvation. If being a friend of Narnia translates directly into being a Christian, then Lewis' message seems to be that Susan represents Christians that have fallen from grace and lost their salvation, lost their way. Of course there are some believers who do in fact believe that this is the case. That Christians can un-Christian themselves, un-save themselves, re-damn themselves. I for one am not one of them. Of course, there is the potential that this fictional Susan could regain her friend status later on in life. That she could have another opportunity to believe. But Susan as allegory just doesn't work for me.
For those readers who are not approaching these seven novels as a Christian believer, for those that are reading them because they are fantasy--pure and simple and fun fantasy--then The Last Battle is a fitting conclusion.
Edited: I did edit out a theological rant simply because I feel that this may not be the best forum for such a theological can of worms :)