Friday, December 21, 2018

The Last Battle

I was a fan of C.S. Lewis in middle school. In the summer of 1978, right before 8th grade, I saved up my babysitting money and bought a paperback boxed set, and sat out on the front porch drinking lemonade, reading the books. I was not a fantasy reader, so I can only imagine that I was encourage to look into these titles by my group of friends, who were HUGE Tolkien geeks.

The funny thing is that I had just gone through confirmation class at my church, but I don't think I ever made the connection that this was Christian allegory. I also purchased The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity before I saw the light during my sophomore year of high school and became a confirmed nonbeliever-- reading these titles as an adult, I felt that Lewis was reactionarily mean about people who didn't believe just what he believed.

This is why I reread this title. I had a student who was reading through some heavy duty classics-- Twain, Poe, E.B. White, you name it. He read a book a day from this series, but when he checked out The Last Battle, it came right back. He couldn't do it, he said, because he was Muslim, and Lewis had a very negative portrayal of people who were very Muslim-like. 

Of course, I apologized. We had a conversation about the fact that C.S. Lewis wrote a long time ago, when things were (sadly, not much) different. He was very polite and understanding, but clearly hurt. Since children never ASK for Lewis and only check his books out when I recommend them, I felt like a jerk. I don't know that I'll pull the books from the shelf, but I also don't know just how long they will stay. 

Lewis, C.S. The Last Battle
Published September 1st 2006 by HarperCollins Publishers
(first published September 4th 1956)
Library copy

Things are not pleasant in Narnia. Ape and his assistant Puzzle the donkey have found a lion's skin, and have taken to wearing it around making proclamations about what Aslan wants, which includes the enslavement of talking animals. There are also a lot of Calormenes, who worship Tash instead of Aslan, who are helping Ape with his evil plan. Enter Tirian, the king in this particular age, and Eustace and Jill, who have been to Narnia before and are back, but hundreds of years later in Narnian time. When Tirian and Jewell the unicorn see a talking horse being abused, they immediately kill the Calormenes in charge. They turn themselves in, but since Ape is so corrupt and things don't look like they will end well, Jill and Eustace rescue him. There proceeds to be a lot of very unpleasant fighting, the horrifying appearance of Tash, Ape's using the term Tashlan and telling everyone the gods are the one and the same, a reappearance by most of the form queens and kings, Aslan arrviing, and a very Dallas, Bobby-in-the-Shower moment involving a train wreck.
Strengths: This concludes many of the threads from the other books, and evokes a very particular world in the same way that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe does.
Weaknesses: Unfortunately, the world is horrible. Aside from the depiction of the Calormenes, there is a fair amount of the use of "Darkie" as an address which is quite grating today. Eustace and the other humans seem a bit disconnected from the complete devastation of Narnia. The writing is preachy, with lots of info dumps. I did not enjoy it at all.
What I really think: Just from the perspective of reading an interesting, well-written tale, this was disappointing. It was overly fraught, super heavy on message, and despite all of the fighting, fairly boring. I really think that Lewis had a huge inferiority complex, and he wanted to outdo Tolkien's books (which are still riveting and do still have fans), but didn't have the natural talent to do so. Also, I do think that Lewis, as an adult convert to Christianity, felt that he had to justify his choice at every turn even if it meant being condescending about other's beliefs. Interestingly enough, this book has more one star ratings on Goodreads than I think I've ever seen a book have.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing about this. I haven't read these books since I was a child (except for starting the Lion, Witch with my daughter, and not finishing because she got bored). Definitely food for thought...

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  2. I didn't read the Chronicles of Narnia until I was an adult. And I read them all back to back - except The Last Battle. I am a believer, and I have reread The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe several times. But for some reason I was never able to get into the final book. I thought at the time it was because I was burnt out on the series. But after reading your comments on it -maybe not.

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  3. I didn't realize it either. I read these book so long ago. Thanks for this insight!

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  4. I adored the Narnia books as a kid, but I hated The Last Battle. I would never read it again, even though I enjoyed the others. (Most of the Calormene stuff is probably awful, even in the other books, but it plays so much less of a role in most.)

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