The depiction of paradise is as bold as it’s tricky — which is why it’s so rarely undertaken, obviously. There’s Dante, who made it the setting for the last and weakest book in his sword-and-sorcery trilogy. Powell and Pressburger? Hirokazu Kore eda? Tim Burton? Perhaps unsurprisingly, Purgatory’s much easier to realise.
Anyway the fact that CSL attempts it all is one of the three reasons I like The Last Battle. The second is that he makes a tremendous effort to portray how grisly and dispiriting and plain horrible war is: confusing and futile and full of petty treacheries and selfishness and meanness, and exhausting. It is not the jolly jape he slide towards elsewhere (this isn’t entirely fair: the battle in LWW has a memorable nastiness to it…); it’s a sketch of the feel of utter defeat, as felt by basically nice people, and — as so often — he’s very good at intensity of atmosphere and physically memorable (because palpable) imagery. And the third…
You got to feel it feel it: … is that, in short, he is so vividly sensual a writer that it’s this dense materiality that underscores and shapes his idea of heaven. Aslan’s Country is all paradoxes anyway — I’ll outline a few of them — but the deepest is that, in its Platonic ideality, taste and smell and feel and vision are all amplified towards exhilarating bliss. Dress is that lovely mediaeval kind that makes everyone look good, none of that stupid elastic — CSL is a bit weird and fetishistic abt the non-presence of elastic in Narnia, and really quite as dippy and girly as teenage Susan about how the CORRECT clothes make you look better, hence prove you are a BETTER PERSON. Food is amazing there and so are flowers; no one sweats or gets grubby. You can run run and run and never be out of puff — including up waterfalls because there’s no gravity! Dogs pant during the chase, of course, but ONLY BECAUSE THEY WANT TO.
Ah yes, OK, The Problem of Susan: CSL has such an easy and obvious get-out here that I’ve always found the huff-puffing a bit daft. Yes Narnia has been destroyed and S was not on the train with her siblings — this doesn’t mean no one else from Our World™ will ever again get past the Stabley Gates. Lucy is being catty — as usual — about her older sister; Eustace is enormously more invested in Narnia, because it’s where he learnt not to be a tw@t. Susan has the REST OF HER LIFE to re-learn to be a proper tomboy warrior feminist who DISDANES modern consumer culture and its ECT ECTs. If she ever gets over the trauma of losing her entire family, mum and dad included, in a railcrash — who clearly can get to Aslan’s Country even though they never heard of it. And ditto that nice Emeth of Tehishbaan.
CSL’s weird mishmash of pagan beliefs never disappoints: Anyway I once read that the seven books are seven because they correspond to the seven planets of classical astrological symbolism. So naturally, here at the end of all things, there are seven daughters of E and sons of A, rather than eight.
Formal closure: the first book is about a doorway out of our quotidian and rather boring world — ie Prof.Kirke’s house and company — into somewhere glittering and strange and bewitchingly beautiful and dangerous. The final book reverses the shot: that entire world seems to hurtle through a door towards us, as everything beautiful and dangerous in it end, a world’s life flashing before our eyes, in tumult and compact torrent. (If a week had more days to it, as it does in the New Narnia, we could explore the role of Pauline Baynes’s illustrations — how much does Lewis’s prose rest on them?) This completion-by-inversion is as elegant as it’s visceral
No past and future, just a BLAZE OF NOW: Xtian speculation doesn’t at all disbar the right kinds of sex in the afterlife, and I doubt Lewis did either. Adulthood itself being a paradox, its goals become dialectical, as he wouldn’t at all have put it. Physical bliss is taken care of (see above). Your sanctioned loved ones are present with and to you (and you wth an to them) in their own Platonically ideal form ALL THE TIME, BEYOND TIME, no beginnings, no ends, no cycles, no desires ungratified. So the tidal pull of lust would just not be a feature. To wonder about this is to miss the point of heaven, that it’s REALLY SUCH AN UTTERLY DIFFERENT SHAPE; that its gravity is not ours; ts physicalty not ours; its rhythms not ours. That all we can do to imagine it is wind together an intoxicated clump of bright confused analogies…
The Hypergeography of the NarniARDIS: further up and further in! Not only is the universe a layered onion-form sequence of betterness, each contained within the next one, but the closer you penetrate towards the heart of things, the larger and more complete the realm you’re in becomes. So that Aslan’s Country contains (the best of) England and (the best of) Narnia and — for lovely Emeth — the best of Calormen and — for Coriander and Ramanoodle out of Dawn Treader — the best of OUTER SPACE: and they are all spurs of the same vast mountan, which doesn’t have snow on it even though it’s the highest biggest mountain ever. Nothing good is left out of Aslan’s Country — because it’s the Real Thing.
Which reveals the really curious — and frightening — ethical issue for me, left unresolved and unexplored. Unconnected to the nature of *WHY* S isn’t present (the crime of nylons; the crime of grand theft auto; the crime of distorting an excellent story for children into a confused analogy of your own rather peculiar version of a world-historical and self-divided religion) is the question of why the others don;’t wonder whether she’ll EVER be present — yes her choice, free will blah blah, but THEIR LOSS AND GRIEF if she picks the wrong path. How is the eternal absence of a loved one not a shadow on your bliss? Or does the “Platonic ideality” of the Pevensie family adjust to wipe her from memory and history. The “real=good” family was ALWAYS only P, E and L. But this is a problem not of Lewis’s religion per se, whatever that is, fauns and all, but of his very idiotic (version of) Platonism, . (I like to think that Professor Digory Kirke lost his nice house when he lost his job as a professor — after the school inspectors who’d been at Experiment House audited one of his lessons and realised he’d never actually read The Republic… )
In a sense WAIT WHUT!!?: “You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking-glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real one: yet at the same time they were somehow different — deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country…” So the REFLECTION is the truer, deeper real!? It’s totally like the Matrix, only not, you know, boring stupid and lame and rubbish! Maybe they get a SUSAN-SPIRIT LOOKEY-LIKEY to complete the Platonic ideation — she’s actually being tormented in the scaly bosom of Tash, but her brothers and little sister blissfully interact with a perfect animatronic simulacrum…
No More Nonsense about Tashlan, or Which is to be master?: Says Aslan to Emeth, No service which is vile can be done to Me, and none which is not vile can be done to old eaglefeature four-arms… So good and evil are the deeper magic before the dawn of Aslan; he doesn’t define him, they define him. Further out and further down!