Thu
Mar 3 2011 11:28am

At the Ending: The Last Battle

The Last Battle by C.S. LewisThe Last Battle holds a special place in my life: it is one of only three books (and the only novel) ever hurled at me. I had lent the series to a friend who had been, I thought, enjoying the series, when she rushed in my room and sent the book flying at me.

“How could you make me read this thing?”

I couldn’t possibly repeat all of her following invective, even if I tried.

Suffice it to say that The Last Battle is like that: emotional, problematic, inspiring, infuriating, compulsively readable, and, if you aren’t tempted to throw the book across the room at (mostly) innocent friends, probably the most fascinating of the Narnia books, if not necessarily (well, probably definitely not) the most enjoyable.

C.S. Lewis, of course, was not the first to tire of writing a popular series and seek for ways to end it. But he may be among the few to decide to destroy his created world in a final apocalypse that also works as an allegory of the Book of Revelation (itself a rather heavy allegory) and a discussion of Platonic thought as mediated through St. Paul. Not surprisingly, this decision has not been uniformly popular. (My deeply distressed reaction, at the age of eight: Narnia’s GONE?)

Also not surprisingly, given its subject matter, the book begins on a grim note, immediately stating that this tale happens in the days of the last king of Narnia. Any hopes that this is about to lead to the establishment of a Narnian democracy are almost immediately dismissed when the book introduces the unfortunate Puzzle, a donkey of little brain, about to become the accidental Anti-Christ—I mean, false Aslan—and his nasty, manipulative friend Shift the Ape, who, unhappy with the state of international trade in Narnia, figures that the best way to handle this is to enslave the Narnians with false religion. (Lewis, unlike me, was apparently not a fan of chimpanzees or giant apes, but turning the ape into an alcoholic—seriously?—was perhaps overdoing this hatred a bit too much.)

Yes, this is going to be a fun, fun read.

Hearing of “Aslan’s” false return, the young king of Narnia is first delighted, then distressed when he hears what “Aslan” is doing to the country—enslaving talking animals, cutting down trees, and so on. He murders two Calormenes in a rage (but feels sorry for it), is tied to a tree in an annoyingly symbolic gesture, and calls upon Aslan and the friends of Narnia for help. Jill and Eustace arrive—thanks to a little bump from a train.

An interval lets us know that all of the visitors to Narnia, with one exception, continue to hang out and chat on a regular basis—a nice touch. Then it’s off to despair, the final battle, more despair, getting tossed into a Stable, really excellent fruit, and then, apocalypse.

The apocalypse is both one of the most beautiful, and most heartbreaking, sequences in the entire series, starting as it does with falling stars, who, in that world, are people, if people filled with glittering light who are happy enough to stand right behind the doorway and illuminate the apocalypse. (If our universe ends with the same consideration, we can all feel grateful.) Next, the various folk from that world come rushing to the door, either to fall into the nothingness of Aslan’s shadow, or appear in the new world behind Aslan’s shadow. Dragons eat everything. Peter is asked to shut the door to Narnia.

And everyone is now very, very dead, and surprisingly happy about this, despite the slight problem that they are about to be inflicted with quite a lot of Platonic philosophy.

(Quibble: it bothered me then, and it bothers me now, that Lucy was not the one to shut the door to Narnia. After all, she had been the one to open it, and I can see no particular reason why Peter is the one to shut the door. However. This book has much larger problems, so let’s not dwell on this one.)

The remainder of the book—an exhilarating description of the afterlife, interspersed with some discussions on religious practices and Plato and railway accidents, is either inspiring or infuriating or both, depending upon how you feel about it.

And ah, yes, the problems.

The first, and perhaps for some people, the worst, centers on Lewis’s decision to have the false Aslan and his prophet, Shift the Ape, supported by the Calormenes, Lewis’s quasi-Muslim culture. In their last appearance, the Calormenes had seemed nice enough, if you ignored their tendency to keep slaves, marry off their preteen daughters to vastly older men, and arrange for their ambitious sons to be murdered. Hmm. Perhaps not always the kindliest, nicest folk. But although Lewis noted that they worshipped three different deities (Tash, Azaroth and Zardeenah) who all seemed to enjoy sacrifices, nothing in their brief descriptions suggested that these deities were real or inherently evil.

