So Long, Narnia
(A Book Review of The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis)
Right from its opening sentence C. S. Lewis’s concluding book in The Chronicles of Narnia series homes in that matters are off to an ominous start. News of the appearance of the great lion-deity Aslan on the edge of the forest near Lantern Waste spread like wild fire throughout the land. And who wouldn’t be elated by this knowing it’s been two hundred years since the King of Beasts and the son of the Emperor-Over-The-Sea was last seen? Before long, humans and talking animals alike are gripped by these rumours yet were just as easily doused by disillusionment for this Aslan — who they thought is a figure of awe-inspiring magnanimity as told by tales of lore — is far from what they expected. When confusion and strife divide Narnia, once again it sends for the Sons and Daughters of Adam and Eve to set things right and balance the scales.
Without question The Last Battle for me is the most emotionally intense out of the seven books. Besides being the last and final book in the beloved classic series — and that in a matter of pages the reader will bid adieu to the characters who no doubt earned a special place in his/her heart — it is also deeply affecting. For the first two-thirds of the novel scenes of disheartening violence and cruelty preoccupy the reader. It’s scary to see just how readily Narnians will believe that the benevolent Aslan of yore would want them to suffer appalling things just for the perpetuated and tolerated reason that He’s “not a tame lion”. As fast as it might set off the injustice button from some of its readers, Lewis nonetheless isn’t doing this to manipulate the reader’s feelings or hastily rake in sympathy points. A salient rationale will be revealed in the later part of the book of which I will speak no further for pain that I will be spoiling things that is for the reader’s taking. True knowledge comes to those of patient virtue, Gentle Reader.
One of the criteria I base on whether a series is worth its salt is when it dares to tackle themes it would have otherwise avoided. Not only is this a sign of a maturing work but also a gesture of respect on the part of the author by presenting how he sees the world without sugar coating it. Case in point, I just flinched (and was considerably amazed by Lewis’s audacity to do this) when scenes of talking animals doing brutalities and subterfuge to their own kind to push their own ends turn up in the first part of The Last Battle — this no less from a children’s book. Another theme that goes undetected by some of the readers of the book is that of indifference, exhibited no less by one of the Narnian creatures when they thought it the last straw and can’t take it no longer after being tricked and lied to numerous times, thus choosing to swear fealty to no one but themselves. Aslan perfectly captures the consequence of such mind set when he said later on: “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning where often bounty is right there, and yet it is missed because there is such a great unbelief that it cannot be seen.” This is a true picture of life where often true reward stares us right in the face and sadly some turns the other way around and chooses to ignore.
As the title makes apparent, a last battle will indeed take place and, lest the reader have the wrong notion, let me warn you early on that it may not be on the same grand scale here like what we’ve previously seen namely from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. A more important struggle will come about this time, the battlefield one’s own heart and mind, its aim — in the most decisive moment in our lives — true deliverance .
While C. S. Lewis retains the same narrative voice in the book — with the usual illustrative parallelisms to our own world in parts of the narration — it distinctly has now become more serious in tone. Perhaps this may be so because The Last Battle deals and is patterned in much closer with Christian theological philosophy which doesn’t figure in prominently (but remains an integral part of) in the earlier books. Separate religious themes can be found throughout The Chronicles of Narnia where these develop and then drawn together for a unified whole in the seventh book bringing to the forefront an examination of the climate of Christian faith. The upshot is a totally thought-provoking line of exploration at the heart of Biblical doctrine. Lewis addresses major theological questions and some of the few that I realized are: first, how can a person who has known the goodness and greatness of Christ turn his or her back to Him, choosing, instead, their own will?; second, what of those people who have never heard the Gospel and therefore had no chance to believe? Will He condemn them? Lewis provides succinct examples to some of these in the novel giving a myriad of interpretations based on how the reader sees each.
The Last Battle is a triumphant culmination to The Chronicles of Narnia, and having won the 1965 Carnegie Medal in Literature precisely affirmed so. Turning the last page, with a sigh of bittersweet happiness, I can’t believe I have reached the end of my journey into Narnia. Coming to a full circle, the concluding paragraph perfectly captures the meaning of all the books in the series as a deeper truth emerges of the glory of divine splendour awaiting us all.
Every new beginning arises from other beginning’s ending.
So long, Narnia.
Book #45 for 2011
Published by Scholastic Inc.
(Trade Paperback, January 1995 Edition)
Started: November 26, 2011
Finished: November 27, 2011