Well, I am proud to announce that for the first time in my life I have completely read through The Chronicles of Narnia. It took time (about four months) and occasionally quite a bit of effort (the first and last books). I read other books every now and then for a change of pace, but I always went back to it. And I enjoyed every minute of it. I’ll have more to say about my journey through Narnia a bit later, but for now I’m going to limit myself to The Last Battle.
As I said previously on this blog, I dreaded this book more than any of the others because I hate endings and goodbyes. But even though I knew that’s what this book essentially was, somehow it didn’t feel too painfully so until the very end. And even then, it wasn’t so much the pain of goodbye, as it was a kind of growing pain, like being stretched to fit something or to see something I had never seen before. Perhaps that’s because it wasn’t really an ending at all, but a beginning. As Lewis himself said, “Chapter One of the Great Story.”
The story begins centuries if not millennia ahead in the future after The Silver Chair. A foolish ass and manipulating ape come together and set up a false Aslan in Narnia, an act that proves the undoing of Narnia and some of its inhabitants. Even after the King comes and unmasks the impostor, the Narnian dwarves do not respond as he expects.
This was the most terrifying and painful part of the entire book for me. Instead of repenting and returning to Aslan, they decide all Aslans must be false, tricks used by cruel men to attain power over fools. Granted, it didn’t help that the impostors borrowed Aslan and his people’s own phrase, “He is not a tame Lion.” The liars and truth-tellers had that much and that little in common, but it was enough to muddy the waters for those who did not want to see. But that is the way all lies work. Mix in just enough truth, and it always sounds better. The tricky part is not throwing out the truth with the lie, something many Narnian dwarves couldn’t master, something even I have trouble with sometimes. The cry of the dwarves became, in essence, “No God, No King. We need no one to rule over us, neither you nor your Aslan.”
Even sadder than the rebel dwarves, were the relatively innocent Narnians who fell for the false Aslan. So often they would start to question whether he was who he said he was. At each new violation of Aslan’s essential nature, they would become suspicious. “Would Aslan really do that? Would he really say that?” And then another cry of, “He is not a tame Lion” would arise, something they all believed, and they would close their mouths under the (accurate) belief that they could not judge what was right or wrong for Aslan to do. But the misguided Narnians’ problem was that they confused his not being tame with changeableness. Aslan is definitely not tame. Who can tell him what to do, or command and control him? But Aslan can never go against what he has said and done in the past. He can never contradict himself in word or deed. And I like to think that is the one way to always recognize a false Aslan.
This book was definitely the most intense of the series. I’m not sure I’ve read anything more terrifying and depressing than the phrase, “Narnia is no more.” I knew it was coming, but it still did not make it easy. I hate endings (have I said that before?) and there were many good reminders in The Last Battle that they are unavoidable, but are also frequently tempered with joy and sweetness.
…remember that all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy.
But what became the highlight of the entire book for me, and quite probably the highlight of the entire series (although I need to think about that a bit more first) was The World Beyond The Door. The New Narnia. Endings are unpleasant for me, generally because there is No More. Just nothing. Or even worse, something that is even worse than nothing. If Lewis had simply ended Narnia, ended the characters, ended everything and not shown the New World, I would be spouting vitriol right now. The same would be true if he had written some insubstantial, ethereal realm where everyone sat on clouds playing harps and singing. But he didn’t. What he did was everything I wanted and didn’t know I wanted. It’s the opposite of everything that makes me uncomfortable or afraid when imagining what heaven is commonly thought to be. What he did was more powerful, encouraging, and comforting than anything I could’ve imagined. And it’s something you can’t understand or explain until you read it for yourself. Really, there is no higher recommendation I know how to give for this book. These last chapters (yes, chapters plural – Lewis takes his time showing the New Narnia) were, for me, view changing.
Narnia is not dead. This is Narnia…That was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of something in Aslan’s real world. You need not mourn over Narnia…All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course ir is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream
This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.
Far from a misty cloud-filled realm, it is life and living. It is real reality, the original reality. And it is a whole world, even worlds within worlds, just beyond the door. Somehow this book helped me feel just a little more confident, a little more brave, and a little more able to “take the adventure that Aslan sends me.”