#Narniathon21: Farewell?

Durham Cathedral sanctuary knocker

The Chronicles of Narnia come to a conclusion with The Last Battle, a title which raises strong feelings in readers, not all of them good. And theoretically we come to an end with our #Narniathon21 – though as I’ve already indicated there is a chance to extend it, for those for whom the sudden dissipation of magic is too painful!

As with the previous titles in the septad I shall pose three questions for you to consider, though as usual you are free to ignore them in any comments you may wish to add below; either way, your reactions and opinions will be of huge interest – especially for this, often regarded as the most problematic of the Narniad.

There is no rush for you to join the discussion, particularly if you have yet to finish (or indeed to start) The Last Battle; but do, if you want, add links to your own reviews or discussions, or add pointers to related literature you’ve come across that may add to our appreciation and enjoyment!

Puffin Books Pauline Baynes cover art 1964
  1. We’ve come a long way since the Pevensies entered the wardrobe that first led them into Narnia. What are the principal emotions that well up in you as you look back on all that’s happened since then?
  2. Many fans of Narnia, knowing the many adverse reactions to this final title, have avoided or otherwise refused to read it. Were you one of these and, even if not, what is your reaction now?
  3. At the end of the final chapter Lewis uses the metaphor of a book, whether the Book or another special storybook of which the Narnia tales are merely “the cover and the title page.” Does this metaphor work for you as it is intended to?

My questions have of necessity been broad but I hope they’ve given you space to expand on what you like or don’t like about this book, whether the specifics or in general.

WordPress Free Photo Library

With The Last Battle we’ve notionally reached the end of The Chronicles of Narnia – but if you want to extend our discussion of the Narniad then there’s an opportunity to do just that on Friday 29th July.

This is when when we consider Katherine Langrish’s From Spare Oom to War Drobe, that author’s overview of the Chronicles as a whole. My review (here) gives a flavour of that work if you’d like to join in that conversation – or if you want to extol the virtues of another published overview!

Still, it’s been an enjoyable but also exhausting journey, and you may just want to stop: no one will blame you. For those who now just want to hang up their walking boots I’d like to thank you for the company, for the cheers and tears, for the opinions and the insights; it’s been a blast.

And thank you to those who cajoled me into organising this readalong (you know who you are!), suggested a format and enthusiastically joined in; those too who shared reviews and posts on social media, and everyone who – regardless of where they were coming from – were polite and respectful as well as supporting their own viewpoint with wit and clarity. I couldn’t have asked for better or more!

To think that it was at midsummer this time last year that I asked Are you up for a Narniathon?! We’ve come a long way since…

50 thoughts on “#Narniathon21: Farewell?

  1. I’ll be writing my own post later, but I didn’t enjoy The Last Battle. I did read it as a kid, but I’d (thankfully) totally forgotten the ending which shocked me. It all felt heavy-handed. I shall however, join in with the Langrish, having acquired a copy.

    I have, however, really enjoyed reading a modern children’s classic from my childhood each month and plan to keep that up with the Susan Coopers followed by some Nesbit I think. Thank you for hosting #Narniathon21, Chris – it’s been super.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Interesting, Annabel, “heavy-handed” is a description I use in my review (scheduled for later this month), particularly in a specific context, as you’ll see. As I try to explain, I found this final instalment less offensive and disappointing than my memory served me, though it’s still problematic (as doubtless others will expand on here).

      Good that you’ll join in the Langrish discussion. 🙂 I’ve acquired a full set of The Dark is Rising series now, and though over the years I’ve already posted reviews of the first three titles in different editions I’m happy to start again from the beginning if, as you originally said, you may read them one a month starting in August – whether or not you also put up a discussion post.

      Anyway, I’m really chuffed you’ve got a lot out of this readalong: I enjoyed your comments and now look forward to your Last Battle review!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well done, Chris on a fabulously successful Narniathon. I have been fascinated by your posts and those of others taking part. It’s sad to know it has come to an end but as you say, there are plenty of discussions to be had and, no doubt, a great many critical titles and other books about Narnia to be investigated in the future. You certainly have come a long way since last summer. 🦁

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Paula, it’s been fascinating to have all the responses to this group read of the Narniad and insightful for me to reread a series I was initially very disappointed with. And you’re right about other critical titles to be investigated – I’m currently chugging slowly through a series of essays in Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth And Religion in C S Lewis’ Chronicles which I hope to review in the coming weeks.

      Anyway, begone woe! Annabel is proposing to read Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series starting in August, so I think I’ll be treating myself to that until December!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s been a marvellous project, Chris: thank you.

