The dream ends: #Narniathon21

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The Last Battle: A Story for Children
by C S Lewis,
Illustrated by Pauline Baynes.
Puffin Books, 1964 (1956)

Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them all.

16: ‘Farewell to Shadowlands’

A bitter disappointment or a valedictory farewell? A heavy-handed religious allegory or an exciting yarn embellished by an array of symbols and motifs? A betrayal of the reader’s innocent trust or a fitting conclusion to a saga that could only end one way after much signposting? The Last Battle is all these and more, though depending on the reader’s point of view they may lean more towards the former assessments than the latter.

What’s clear to me though is that my second read of this final instalment of the Narniad has adjusted my previous attitude to both it and the entire sequence, leading to a more charitable judgement; that’s not to say that there aren’t infelicities and missteps – the prejudicial racial stereotypes being the most obvious – but any fair review would also point out the positives, of which there are many.

The upshot of this re-evaluation is that The Last Battle can be seen as not just an amalgam of the Apocalypse, Ragnarök, Götterdämmerung, Armageddon and the end of the Golden Age ruled by Cronos or Saturn: it also reflects the attributes of the twins Epimetheus and Prometheus (“Hindsight” and “Foresight”) in that it looks back to all that had gone before as well as anticipating what is to come.

Puffin Books cover art by Pauline Baynes (1964)

Like Prince Caspian and The Horse and His Boy this story begins in Narnia, not on Earth. Shift is an ape, his name belying his shifty nature, Puzzle is a donkey who’s easily bamboozled by Shift. The crafty ape has been secretly treating with the Calormenes to infiltrate Narnia before conquering it, and sees Puzzle as a stooge to advance his own plans. Clothing the donkey in a discarded lion skin he declares Aslan the Lion has returned and appointed Shift as his mouthpiece.

Meanwhile young King Tirian and the unicorn Jewel, who are travelling in the West of Narnia, hear rumours of Aslan’s return and, more worryingly, of the mistreatment of Narnian talking beasts and others. After rashly intervening the pair are captured and badly treated; when he then calls on Aslan Tirian gets a vision of seven figures around a table.

The seven, we soon realise, are all individuals we’ve met before – Polly, Digory, Jill, Eustace, Peter, Edmund and Lucy – and with Tirian, Jewel and sundry others they become involved in that final conflict that will result in a great flood that destroys the Narnia they’ve always known. But all is not lost: our author Lewis is a demiurge and thus able to write a new world into existence, just as Aslan sang one into being in The Magician’s Nephew.

Lewis is utterly transparent about his Christian symbolism and underlying meaning, but even if he wasn’t we soon recognise his handiwork with, for example, the centrality of a stable in the narrative, covert allusions to the Good Thief and the Prodigal Son in the person of the Calormene who acknowledges Aslan, or the Caldron Pool which serves as baptismal font for those who enter it.

But more powerful for me than these admittedly puissant symbols is the poetic way Lewis invites us to observe the celestial nature of the real Narnia “within”, the one which questers can attain by travelling further up and further in, the walled garden where, as Tumnus the Faun says, “The inside is bigger than the outside.” Lewis’s visionary evocation of this real Narnia is, I think, the true core of this story, more than the petty dealing of Shift, the duplicity of Narnia’s enemies, the blindness of those like the dwarfs who chose not to see.

For in truth this is the eternal magic of Narnia, outshining the gloom of the Shadowlands we inhabit, the birthright of every person who possesses a boundless imagination and allows their spirit free rein to go where it will.

“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”


#Narniathon21 image after Pauline Baynes

As before, I will have much more to say about this chronicle than can be contained in a short review, though I’ve already alluded to a lot of the themes and motifs I hope to explore.

25 thoughts on “The dream ends: #Narniathon21

    1. I can — just about — manage anything with an allegorical feel, Annabel, if it’s couched in intrinsically beautiful poetic prose, as Lewis does here, but it’s the preachy moralistic kind I hate with a passion, which he does stoop to at times. And I think that the former helps redeem this final volume.
      Hope you enjoy the Langrish as much as much as the rest of the readalong!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I do hope to do get to retire, JJ, they keep moving the goalposts, don’t they?! Pleased you liked the analysis—I hate to dismiss creative work people put their heart and soul in, and try to find the positive whenever possible – it’s sometimes hard, though!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. jjlothin

        That’s a really great attitude to have, Chris, and you do it very well!

