Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Last Battle

The Last Battle
© 1956 C.S. Lewis
184 pages

"This is my password," said the King as he drew his sword. "The light is dawning, the lie broken. Now guard thee, miscreant, for I am Tirian of Narnia."

In The Magician's Nephew, the great lion Aslan sang Narnia into existence and commissioned a human boy to plant a special tree to protect it against evil. But now the Tree has fallen, and a  Lie reigns.  The story begins with a malevolent ape and his witless donkey companion discovering the skin of a lion. Shift, the ape, has an idea:  skin the lion, dress the donkey in it, and use this guise to awe the woodland folk into doing his bidding!  Hundreds of years have passed since anyone saw the great Lion, Aslan himself,  and the lie succeeds -- to the destruction of Narnia.Consumed by avarice, Shift begins ordering the destruction of Narnia's enchanted forests in the name of "Aslan", selling it piecemeal to the dreaded Calormen and even inviting their soldiers into Narnia. The king Tirian, captured early after falling for the deceit himself, is in no place to prevent his people being massacred and his cities destroyed. At this hour of greatest crisis, Jill and Eustace are called into Narnia to take up the Lion's banner one more time. For this is the last battle, the great battle, and one where Narnia's foe is not a mere witch presuming power, or a greedy horde of warlords, but a winged beast that smells of death and devours everything in its path. Although Narnia's enemies have always cloaked themselves in deceit -- the Witch as a Queen, most consistently -- here lie is compounded upon lie. No sooner do our party of heroes  (Eustace, Jill, the rescued Tirian, and a unicorn to begin with) unravel part of the diabolical plot than does the Ape add another. Yet the Ape is being controlled by another party, and they still by another.  Some Narnians are frightened by all this, and run away; some decide the battle isn't worth bothering with, and retreat into their own narrow issues (like the dwarves, who become nasty little chauvinists). Our heroes know only one thing: they are between the paws of Aslan, and they would rather perish fighting the Ape and his death-god than betray the lion.  So it goes, and such is this literary version of  the Book of Revelation, with its antichrist, astronomic fireworks, and all-consuming finale.   Virtually all of the major characters throughout the series make appearances, making it a glorious reunion of sorts, The Last Battle is darker and more intense than the other books, however, and if I read it as a child I probably would have had nightmares about it.  The witch of previous books was evil, but in a Disney villain way;  the baddies here are positively revolting, between the Ape perverting good to evil and the death-thing invoked by the Calormen.  While I can imagine future re-reads of various Chronicles books, The Last Battle  is a little too rapturous.

Look for a Narnia wrapup tomorrow!

The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis
Lord of All, Robert Hugh Benson

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