When evil comes to Narnia, Jill and Eustace help fight the great last battle and Aslan leads his people to a glorious new paradise. Narnia. . .where dwarfs are loyal and tough and strong--or are they. . .where you must say goodbye. . .and where the adventure begins again. The Unicorn says that humans are brought to Narnia when Narnia is stirred and upset. And Narnia is in trouble now: A false Aslan roams the land. Narnia's only hope is that Eustace and Jill, old friends to Narnia, will be able to find the true Aslan and restore peace to the land. Their task is a difficult one because, as the Centaur says, "The stars never lie, but Men and Beasts do." Who is the real Aslan and who is the imposter?
Original publication date
This last book, though, left me very disappointed. The Christian symbolism is clumsy and blatant, and it’s a dark, dreary, colonialism-tinged brand of Christianity lacking humor and love. When all was said and done, I couldn’t find a single thing about this book to like.
The Narnian apocalypse begins in a rather unexpected manner—with the story of an ape named Shift, and how he gulls his neighbor, the donkey Puzzle, into wearing a lion’s skin he found in Cauldron Pool. From this seemingly insignificant happening, however, follows a chain of events that gradually lead to disaster. Soon there are Calormenes in the land, the king himself is put in danger, and once again two children are called out of our world to aid them as best they can.
My six-year-old sister confessed that she didn’t understand much of this when I read it to her earlier this year, and indeed this is by far the most “advanced” of the Chronicles. I still maintain that they are none of them allegories, but it is certainly true that Lewis explored complex philosophical and religious issues in the books. Here he is concerned with any number of things: the lie that is universalism, the way evil eventually consumes itself, the dangers inherent in materialism, etc. I cannot tell how much I am moved by Emeth’s confession: “And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me, Beloved, me who am but as a dog—”
Even people who love the series and have run into no trouble when it comes to Lewis’ outlook sometimes have a hard time taking to this book, simply because parts are so sad. I cried at least twice during this latest reread of the Chronicles, and I was shocked to find that I didn’t during The Last Battle. I suppose I have now come to the point in my life when I can see past all the tragedy to the hope that lies beyond.
A particularly effective way to cap off a wonderful series, and a favorite forever.
Well, it could be said I'd been warned--but it actually wasn't the allegorical aspect per se that threw me. Maybe it's just I'd grown inured to that aspect by this book, or maybe that I'm not as familiar with Revelations as the Gospels, so I didn't feel like I was ticking off, oh, this is Judas, this is the crucifixion, etc. The story is rich in ideas, imagery and symbolism. I loved the echoes of Dante and Plato.
On the whole, the issue of that last page aside, what disturbed me most was how the Calormenes were described. There have been accusations Narnia is racist because of how Lewis depicts this southern adversary of Narnia, and I think that unfair. I think we overuse the accusation "racist" so it loses it's impact when we use it other than to mean the belief that race defines character and ability. Lewis clearly does not believe this given positive Calormenes characters like Aravis and Emeth. In fact, I rather loved the message Lewis sends through Emeth--that it doesn't matter in whose name we do good or evil, whether Muhammad or Jesus--only that the act is good or evil.
Nevertheless, it was disturbing to have Calormenes described this way: Then the dark men came round them in a thick crowd, smelling of garlic and onions, their white eyes flashing dreadfully in their brown faces. And then there are the repeated cries of "darkie" from the crowd of dwarfs. (Admittedly those particular dwarfs are villains in this book--not people to emulate--but I imagine reading those passages aloud to a child and I cringe).
There's also, to borrow Gaiman's phrase, "The Problem of Susan." Susan, we find out early in the book, is no longer a "friend of Narnia" because she denies Narnia exists now and cares these days only about lipstick and nylons and such. I can rather forgive Lewis this. He's trying to make a point I think that even those who once knew the right way can drift away and forget what's truly important. I don't see misogyny in choosing Susan for that role anymore than it's anti-male to choose Edmund for the traitor role in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Moreover, given the strong female characters in the Chronicles (especially Jill in this story) I find cries of sexism less than convincing.
But then there's that last page...
This is the next to last paragraph in the book and series:
There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are--as you used to call it in the Shadowlands--dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."
This reminded me of when my Grandmother died, the priest turned to me, my mother and aunt and rebuked us for weeping--because "she's now in a better place than you are." I know what I felt towards that priest in that moment as I looked at my mother's and aunt's stricken faces--rage.
And then I thought of Susan--no longer "a friend of Narnia" dealing with the sudden violent deaths of her friends and family and I felt the same kind of rage at Lewis.