In The Last Battle, however, Lewis turns the quasi-Muslim Calormenes into demon worshippers, and their chief deity, Tash, into a demon: a cold grey bird projecting terror and a horrific stench. My immediate, practical question: how exactly did this demon show up, given that the evil introduced into Narnia in The Magician’s Nephew was a witch dragged there mostly by accident, and the other evils seen in Narnia were generally all too human?

Such practical concerns outside, the decision to turn the quasi-Muslim culture into demon-worshippers supporting the anti-Christ, and constantly working to overturn the good (and Christian) supporters of Aslan into slaves and destroy the ecosystem in the bargain is troubling. The presence of the one unequivocally good Calormene, Emeth, only worsens the situation, since Lewis uses Emeth’s tale to explain that anyone doing anything good in Calormen was actually doing so on behalf of Aslan, not Tash, and to quickly convert a Tash worshipper into a devoted Aslan disciple.

On the one hand, I rather like the inclusive thought that all good prayers reach the same, benevolent diety, and that all good gods (or god) are essentially the same. On the other hand, the implication that Muslims and pagans are actually worshiping Christ whenever they are praying benevolently, however reassuring it may appear on the surface, is something that may be offensive to Muslims, pagans and even some Christians. (With Christians, this thought may be mitigated by Lewis’ argument that the Narnian heaven can only be reached through Aslan/Christ, but I am not certain.)

(It also probably doesn’t help that the actual Anti-Christ—er, anti-Aslan— turns out to be nothing but a tool, and presented as one of the good guys, better than the Calormenes, even though he’s been the one impersonating Aslan and causing all this.)

Making matters worse, Shift the Ape doesn’t need to be helped by Calormenes: the Narnian world offers plenty of other evil doers along the sidelines who might be happy to help out an Anti-Christ—er, anti-Aslan—disaffected Telmars, those witches and giants in the north, the Hags and Werewolves hiding in the caves and dark forests, whatever was on that nightmare island in Dawn Treader, and so on. Instead, this is now a quasi-Islamphobic text suggesting that Muslims will be the first to help out the Anti-Christ. Not a happy thought.

In the comments for The Horse and His Boy, one person made the excellent suggestion that the Calormene culture reaches more back to a Chaldean/Babylonian inspiration, a thought that makes particular sense given some of the references in the Book of Revelations. The Calormenes still seem more vaguely Turkish to me, but, regardless, given that these geographical areas eventually became centerpieces of Islamic culture, I think the Islamic reading still applies.

A related unhappy thought: even as a child, I found it terribly unfair that the entire Narnian world—which, according to later books, Narnia was only a small part of—had to be destroyed just because some talking animals in one small part of that world couldn’t tell the difference between a donkey in a lionskin and an actual lion. A related objection: I’ve seen donkeys, and I’ve seen lions, and I don’t care how bad the light is, or how long it’s been since anyone’s seen an actual lion: no one is going to confuse a donkey wearing a lion skin with a real lion. No one. Particularly when the fake lion is behaving so uncharacteristically. Also, animals should be able to smell the difference.

This immediately kills my suspension of disbelief, and it gets worse from here. Remember that previous books have emphasized just how small Narnia is, so how exactly is Tirian kept so uninformed about people ripping up his forests for so long? Sure, Tirian begins the book apparently on some sort of vacation in a hunting lodge, but he’s still connected enough to the rest of the country to hear that Aslan has returned; it beggars disbelief that he would not have heard about the problems earlier—the additional Calormene soldiers and merchants milling around, all of the saws and ropes and carts needed to cut down the trees, and so on. It takes time to set something like this up. Even Lewis, while presenting a situation that boiled up in only a few days, at the end of the book admits that the Ape must have been planning this for a long time. I cannot believe both that Tirian is a concerned king of Narnia and that he didn’t notice a thing. I realize that this is a fable, and that worldbuilding has never been the strong part of these books. But up until now, I was able to believe: in talking animals, woods between worlds, giants sleeping beneath mountains, drinking seawater that tastes like light, and so on. This time I couldn’t.

