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”.