Yes, I know--Christians believe Heaven this wonderful thing. And within the book and series the ending has its logic. But I for one felt slapped by that paragraph--I can't imagine wanting to give this to children, that one paragraph seems so malignant in its celebration of death. You guys giving this book five stars--you really want to give a child a book where dying young in a trainwreck with your entire family--parents, siblings, a cousin is the happy ending? Really?
A friend told me about Gaiman's counter to this "The Problem of Susan"--it's in the short story anthology Fragile Things. That story has some disturbing imagery, and I know some that love Narnia have called it disgusting and "blasphemous." (Definitely not a story for children--adults only here.) All I can say is having come to the end of this series I found it cathartic. (And going back to reading Gaiman and Pratchett's Good Omens, about an angel and demon working to stop the apocalypse, can only help...)
All the compassion, charm and subtlety of the earlier books has been drained. Worst of all, this is some strange form of Manichaeism mascarading as Christianity. Lewis' story here is too cartoonish to be tragic: the deep and profound tragedy is that this, in the end, is what the Narnia series comes to.
Please, PLEASE, don't read this one to your kids until you've read it yourself.
It starts out strong, with an ape tricking his donkey friend into wearing a lion pelt that washed into a pond they frequent so that he can pretend to be Aslan and get people to do stuff for him. It's obviously analogous to the Antichrist but I'm fine with that. It's a fascinating part of the Christian myth and makes for good drama and tension.
The second half is where everything falls apart. The Antichrist signals the end times, and as you can imagine that's exactly what happens. Unfortunately it happens rather slowly, and boringly. After much ado about nothing Aslan shows up, kills Narnia, ushers everyone through a magical door into the 'real' Narnia (Heaven) and they live happily ever after, theoretically. Except all the kids actually died in a horrible train accident back in our world and Susan gets to stay behind in the world where her friends are dead because fuck her, am I right?
It's not so much the heavy-handed Christian apologist on the other end of these words that I have a problem with. After all, that's been there from the start and I've been pretty okay with it. It's more that this is the first time I've truly felt that Lewis let his faith worsen his storytelling instead of mining the Christian myth for all it's worth. The descriptions of 'Heaven' go on forever and are uninspired, which grinds the pace to a halt. All conflict disappears in the build up to the end times because you know what's going to happen so early, and that none of these struggles in the moment will really mean anything by the end.
Oh, and did I mention that it's got some pretty obvious racist undertones? And that it says Susan is denied Heaven primarily because she's off having sex, basically, and that's wrong and stuff? Like I said, it's pretty hard to defend. Still, I give it two stars instead of one because the book started off simply in the style of a parable with a donkey pretending to be Aslan because of his mean ape friend, and as that it was enjoyable for a short time. Also because it's the end of the series and it brings back all your favorite characters in the end, which does feel a little nostalgic and heart-warming. I may have only gotten around to reading all the books in the last couple of years, but Narnia has technically been a part of my life since I first read Magician's Nephew, Wardrobe, and Silver Chair back in middle school. Even with all the Christian propaganda, it's bittersweet to see it go.
I have used this book more than any other in my ministry.
The absence of one character is discussed within a two page span, and while some readers may question this choice by Lewis, I have to say that I respect it. After having other portions of a Christian belief stuffed down your throat, the need to stay on track with belief, the need to keep your faith a focus, the need to want the connection and to have those lessons shown with such strength, clarity and brevity was a welcome relief.
All in all, this is my least favorite of the series, but still worth reading, if not as often as the others.
This book, out of all of them, however, felt less like a children's book to me. I mean, I suppose I can see how this is still a children's book, but this book is also incredibly dark and deep...maybe too much so for a child to fully understand what C.S. Lewis was trying to get across. It was a little rough for me to hear about Susan's fate, although there were clues leading up to it throughout all of the books.
Once again...this book was brimming with Christian metaphors and allegory. I could type pages and pages about everything that I found in this book. Although it all remained fairly obvious, this book can still be read as a simple story.
Overall, I loved it...and I am so glad that this series ended the way that it did.
And the anti-hominoid angle is peculiar, too. He has an ape become the Antichrist (or "anti-Aslan"), and apes hadn't appeared anywhere earlier. There's something a bit icky about the disguised anti-evolutionism implied here.
Oh, well. This is the least crumpled of the books in my possession. I reread it the fewest times, growing up.
I could overlook the Christian overtones in the other novels, but in this one, it was WAY too much in-your-face Christian propaganda.
*is only slightly kidding*