Saturday, May 19, 2012

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CS Lewis' The Last Battle: the end of a masterpiece. But the stories will never die.

For the longest time I'd been postponing reading The Last Battle, the final book of CS Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. As with all good books, or even TV series, I wanted Narnia to be perennially existing in my mind, to know that the stories that rekindled the childlike wonder in me have not yet ended with finality, that I have something else to look forward to. I thought finishing that last book would be like swallowing that last slice of delicious chocolate cake on the fridge: once I take that last bite, I will never taste anything like it again.

But I thought it was time. I had waited for eight years, and isn't that long enough? I doubt that I would have leisure time like this in the next two years.

The Last Battle by CS Lewis Wednesday day off

The story is set in the last days of Narnia. Aslan hasn't appeared for ages. Even King Tirian, the young ruler of the land, only knows Aslan by historical accounts.

We read of a greedy, deceitful Ape called Shift, who finds a golden lion skin floating on water. The Ape forces Puzzle, the simple-minded donkey, to wear the lion skin. Puzzle, not knowing any better and believing that the Ape knows what's best, agrees, although he does so hesitantly. The Ape, of course, wants Puzzle to impersonate Aslan. By doing so, Shift can make everyone in Narnia obey him.

And that's what happens. The creatures of Narnia are at once excited by the news that Aslan has finally appeared. But the Talking Animals cry out in despair when they realize this lion isn't the one they had known from stories of old. This lion is brutal, forcing everyone to do hard and joyless labor, cutting down the trees, making a deal with the wicked Calormenes, and killing anyone who gets in his way.

King Tirian knows something is not right, especially when he learns that the Ape said Aslan and Tash, the god the Calormenes worship, are one and the same. Word about the lion's abuses gets to his castle, and with his close friend, Jewel the Unicorn, he rides to "Aslan's" camp. He finds out the truth and is enraged by it. He plans to destroy this deception, but how can he, when layers upon layers of lies—or even worse, half-truths—conceal the Truth? How can he convince the creatures of Narnia that this isn't the real Aslan?

Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb, characters we first met in The Silver Chair, are at once transported from our world to Narnia. Clearly Narnia is in deep trouble. Jill and Eustace eventually meet King Tirian, and they help him.

They gather their forces to attack the Ape and The Calormenes. They try to get the loyalty of the Dwarves, who are too selfish to fight for anyone else but themselves. We read of the Last Battle, where many warriors from both camps are killed. I will not divulge the rest of the details here, but Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Polly, and Digory also come into the picture. Susan is the only one missing; she no longer belongs to Narnia because she thinks it's too childish. After sometime, Aslan appears, and things change.

We see Father Time taking out the stars from the skies where they fall into the sea. The Sun swallows up the moon. Father Time puts the light out, and Narnia is frozen. The children and the Talking Animals walk into a place that oddly looks familiar but doesn't quite feel the same. They rush to the Gates, they don't get tired—and what "a great, big procession it [is]." Of course Aslan is there, too, "coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty."

We realize it's a New Narnia that we see. Our characters are brimming with peace and joy and excitement.
And as He (Aslan) spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever in which every chapter is better than the one before. 
I felt a deep longing for Heaven as I flipped the last pages of the book. And if Aslan is, in fact, CS Lewis' allegorical character for God, then the author must be describing that glorious, eternal place where He reigns forever in the fellowship of people who have believed and trusted in Him.
In My Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am." John 14:2-3 (NIV)

8 comments:

  1. nice. i always thought that CS Lewis has this captivating ability to introduce such adult concepts - such as God, trust, war - without alienating the kids.

    my love affair with Narnia peaked when I lost the HS library's copy of "Silver Chair" so I have to buy a new one. After reading the Last Battle, it felt like I already reached nadir. But it's a welcome relief that they're doing the films, but they are not as poignant and thoughtful as the books.

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    1. I think writing books for children is harder than it seems. CS Lewis did so effortlessly. The films weren't as good as the movies, but I liked Liam Neeson's dubbing of Aslan.

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  2. I read the Last Battle a long time ago, as a grade school kid. I guess unlike you, I'm the person who won't wait to savor that last piece hehe. I think I read it again later, but I've mostly forgotten it.

    Seeing it summarized here now though, is refreshing as I am now able to decipher more of the symbolism Lewis used to describe the "last days" for believers. He really was a man with spiritual eyes to see that "the best is yet to come".

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    1. "The best is yet to come," indeed! Thanks for dropping by, Dale!

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  3. Glad you finally finished reading The Last Battle. When I did, I cried for longing of Heaven and Home....

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    1. Our home in Heaven—what a promise our Savior has given us. Thanks for visiting, Tita Hope.

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  4. Aargh. My least favorite Narnia book. This one awoke my homicidal instincts.
    What's your favorite?

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