|Posted on June 29, 2011 at 6:42 AM|
The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 7
The Last Battle
Over the past three months, we’ve been looking at each of C.S. Lewis’ stories, known collectively as the Chronicles of Narnia. Today’s entry finishes the series, bringing it full circle. Whereas The Magician’s Nephew showed Narnia’s beginnings, The Last Battle explains how it ends.
It introduces us to two talking animals we’ve never seen in any other book: an ape named Shift and a donkey named Puzzle. They are the best of friends, or so they think. Shift likes how the donkey will do anything Shift wants, and Puzzle simply concedes the ape is always right because he’s so smart, while Puzzle considers himself dumb.
This must be Lewis’ tongue-in-cheek commentary on the attitudes of certain less savory people in real life. Indeed, there are those who make friends only of those they can control; equality to them is never an option. “My way or the highway” is their creed. Their goal is never to learn something, but to get something. Puzzle, on the other hand, is your typical person of low self-esteem who lies down and lets folks like Shift walk over him.
One day, a lion skin floats along a river near them and down a waterfall. Where it had come from is never explained; if this becomes a movie, perhaps one will be offered. Shift finds it and gets a diabolical idea: why not disguise his buddy Puzzle as Aslan? Since a lion’s body is markedly different from a donkey’s, it takes quite a bit of tailoring, but eventually Puzzle wears it—though his hooves and muzzle show through. In spite of this, scads of talking animals bow to Puzzle as though he really were the Great Lion.
Such is the naïvété of people who claim to know the Word, yet have no idea what it says beyond a few choice doctrines. They haven’t a clue how many times it warns about counterfeits to the faith, how easily they could be led astray. They also buy into the idea Aslan and the Calormene false god Tash are one and the same, contrary to historic evidence. And this brings up the most important point of all.
Puzzle is Lewis’ idea of the Antichrist, pretending to be Savior of the world when really he’s out to destroy it. Shift is his false prophet. Let’s not make too much of the fact Puzzle is as much a dupe in the con as the populace. Just as The Magician’s Nephew does not follow the Creation story to the letter, neither does this one follow any theory of future prophecy.
And yes, there are prophecies, embodied primarily in a centaur named Roonwit. He tells King Tirian and the unicorn Jewel, “Never in all my days have I seen such terrible things written in the skies as there have been nightly since the year began. The stars say nothing of the coming of Aslan, nor of peace, nor of joy. I know by my art that there have not been such disastrous conjunctions of the planets for 500 years.”
In Narnia where mythology and reality regularly merge, this is akin to saying, “An angel came to me and told me all the signs point to a disaster unequaled in the past 500 years.”
Tirian sees a vision in which he meets all seven friends of Narnia, gathered in a group, and they in turn see him. Later, Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole appear, considerably more mature since their adventure in The Silver Chair. Eustace is a willing worker and fighter toward Narnia’s peace, and Jill has honed her tracking skills so she actually leads the party a couple of times.
Indeed, every visitor to Narnia is back—all but Susan. They had been on a train ride when it crashed and killed all seven of our friends, so eventually the others are present for Narnia’s demise. Digory Kirke, Polly Plummer, and the other three Pevensies are as surprised by their return as anyone else.
Lewis has been unjustly criticized for the way he explains Susan’s falling away. He has Jill tell King Tirian, “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown up.”
“Grown up, indeed!” cries Polly. “I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age.”
The charge is that Lewis had something against nylons and lipstick, but if you read it in context, his meaning is much deeper. Susan represents the person who once knew the truth, but the lures of the world drew her away. We’ve all seen them. As Hebrews 6:4-6 explains: “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, … if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace.”
I don’t believe in “once saved, always saved,” as though one trip to the altar will prevent rebellion. Like “once a thief, always a thief,” the overly simplistic saying discounts man’s ability to change his mind, whether in his own favor or not. While it’s true that under God’s protection “no one can snatch [My sheep] out of My hand” (John 10:28b), the sheep can choose to wander from the flock, where they can be snatched.
This is what I believe happened with Susan. Her former companions clearly say she denied her faithful past as a child’s game, and followed an inferior way. That’s why she was not on the train when it wrecked. That’s why she was not here with them now. She lost out on Eternal Life, Narnia style.
I also find it fascinating how Calormenes, as Narnia’s archenemies, are the instigators of the kind of Armageddon that follows (The Horse and His Boy). I believe our Armageddon will heavily involve Islam jihadists who believe it’s their religious right to hate foreigners. Not all Muslims are like this, fortunately; many have found Christ and are my brothers.
But the most interesting events in the story take place in a small stable atop a hill, where Aslan (Puzzle) resides. As punishment for not following Shift’s orders, he relegates them into the stable, which like the TARDIS is bigger inside than out. Here they would face Aslan’s supposed wrath. The phrase “he’s not a tame lion” is reinterpreted as “he’s wild and ferocious,” rather than a reference to coming and going at will, as in all other books.
A talking cat named Ginger goes in to prove there’s no danger, but darts out and reverts to meowing instead of forming words. In the same way, when a nominal believer falls for Satan’s wiles, he/she transforms into a nonsensical heretic. Tash himself also shows up and wipes out several Calormene nobles before King Peter commands him to stop. Most of all, Calormen and Narnia fight in one final battle, and all of Narnia is consumed by evil forces. The true Aslan leads all righteous Narnians “further up and further in,” into Aslan’s own country.
The concluding lines in the book are most significant. “For us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they lived happily ever after. But for them it was the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page. Now at last they were beginning chapter one of the Great Story which no one on Earth has read, which goes on forever and ever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
What an inspired view of Heaven! “These [temporal things] are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:17). “[The Israelites] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in Heaven” (Hebrews 8:5a). “The Law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship” (Hebrews 10:1).
The apparent reality we see on Earth is only temporary, a gray image of what we’ll find in Heaven. Contrary to the claims of some critics, we are focused on reality, but one which exists beyond this world. The earth today is imperfect, man is imperfect, we suffer illness all the time. My friends, family, and fellow Christian writers, even if we never meet again (or not at all) in the physical sense, we are sure to join in a grand reunion very soon now.
“Further up and further in!”
Two Chrises and a Carol will conclude our month of “Fresh Air.” This month’s journey has been among the most enjoyable of all our blog-chain themes.
June 29: Chris Depew at The Beulah Land Blog
June 29: Carol Peterson at Carol’s Magic Quill
June 30: Chris Henderson at The Write Chris
Our theme for July is “Freedom,” and Lynn Mosher will start us off on Friday. My post is scheduled for the 20th.
July 1: Lynn Mosher at Heading Home
July 3: Brian Jones at Alambraidria
July 4: Traci Bonney at Tracings
July 6: Carol Peterson at Carol’s Magic Quill