Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Last Battle
In The Last Battle, Lewis brings The Chronicles of Narnia to an end. The book deals with the end of time in Narnia and sums up the allegory of the books by linking the experience of the human children in Narnia with their lives in this world.
The story begins during the reign of the last king of Narnia, King Tirian. Narnia has experienced a long period of peace and prosperity begun during the reign of King Caspian X, whose dynasty was established in Prince Caspian and confirmed by the succession of his son Rilian at the conclusion of The Silver Chair. Tirian, who is the great-grandson of the great-grandson of Rilian, becomes aware that strange and uncomfortable things are happening to his land and that the stars portend ominous developments.
The king's magical call for help results in the arrival of Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole, the two children who last visited Narnia during the final year of the reign of Caspian, to help him battle an invasion by an army from the southern land of Calormen. The Calormenes have internal allies in Narnia, in the form of an Antichrist-figure, Shift the Ape, and his dupe Puzzle the donkey, who has pretended to be Aslan and spread the heresy that Aslan and the Calormen god Tash (the Satan-figure) are one and the same. The heresy causes the dwarves and some other Narnian talking beasts to lose faith in, and loyalty to, Aslan and the King; meanwhile, Shift proceeds to sell Narnia into Calormene slavery. Tirian has only a small loyal force to fight the Calormenes, and prepares to die in a last stand against the forces of darkness. The Battle concludes with Aslan stepping in to bring Narnia to an end. All creatures, including those who had previously died, are judged by Aslan as they approach a door; those who have been loyal to Aslan, or to the morality upheld by Narnians, join Aslan in Aslan's country (heaven), while those who have opposed or deserted him do not pass through the door and disappear to an uncertain fate.
It becomes clear that nearly all those who had travelled to Narnia in previous books have been reunited in Aslan's country where they realise that Narnia and England are linked and that they have in fact died on earth and can enjoy an afterlife in a perfect version of Narnia where they are reunited with characters from previous books, and their deceased relatives.
In the allegorical Narnia cycle, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is broadly based on the Gospel stories, and "The Magician's Nephew" on Genesis. "The Last Battle" completes the cycle and is broadly based on the book of Revelation, and on Christian doctrines of the end of the world, judgement, Heaven, death and afterlife. The religious allegory element and the exposition of theological points is more laboured than in some of the earlier books, and the overall tone is darker, to the extent that "The Last Battle" is relatively hard to enjoy on a purely superficial level as a fairy story, particularly at the end.
Lewis has been criticised, by Philip Pullman and others, over the values conveyed by "The Last Battle". Though Pullman's criticisms are hard to take seriously (he's described the books as grotesque, disgusting, ugly, poisonous and nauseating, an opinion radically out of kilter with the vast majority of the reading public), others have made similar criticisms. In particular, that the Calormenes are crudely drawn Turks or Arabs, with racist overtones; and that Susan Pevensie, one of the children who appeared in previous stories, is described as no longer a friend of Narnia as she is interested only in "nylons, lipstick and invitations" - as if it is inherently sinful for a woman to become sexually mature. Corresponding criticisms have been levelled at previous Narnia stories for being Anglocentric in that the magical doorways into Narnia always seem to open from England, and that English people are the natural, aristocratic rulers in the Arthurian society of Narnia. (Neither of these charges is entirely true, as the Telmarine rulers of Narnia are the descendants of South Sea pirates of unknown national origin, and at least one magical gateway is known to have opened on a South Sea island).
The racism charge rests mainly on the clear resemblance of the Calormenes to the dark-skinned Muslims of our world, coupled with the use of the word "Darkies" by one evil character to describe them, and illustrations which portray the true Narnians dressed like Crusaders, fighting the Calormenes, who resemble Saracens. The Calormenes are the enemies of Aslan's followers: their god Tash (who seems to represent something from Aztec or other Meso-American theology more than anything in Islam) represents Satan, taking away the souls of the wicked characters, and accepting any evil deed as a service to him (the fate of a Calormene non-believer is presented as a warning to those tempted to dabble in black magic).
The imagery of conflict between the Christian and Muslim worlds (not as hot an issue in 1956 as now) gives The Last Battle an unfortunate flavour today. In addition, the (largely accurate) idea of medieval style warfare as a conflict between two mono-ethnic nations, is one that does not sit well with modern sensibilities, which demand that all groups of protagonists consist of diverse groups of multi-national heroes, and is very uncomfortable with reminders that this was not always so. In one sense, the book should sit very well with modern sensibilities. The heroes are indeed an extremely diverse group, consisting of English humans, Narnian humans, and talking animals of countless different species, while their opposition is much less diverse. Some readers though, are unable to look past the fact that some of the villains are dark-skinned.
The racism charge is hard difficult to accept. One of the noblest characters in the Narnia series is The Last Battle's Emeth, a dark-skinned Calormene, while the vilest character of the series is the White Witch, a character whose skin actually became whiter as she fell further into evil (though it's doubtful that any racial point was intended by this). Though the word "Darkies" (uttered, it must be remembered, by an evil, light-skinned character) is admittedly unusable today, a look at the major villains of the series shows no correlation between skin color and ethical orientation. The vast majority of the series' villains are light-skinned, including the fair-skinned "True Narnians" of The Last Battle, who had been the villains in Prince Caspian. Clearly it caused no offence in England at the time, as Lewis received the Carnegie Medal for this book.
The misogyny allegation, based on a single section describing the fall of Susan, is also hard to accept. The role of females in the Narnia books tends generally to be very high. In the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lucy is presented as the most prominent and morally pure character of the group, while her brother Edmund betrays the others. In The Magician's Nephew, an allegory of the Garden of Eden story, all the problems are caused by Digory's impetuousness, while his companion Polly is presented as the more sensible of the two. Even the idea that Susan was regarded as sinful for becoming sexually mature seems based on a misreading of the work. Susan is not cast out from the group, but rather walks away from it on her own, the stated reason being that she had become too interested in worldly things, not that she had become sexually mature. Quite the reverse, she is explicitly criticized for being too *immature*, in trying to race to the silliest part of one's life as quickly as possible, and then stop there as long as possible, rather than progressing beyond it.
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