        I’m most definitely of an age to have retired, incidentally: earlier lifestyle choices, though, weren’t altogether sensible from a financial point of view!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed, Karen: I sense that, once the publication of LWW was likely Lewis proceeded apace with composing his septad, this particular ending as his ultimate goal. And if, as seems increasingly likely, each instalment was fixed to a medieval ‘planet’, then the Age of Saturn/Cronus (who was also Chronos, Father Time) could only end thus.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Your final paragraph is so hopeful and positive, Chris and I did like the world within a world aspect too. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this re-read from both a nostalgic perspective and looking at the series with your guidance and with the benefit of my own life experience. There has been a subtle difference in my understanding and enjoyment. I’ve the Langrish at the ready!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Anne. I found my first read of the Narniad as a whole such a disappointment so hosting this readathon has provided a good reason to question my instinctive prejudice against Lewis’s intentions. I can’t say I’m any expert on Lewis or his work in general – the opposite really – but I did work hard to wrinkle out how the series as a whole was effective and why it might appeal (or not) across a wide spectrum of readers. If it’s helped you in any way I’m really chuffed!

      The Langrish was instrumental in helping me reappraise the books so I hope it’ll appeal to new readers – she really knows her traditional narratives!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Always a pleasure to read your reviews. I appreciate your kindness and wit. I don’t remember much of it. I don’t think I have spent much time on his 7 books but I share your spirit of seeing the positive. From this Narniathon I have only read your post and Lori, and I do enjoy hearing both your different yet clever voices. It’s obvious that you both respect the book and CS Lewis, while making important points about this final book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you appreciate what Lory and I have to say, as I think we both try to be fair to an author without necessarily being uncritical. I’ve really tried to look below the surface attraction of Lewis’s narratives and am pleased you got something from the reviews and discussions. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent conclusion, I wholeheartedly agree. And I am so glad you gave the series another chance and invited us to read along with you. I for one have discovered so much more than I expected, though I’d read them so many times before. To me that demonstrates the truth of “further up and further in,” which I also believe is about the reality of the imagination. Let’s hold to that essence as other, unworthier things fall away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That really is the essence of good fiction, that it speaks of truths beyond the story however expressed, whether clearly or covertly. It’s what I sense you trying to seek in your reviews, and the best reason for revisiting works that may have puzzled the first time round.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved Narnia as a kid but haven’t reread it for a while. The Last Battle, as I recall, just *felt wrong* — not because of theoretical issues with heaven or, as Pullman put it, valuing death over life (as I got older and read Lewis’s apologetic work, I came into such intense imaginative sympathy with his vision that I still feel rage at the idea that it’s somehow morally wrong to find life as we experience it inadequate and hope for something better, after death or otherwise) but because I’ve never yet met a depiction of heaven that doesn’t feel wrong and anxiety-provoking — in this case, “further up and further in” feels strange — no final resting point — nor could I emotionally feel any way in which this heaven could, as Lewis claimed it did, be Narnia only better, everything you loved only better. Narnia is so much itself.

    Also — a small pedantic quibble: granted, allegory is a word with shifting and complex definitions, but Lewis vehemently denied that Narnia was allegory. He called it a thought experiment: *what if* Jesus had done the things he did in our world in another world.


    1. Oh, interesting points, Meg, thank you! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t subscribe to an afterlife, and certainly not one that depends on a fallible human defining the rules to allow access to it; no, I thought Lewis injected his vision of Aslan’s Country with a degree of poetry which I found reasonably satisfying, even if I didn’t believe in it. (By the way, the only thing that “further up and further in” suggests to me is … a Black Hole.)

      Yes, I know now that Lewis denied his Narnia stories were allegorical, preferring to call it an exercise in supposing: “Suppose there were a world like Narnia and it needed rescuing and the Son of God … went to redeem it, as He came to redeem ours, what might it, in that world, all have been like?”

      I also wrote a piece about Tolkien’s attitude to allegory which you might not have seen:

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! Entirely agreed there is poetry there, though not to the taste of my persnickety 12-year-old self :), and thank you for sharing the piece on Tolkien, I had not read it and quite like it (yay for the Inklings!).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The poetry was not to my taste either when I first read it as an adult, but then I read the sequence in chronological order, getting increasingly irritated at its sanctimonious approach! For this reread I took time to appreciate the details, including the poetry… 🙂

          Glad you liked the Tolkien piece. I’m aiming to start a detailed look at the appendices, which I’ve not read in their entirety, but not for a couple of months yet.


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