Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Last Battle (The Chronicles of Narnia (Publication Order) #7) by C.S. Lewis

Hmmm... everything I didn't like about Jill in the previous book has been switched in this book. She's brave and an incredible spy and on the battlefield with a weapon. Makes me want to reread "The Silver Chair." Did I just paint the opposite picture in my head by reading it too fast? 'Tis one of my flaws. My best friend didn't like "The Last Battle" so I never read it as a nine-year-old. When she gave me all the spoilers I wasn't interested in tooling through its pages. I wish I had. She thought I would find it sad and dark, but I found the ending happy.  As a kid I remember worrying about death and trying to reconcile its mysteries only to be fearful at times. This book would have given me comfort and hope. Narnia is a fairy tale heaven. But not only is it an interesting look at death and afterlife from a fairy tale/Christian perspective, it also shows the power of storytelling. As a kid that is what drew me to this series, Lewis as a masterful storyteller. As an adult I admire Lewis's depth of mixing imaginary worlds with complex philosophical and theological thoughts.

The last book in the series has the King of Narnia, Tirian, captured by Calormenes that mean to conquer their land. A false god that calls himself, Aslan, has been established by the Calormenes and they are manipulating the Talking Beasts and Dwarfs into serving them in the name of Aslan. Lewis shows how politics and religion don't mix. The Narnians are blindly following orders rather than questioning the commands by the Ape, Shift who is in league with the Calormenes. He sells them into slavery to increase his own wealth and power. This made me think of how easy some Christians can be manipulated by someone who says that "God told them to do something" when the individual has made up the command to serve his or her own selfish purposes. The incidence also shows despotism in Shift, something Lewis was familiar with having experienced World War II. When an existing government or leaders decree particular behaviors, then people loose the freedom to choose and are forced to do tasks feeling oppressed and abused by them. The Narnians were slaves to the Calormenes whose leadership is presented as those that worship idols and pursue personal gain while mistreating others in the race for power. They are contrasted with the soldier, Emeth, shown as a noble and good Calormene.

The Pevensies, Jill, Polly, Digory, and Eustace pursued wisdom and goodness through lessons in each book. The most common character arcs had them start out in the stories as selfish people and change into unselfish ones. In the end, they chose to serve Aslan and others, as well as, be virtuous or good (except Susan). In other works by Lewis, he discusses ideas such as people in societies will only choose virtue if they are free to do so. Totalitarian regimes replace freedom with oppression and leaders pursue personal gains because humans are selfish by nature. However, even if a society is free, he states that the freedom to choose comes with the risk that people will choose evil over good. (Sorry, I forgot to write down the specific sources this came from: I think "The Abolition of Man" and "Mere Christianity". I might be off on my interpretation... it has been a long time since I read those books.) The choice of virtuous characteristics cannot be forced; it must be freely chosen. That also means a person can chose selfish characteristics as well. Lewis shows that the latter won't reach his or her potential as a human being and will never be satisfied with life as evidenced in characters such as Shift, the Witch, and Uncle Andrew. Susan's story remains unfinished. She has chosen selfish, but is only twenty-one. She can change; whereas, it is obvious that the other three won't.

Lewis shows over and over that the Narnian characters must search for their own truth or meaning in life. He continually reminds them to focus on their story, not others.  This truth requires recognizing that a person cannot achieve a virtuous life without recognizing it is impossible because humans are fallible. It requires intervention from a higher being and a confession of sin. His characters find happiness, but they do not do it on their own. Instead they must recognize that they will fail at being virtuous and it requires a higher being like Aslan or God to transcend this sinful nature. That is why Aslan has to stop Lucy from reading the beauty spell in "Prince Caspian"; she can't do it on her own. She wants to be beautiful like Susan, but is not. Aslan guides her from vanity to humbleness. Lucy chooses to listen to Aslan and recognize her sinful or selfish nature; whereas, Susan does not recognize Aslan and is cast out of Narnia.

Truly, this series shows the power of storytelling which is what drew me to them as a nine-year-old. Stories or words have power and they have many different endings. With Lucy, the magician's book has power to make her beautiful, but she chooses to accept who she is inside and not look to others for acceptance. Susan chooses to see Narnia as a silly children's story. According to Polly, Susan doesn't want to change but stay in adolescence and not grow up. She has shown reluctance throughout the series to believe in Narnia. Peter, Edmund, and Lucy had to convince her from the get-go to rescue Mr. Tumnus in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." It would seem she is uncomfortable with situations she can't control and Narnia and Aslan are too wild for her. Her ambiguous ending in "The Last Battle," where everyone is killed and she is left on her own, suggests the reader can decide on her fate in whatever way they want.  I prefer to think she will see Aslan again, but in her own country and on her own terms.

King Tirian calls upon the children of the past in desperation to come and rescue Narnia. Jill Pole and Eustace get transported to him where they expose the false Aslan to the dwarves who refuse to believe the truth. A battle ensues and Narnia is destroyed. After the battle, everyone goes through a stable door where they are separated, the good turn to the right and the evil turn to the left. This reminded me of Dante's Inferno where souls that go left head to the evil Tartara and those that go right are blessed in Elysium. The seven go to the right where a heaven-like Narnia exists that is full of happiness. The dwarves are in Narnia but sit in a circle refusing to believe anyone or anything. When Lucy tries to discuss the beauty of Narnia, they ask her what she is talking about because all they can see is the stable that they came through. They have created a reality and found meaning in life or truth that is quite different than Lucy's. Their story is one of unbelief.

The Hebrew word for truth is "emeth." The character Emeth is a pagan Calormene who ends up in Aslan's Narnia because even though he worships Tash, an idol, Aslan said that his heart is good and not cruel. He seeks the truth looking outside himself for it, not inward in a selfish manner. He tells the seven his story and how ashamed he was of his countrymen when he realized they were lying to the Narnians' about Tash and Aslan. Emeth did not want to rule for his own power and wealth but to seek knowledge or truth of the meaning of life. This reminded me of the controversy Christians will have over the fate of those raised in a different faith. Lewis seems to be saying that even though he believed in Tash, Aslan receives him in his land because his heart was righteous though misinformed.

As you can see, I loved these books. I also like that while they have a pattern of Christian symbolism, they have literary references to philosophers, fables, fairy tales, myths and more. If it was a strict Christian allegory, I wouldn't find it as interesting for it speaks to my love of literature. - although I seemed to write a review where I tried to tackle more theology than I intended. Forgive me if I am way off. I seem to have gone off on many different tangents. I thought my reviews were sounding too much a like on each of these books - I guess that's the hazard of reviewing a series. These books are just as popular here in Taiwan as they were when I worked in the United States. Lewis hopes for a world that is a better place through his wonderful storytelling. Works for me. See if it works for you.

4 Smileys

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