    To respond briefly to points 2 and 3 above: the one book I actively skip is The Horse and His Boy. A great read but all the same there is a grubby misuse of orientalised bad guys that I don’t like – far worse in many ways than the clumsy attempt at universalism in The Last Battle. LB is, certainly in those first chapters, a powerful indictment of lying popularism and ecocide that seems really prescient.

    My remark to your question 3 is just to point to Lewis deliberate parallel between Narnia and the Gospels, specifically the final verse of John’s Gospel, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” Hubris, or an in-joke?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s been a delight and even a privilege to run this readalong, Nick, so in a way the pleasure is all mine – though from responses it’s clear I have to share that pleasure with many many others! So thank you. 🙂

      It certainly tempting to miss out TH&HB – it adds little and definitely leaves a lingering bad smell – but I nevertheless got more positives from it than I remember doing the first time around. But that powerful indictment in TLB that you point to is partly what identifies a fantasy as being more than just escapist fiction – in being applicable to current events it remains ever relevant.

      I’m glad you pointed to a relevant and apt biblical text to parallel Lewis’s closing paragraphs, Nick, I knew I could rely on you for that! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, very hard on Susan, not just regarding the nylons and make-up (though is that just Lewis’s idiosyncracies showing him up?) but particularly that, her being in America and thus absent from England and Narnia, the rest of her family has been tragically taken from her. This is the Susan Question, isn’t it: whatever happened to her afterwards? How did she react? And has anyone written a novel about her life after the Narniad ends?

      The other two titles have generally been low down in other readers’ lists of favourite instalments, so your lukewarm reception doesn’t surprise me! For what it’s worth my choice would be Prince Caspian as one of the weakest offerings. Thanks so much for commenting!

      Liked by 2 people

        1. No, not yet,.but I’m glad for the link – I knew there was something that followed up Susan’s later life but I hadn’t twigged it was Gaiman: might I have read it in a collection like Smoke and Mirrors?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Could be. It seems to be very widespread. I don’t think I like it; not because it seems contrary to Lewis’ vision but because Susan’s life seemed so tawdry. But what could Susan have grown up with, after that childhood? Perhaps the best meditation on “fantasy survival” is Garner’s Colin, deeply troubled and still haunted by his losses, in Boneland.
            It bears some reflection: I wrote a short piece on adult Tolly receiving news of the death of his great-Grandmother Oldknowe, once: it taught me a lot about the interplay of characters. What might we make of the grown man Gwydion, home from, say, teaching in England, closing down his father’s farm?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Ah, I’ve found the Gaiman piece in Fragile Things – I haven’t as yet read the collection though I’ve skimmed through a couple of items, so this isn’t where I heard of the Susan conundrum; I shall take time to read it presently as yesterday I was accompanying for Abergavenny Eisteddfod all day.

              I read Boneland when it came out but knew I had to let it lie before rereading and reviewing: that whole notion of the afterlife of young characters can be fraught with anxieties about how they’ll turn out and if they will disappoint – it’s why I hesitate to read Kate Saunders’ Five Children on the Western Front though I’ve had a copy for yonks…

              Liked by 1 person

            2. If you’re referring to Gaiman’s story I’m inclined to agree with you. I quite like a lot of what he writes but he does seem to taint a fair proportion of it by his preoccupations with loveless sex.

              Like

  4. jjlothin

    I never really liked The Last Battle as a child, but nevertheless there are some episodes in it that I still find haunting, such as the idea of the train crash, the ‘onwards and upwards’, the Pevensies (minus the hopelessly decadent Susan!) watching the ending of the world …

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, those are some of the key moments I too remembered from my first read, so it’s interesting to discover on my recent revisit other aspects also sharing centre stage – Shift’s insidious bullying of Puzzle, the honest Calormene, the Tardis-like nature of the apple orchard and its resemblance to a camera obscura, and much more.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. jjlothin

        Oh yes, the honest Calormene – that’s another central memory! Though as much for the Pauline Baynes illustration as anything …

        You have got a real knack of encouraging a person to do a re-read, Chris!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m a couple books behind because I’m in the process of selling my house and it’s been a little stressful. I haven’t read very much since May, but I’m hoping to get to The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle in July. The Narniathon has been fun. I’m glad I decided to join and reread the series. Thanks for hosting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely no problem, Jenni, I do hope your house sale is going more smoothly now. Feel free to add whatever comments on the relevant posts whenever it suits – they’re not going away any time soon!

      Like

  6. I’ve loved the Narniathon, Chris, and thanks so much for hosting it – I wouldn’t have re-read otherwise! As for The Last Battle, I’ve always hated the opening, and found the religious message much stronger this time round. I’ll share my thoughts next week – Lewis’s storytelling is still excellent, but I was cross about his treatment of Susan!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Woohoo, Karen, glad to be the conduit for your reread! I’m working up a post about the Susan ‘problem’ but it hasn’t quite coalesced, but yes, TLB is quite dismissive, as was a mention in an earlier book. I look forward to your thoughts and considerations whenever they appear, especially where Lewis’s intentions here are concerned. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved The Last Battle as a child! I remember being surprised that some people didn’t like it. Now there are so many things that make me uncomfortable, but still some things to appreciate, which I shall try to do in my post.