Which is not to say that other parts of the book do not ring true—very true, particularly the reaction of the dwarfs to the news of a false Aslan (although I don’t like to think of them having to spend eternity in a dark stable because of this. I’m hoping they will eventually get up and try a bit of exploring.) The battle scene before the stable, with all of its confusion, also feels very real (and in a further change from the first book, yes, Jill does fully participate in the battle, with no nonsense about wars being ugly when women fight.) The assumption by the Talking Animals that they must have done something (other than assume a donkey in a lion skin was a donkey) to deserve Aslan’s anger, also works.

And the typical Narnia humor is still around, although Lewis’s sarcasm is deeper here, more bitter, and I doubt readers will be laughing much, what with all of the death and destruction. (It’s all very well to know that the cute little talking animals and the friendly dogs and the beautiful trees will end up in the perfect afterlife, but this sense is not all that strongly conveyed during a first reading of their deaths.) And Lewis has not lost his ability to create delightful animal characters, from the little mice and rabbits who help Tirian, to Farsight the Eagle, to the splendid Jewel the Unicorn. (I refuse to put that annoying Centaur into this category, however. You’ve been watching the not exactly swiftly moving stars for how long and you wait until the last minute to tell the king something’s up, and we’re supposed to take your words of wisdom?)

The book has other oddities. I have no idea why anyone would need armor in the afterlife, but The Last Battle is clear: all of the kings (and Eustace and Digory) are wearing fine mail and glittering swords. Dudes. You’re already dead. What is this? And while yes, some mythologies have a strong tradition of a warrior afterlife, that is not really what Lewis appears to be going for here. (Although I suppose for some people heaven would be constant swordfighting, so, er, maybe I should hush up.) And I can’t help wondering just how the narrator, who up until now has used the conceit that he heard the Narnia stories from the children themselves, managed to hear about this part of the story. And I’m not entirely sure I like the idea of an afterlife where after hanging about for awhile watching a beloved world you have to start doing a lot of running.

But if you can tolerate the issue with the Calormenes, and watching a beloved imaginary world consumed into slow nothingness and cold as its sun dies, this may well be a beloved book. If you can tolerate one remaining bit.

Susan.

In a series filled with unfair events, Susan’s exile from Paradise stands out. Ask many people about what they remember of Narnia, and along with the talking animals, the food, the lamppost and Father Christmas handing out rather militant presents and a fine sewing machine in a pre-industrial society, and they will say, Susan not getting to go back to Narnia. It certainly was the main image I took away from the series.

Oh, certainly, Lewis presents this as at least partially Susan’s decision to turn away and pretend that Narnia is nothing but a childhood fantasy—the same sort of childhood fantasy that he had defended so strongly in The Silver Chair. But he also says that Susan doesn’t get to return to Narnia because, as Polly explains, she’s gotten too interested in lipsticks and nylons, or in other words, has decided to embrace her femininity.

How can I put this kindly? Ugh.

It’s not just Narnia, which, since she’s mostly forgotten it in any case, is perhaps not as a great a loss as I’m making it out to be. Susan also loses her three siblings and parents in a single train accident. She’s not the only one punished: Peter’s taut response, and the absolute silence of Edmund and Lucy on the subject, show that this separation has hurt them as well. (Also, I must say that I felt an inward shudder at the thought that just maybe the British Railways accident was contrived to bring Jill, Eustace and the others over to witness the end of Narnia. Which is all very well, but what about the other passengers, and the Pevensie parents?)

It shouldn’t be a surprise. As I previously noted, Susan’s fate was foreshadowed as early as the first book, when delicious things seem to pass her by; in Prince Caspian, where she is the only one not having any fun; and in the third book, where Lewis casually mentions that she is no good at schoolwork—a damning indictment from an Oxford don. And this is the same series where a magical lion was painfully sacrificed just because a kid was enchanted by magical candy; where the entire country of Narnia had to endure years of winter with no Christmas just because Digory felt like showing off, and so on.

