Jan 05

The Last Battle by CS Lewis

The Brown Wedge8 comments • 1,267 views

The Last Battle by CS Lewis
I re-read this book over the xmas holiday because the slip-case collection of Narnia books that I read as a child turned up in a relative’s garage, and because of a coincident interview with Phillip Pullman on the South Bank Show.

I couldn’t get through the first of the Dark Materials books because I now find fantasy stories very dull. I just didn’t care if the bear found its armour, so I stopped reading. Nevertheless what PP had to say on the show was interesting, and anyone baiting Peter Hitchens can’t be all bad. I was particularly struck by his rubbishing of The Last Battle, and as I couldn’t recall the story I decided to re-read to check it out. He was totally spot on.

The reason the book is stunningly unmemorable because it is an allegory of the rapture and so on, so there is NO STORY to remember – just a string of nightmarish and surreal vignettes, which as an adult, you can recognise as, e.g. Judgement, the beast, the antichrist etc.

In Narnia stories we normally follow the children as they travel into Narnia, but in this book we see them arrive, almost from the POV of a Narnian king. They talk about being pulled into Narnia and how it felt like the train they were travelling on was crashing – a familiar device used in at least one of the other books. But in this book (naturally) it turns out that THEY REALLY DID DIE IN THE CRASH. And they are so happy about this because it means they will never leave Narnia/the real Narnia inside Narnia, i.e. the afterlife.

In a mischievous way this reminds me of the TV-GO-HOME‘s show “The Magic Noose” billed as “Irresponsible children’s drama in which four young friends discover they can enter a magical land by putting their necks into a loop of rope with magical powers” (someone nicked and adapted the idea here.

Within the Christian story context it makes sense because the world has ended and everyone is in the same rapturous boat, but from within my uber-secular childhood this would have seemed MADNESS and indeed borderline irresponsible for an author to write in a kid’s story. OK so they love Narnia, but what about home? Parents? Friends? Television?! This was no way to end a story.

One of Pulllman’s accusations was a little ingenuous though – he berates Lewis for associating Susan’s becoming “lost” with her interest in being grown up – lipstick, boys, etc. I take PP’s point that we shouldn’t be associating sex/sexuality with evil/sin, but it is clear that this is NOT the association being made. The virtue being extolled is simple “childishness” – a virtue common to the world in many children’s books.

I genuinely read all these books without an understanding of Christianity (I was lost in the woods as a baby and brought up by wild social workers), but I MUST have got some of the allusions. At one point in the LB there is a stable which when the children go inside, it is bigger on the inside than the outside! At first this would have resonated with me for OTHER reasons (ho ho), but one of the children then says “in our world there was once something inside a stable that was bigger than the whole world” in the biggest DO YOU SEE slap in the face ever.

Overall, quite a wretched read.

I am going to see if they’ve bowdlerised the text for recent reprints to get rid of the reference to Calormenes as “Darkies”.


  1. 1
    Sarah on 19 May 2008 #

    Scuze me, dude, but actually the “lipstick and nylons” thing was NOT “sexual maturity”, C.S. Lewis meant “materialism”, which he saw as sin.
    Yes, it wasn’t really all that good, but I still like it.
    Actually, I’m kind of angry at Pullman for saying that. He used to be a fave author, but he dissed something of my childhood that I loved and love, and I will not forgive him for that.
    I’m too emotional. >.<

  2. 2
    Tom on 19 May 2008 #

    I can’t remember how much we pushed back against Alan’s reading on the old comments thread – definitely I think he’s underestimating the extent to which some child readers like the “series of mad vignettes” model of storytelling.

    “Lipstick and nylons” may be code for materialism but I think Pullman is not entirely WRONG to detect something else in that particular manifestation of it (though he’s probably wrong to pursue it so doggedly that he ends up concluding his trilogy with a bit of pre-teen sex so as to give the finger to CSL!)

  3. 3
    Alan on 19 May 2008 #

    “how much we pushed back against Alan’s reading” some i think. i still think the story ending is baffling and upsetting and WRONG.

    I’m not against “series of mad vignettes” stories – I was more making the point there about its forgettableness, and LB does stand in contrast in that manner to the other 6 stories, which have quite a clear origin, progression and resolution that i can recall.

  4. 4
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 19 May 2008 #

    order of beloved memorability for me =

    silver chair <– lovely lovely puddleglum i love him so, also the gnomes of bism
    last battle <– i think CSL does a good job with the sheer WEIRDNESS of narnian endtimes (given that narnia is madey-uppy in the first place): the end is totally an indictment of how hideously horrible heaven would be but that’s jesus’s fault not CSL’s!
    dawn treader <– very tidily episodic, no bad episodes
    caspian <– like LB better vignettes than story
    magician’s nephew <– this is probably the hardest story to remember
    horse and boy <– was always bored silly by this one

  5. 5
    Tom on 19 May 2008 #

    Magician’s Nephew is the one I re-read most recently: the first half of it – creeping between attics, two kinds of rings, wood between worlds, CHARN!!!!, Jadis in Suburbia, and the Creation sequence – is as sticky memory-wise as Narnia gets for me. And then it just collapses a bit as there’s no real threat, just a fools-nobody-whose-ever-read-a-story-before moral dilemma.

  6. 6
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 19 May 2008 #

    i actually tend to remember scenes better than stories anyway: nephew has awesome memorable scenes, yes, but i find it really hard to string them into the narrative (too mhc movement between too many worlds maybe): today i definitely prefer it to caspian, but back in the day i loved the “waking of old narnia” stuff (feat.that most ultra-christian of demiurges DIONYSUS THE GOD OF WINE, DANCE AND SONG oh c.s.lewispaws)

    dawn treader has the best ending, LWW possibly the worst! —

  7. 7
    Sophia on 1 Nov 2008 #

    C.S. Lewis was brilliant in his writing because he was able to put things so simply and yet allow the imagination to take flight. People who truly speak out against his books are (in my opinion) narrow minded and unfortunately unable to explore the wider horizens of fantasy. And trying to get someone to take out his reference of the Calormenes as “darkies” is stupid, and cocky thinking that you have any say…this is how he wrote these books! Why should it be changed to suit your idea of good literature…? Wretched you say? Then dont read anything more by Mr. Lewis, because as surely as truth loves light, so then does ignorance prefer to be kept in the dark…much like the dwarves who could not see the beauty of Aslan and Narnia…

  8. 8
    Alan on 2 Nov 2008 #

    In case anyone else wants to misread this article, i’m not in any way asking for the book to be bowdlerised.

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