    It occurred to me for the first time that maybe Lewis simply wanted to kill everybody off so he would not be pestered to write more Narnia books? Somewhat as L. Frank Baum tried to do with Oz, but that did not work …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, and Conan Doyle tried to bump off Sherlock Holmes too, didn’t he, and look where that led! Had Lewis had enough of Narnia? Possibly, but I think the notion of a Narnia “further up and further in” was always his end plan, a reflection of heaven to which the only portal comes through corporeal death.

      And the uncomfortable bits – yes, I think we can agree on those; it’s not mitigation that I remember, for example, all those Hollywood films inspired by Arabian Nights hokum that were around when Lewis was alive (present even in the early Indiana Jones movies) and which pandered to the swarthy-equals-untrustworthy attitude then current in the West.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have really enjoyed reading your and all the other bloggers’ who I happen to follow take on this series, it’s been a lovely way to revisit them even if I’ve not re-read them myself! I really dislike The Last Battle, only worsted in my experience by the last Walter Farley Black Stallion book (also featuring the end of the world) but maybe it has loomed more horrible in my memory than in reality! Bravo for getting this readalong going and keeping the momentum!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the warning, I shall avoid Farley if I ever am tempted to read a novel about horses…The Last Battle wasn’t as bad as I feared though there are bits that still rankle which we now find tone deaf and rightly so.

      But I’m glad you appreciated the readathon posts and comments, that’s good to know! Do stay with us for the Langrish conversation. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Your Narniathon has been thoroughly enjoyable and has prompted me to embark on a proper re-read for the first time since my childhood enjoyment of the series. Other than some read aloud sessions in school and with my sons they remained treasures that I remembered from my first encounter with them. As a child I felt so let down by The Last Battle and that feeling had come flooding back as I’m reading it now. I’d forgotten the unpleasant attitude shown by Shift and within a couple of pages I was tempted to give up. I’m persevering however and Jill is just about making it bearable but I’m reminded of that childhood sadness. One aspect I had forgotten was how apparent the voice of CS Lewis is in the books, the asides, the comments and the friendly narration. Perhaps that’s why I was disappointed as a child, I felt a little betrayed as though I’d been misled through the earlier books by someone I’d grown to trust. I’m plodding on and looking forward to reading your comments on the ‘Susan problem’.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So sorry this is proving painful for you, Anne, I do hope it gets easier. I really hated Shift with a passion (as I was meant to) when I first read this half a dozen or so years ago; now I feel Lewis captured what we identify as coercive control extremely well and realistically, with Shift using that not so subtle bullying which suggests the bully somehow is the real victim. A tough read though.

      My review is scheduled for tomorrow, with me attempting to seek out some positives. Then there’ll be a couple of further posts as I try to wrinkle out the nuts and bolts of Lewis’s narrative and attempt to understand his purposes more.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh please don’t apologise, Chris, it’s interesting to discover the effect of the book on me had not been distorted by the passage of time. It’s also interesting to see the development of the plot too, the details of which I’d forgotten. Your comments about coercive control have given me pause for thought as that had not occurred to me. Yet again you’re making me view things anew! Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m a few days behind this month – thanks so much, Chris, for giving us time to respond! This was actually my favorite in the series for quite a while when I was a child. I wouldn’t say that now, but these prompts helped me identify some reasons why.

    1. I still love this series and was delighted to revisit it – especially one per month, as I normally gobble them up once I get started. But I do note how sort of baggy it is compared to many series – a bit all over the map, not only chronologically but in terms of setting, characters, etc.

    2. I didn’t realize that reactions to this volume were so negative. Why did I like it so much? I think partly it felt more “grown up” because it’s much darker than the others. Tirian’s despair, the cutting down of the trees, lots of death, evil triumphing in Narnia – it’s a lot to handle. The psychological aspect of Shift’s manipulation of Puzzle, and the question of how much Puzzle is to blame for falling victim – as Eustace says, “If you’d spent less time saying you weren’t clever and more time trying to be as clever as you could…” -both feel very realistic, but fairly sophisticated stuff for me at the time. The latter in particular stuck with me, in a way that I think helped steer me away from various emotional quagmires as I grew up.

    3. The sheer wish-fulfillment aspect of the ending also really appealed to me as a child, especially in contrast with the darkness. But Lucy’s “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world” grated on me tremendously once I twigged to what it meant, and still makes me cringe. I can see the attraction of the inside being larger than the outside, of the Platonic ideal being merely shadows in our world… but I don’t believe it’s true, and more, it feels like a problematic delusion when it creates dissatisfaction and disdain for the world we do have.

    One of the many ways I feel like Lewis undercuts his own apologetics shows up strongly here. The poor honest-but-dim animals don’t question fake-Aslan’s horrible edicts because “he’s not a *tame* lion,” and Lewis seems to be saying that a good God would not require bad things. To me, there’s a straight line from this to a critique of Abraham and Isaac (ie Abraham should have refused to kill his son).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh what a delightful and well considered response, Hilary, thank you! A ‘baggy’ series? Yes, it certainly is, and this seems to account for the differing rankings of reader favourites in the sequence. And I agree it is a darker and more mature volume than the others, with unflinching descriptions of deaths, psychological abuse and destruction to the fore.

      Ethics-wise I do think it’s all over the place, having its cake and also eating it. He doesn’t really answer the question if a god was so loving and powerful why would he allow the innocent and ignorant suffer, which is at the heart of many critics’ unease with monotheistic religions.

      But issues like this aside I’m so glad I provided you and others with a means to revisit the Narniad and to possibly reconsider its meanings and how it affects the reader – a reread has certainly been enlightening for me!

      Like

  11. I finally finished The Last Battle about an hour ago.

    1. I’m really glad I took the time to participate in the Narniathon. It has been enlightening and I have a new found appreciation for the Narniad.

    2.The first time I read The Last Battle, I hated it. I gave it only 1 star. As I reread it, I tried to keep an open mind. I enjoyed it much more this time around. I still don’t agree with how Lewis treated Susan nor do I think that she shouldn’t be “redeemed” when Puzzle, who imitated Aslan, was. (Yes, I know Puzzle was tricked by Shift, but before Puzzle agreed to go along with Shift, he actually said that he knew it was wrong to impersonate Aslan.) Because of Susan, Puzzle, AND the extremely problematic language regarding the Calormenes, I only changed my rating from 1 star to 3 stars.

    3. I understand what Lewis wanted us to regarding that metaphor, but eh. It doesn’t really do anything for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s good to know this Narniathon has given you a chance to reappraise the Narniad, Jenni, something I sense for other readers too. The moral judgments in TLB still feel inconsistent to me, and I try to address some of these when I consider Susan’s treatment in a later post.

      The stable metaphor? Yes, that just feels like a sledgehammer to crack a nut but I suppose it must have appealed to Lewis.

      Like

  12. Pingback: June 2022 books read – Hilary's Book Blog

  13. Finally, I’ve caught up with this instalment; apologies for being so late.

    1. I’ve enjoyed reading this series once again and in proper order. I have read the first six more or less in order before, but this was my first read of TLB. What I enjoyed about the series this time around was exploring the many many layers to the books, from the pure adventures they are on the surface to the allegorical elements (sometimes these are too strong), to the various possible inspirations which run deeper and broader than one realises at first. Thanks so much for hosting this. I don’t have a copy of Spare Oom yet but I will follow the discussion and join in if I can find one in time.

    2. I was indeed one of those who hadn’t read the last book, partly because of a mix up (when I missed out on having a copy at all) and then of course, the ‘end’ story. But despite the problematic elements, I am glad I read the book, and I liked the ending eventually because once again of the note of hope it ends on, whether or not one is in agreement with the notion of an eventual ‘heaven’.

    3. ‘The book’ is probably what he meant to hint at, but I felt better thinking about it as a fresh start/new adventure, though of course, one has to consider where this start is, and all that comes attached to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Apologies really not necessary, Mallika, always grateful for responses whenever they arrive! And it was a delight to host, especially with so many enthusiastic Narniathoners. 😊

      I think the idea of a fresh start was what he was aiming at, but for many readers it will have been (and will continue to be) distressing that the main protagonists have to die, and so dramatically, for them to attain this fresh start.

      Anyway, it’s good you got so much out of reading this, particularly as this was your first read of it – I was dismayed and disgusted after my first encounter, but now I appreciate more of what Lewis was trying to achieve.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. A bittersweet goodbye it certainly is, Anne, but I’m glad you got a lot from the Narniathon discussions, here and elsewhere—as indeed I did, for when I first read the series as an adult I determined it wasn’t worth bothering with again. And yet I hung on to my one-volume edition…

      Like

        1. Yes, it does. This time round I read a mix of old Puffin editions which we’ve had for forty-odd years and more recent HarperCollins paperbacks, and though I notice that not all the Pauline Baynes illustrations are included in the one-volume hardback, then at least I read the seven stories in the original order.

          Like

Do leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.