But it is a surprise. And worse are the explanations offered, that Susan finds Narnia silly, and that she is now interested only in lipsticks and nylons. Quite apart from my initial reaction that however uncomfortable, nylons really aren’t that bad, I find it entirely possible that Susan turned to these sorts of (to Lewis) silly things precisely because she was told she could not return to Narnia, that she would never have the chance to be a queen of a magical realm again. It’s entirely possible that she has convinced herself that Narnia was only a game to deal with her loss.

Susan would not be the only person who, denied a chance at a dream, plunged into something pointless or self-destructive. And—as Lewis probably knew all too well—those who plunge into self-destructive paths often find themselves enduring still more horrific things as a result. Nor would she be the only person to, after losing something that made her happy, try to convince herself that that her very real happiness wasn’t all that happy after all. (See: many post-breakup moments.)

Which more or less brings me to an issue Lewis has been playing with throughout the series: silliness and imagination.

As I noted, Lewis began the series by dedicating it to a girl who was now too old for fairytales, but would later be old enough to read them again. I objected to this dedication then and now, but, to give him credit, Lewis was addressing the widely held concept that fairy tales are only for children.

As geeks, we are often all too uncomfortably aware that much of the world regards our obsessions as, well, silly. Lewis argues the opposite: an obsession with, or at the very least, a belief in, fairy tales, fantasy and imagination, is precisely what will save us in the end. That the true silliness is, as Polly declares, worrying about appearances and social niceties and clothes and the like.

(My more practical minded self would like to interject at this point that these sorts of things are often critical for women’s survival in the workplace, and Susan, bereft of parents and siblings and, as far as we know, romantically unattached, is going to need any help she can get, especially given that schoolwork problem. But Lewis is not, here, concerned with practicalities, however much the Narnia books may have paid attention to important factors like food and blankets and water and so on while adventuring.)

Certainly, much of this is wrapped in Lewis’s equally strong belief in Christianity—and he was well aware of the mythical aspects of his religion, while declaring that Christianity’s myths are true. (This is something found more in his Christian apologetics, but the theme runs through these books as well.) Christianity requires its adherents to believe the impossible: that a man could come back from the dead, and the unknowable: the existence of a divine Creator. Those beliefs—bolstered by Lucy’s comment about the stable in our world that once held something larger than the entire world, are his chief concern.

But, despite the use of Christian themes and images and that little stable comment, in the end, this series is about a land of spells and enchantments and talking animals and giants and wild adventures on magical seas with talking stars. Believe in this sort of thing, Lewis says, and you’ll find your own Narnia at last, or at least be able to walk there over the tops of Aslan’s mountains. At the very least, as he argues here and in The Silver Chair, imagination can create something better, can envision—or at least approach, Plato’s ideal world. Don’t believe, and, well. The best you can hope for is a mundane existence, closed off from magic, light, and the ideal.

I may not like the way the message is delivered. But it’s a message I can wholeheartedly embrace.

[Peruse the entire Narnia reread series.]


Coming up: I’m pleased to note that Tor.com has kindly agreed to continue indulging my childhood nostalgia with some upcoming rereads of various classic and not so classic authors, including Edith Nesbit, George McDonald, and Susan Cooper (technically not as nostalgic, since I haven’t read all of The Dark is Rising series....yet.)


After completing both rereads, Mari Ness has decidedly chosen Oz, on the basis that no one has to die to get there. She lives in central Florida, and has not yet lost her habit of keeping an eye out for doors to magical worlds.

60 comments
NikZ
1. NikZ
I would love to see a Chronicles of Prydian reread if possible. I've just been introducing my son to fantasy books, and have enjoyed resurrecting all of my old novels.
NikZ
2. Jeff Dougan
It wasn't until after reading The Last Battle that I first caught the allegory-ish in Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. (After reading a book pointed to in the first post of this series, Lewis would have strongly objected to calling any of the books allegories.) It's also the only one I've never reread, because the allegory-ish was so... ham-handed is always the word that I've used, and I still can't come up with a better one right now.

Because I've never re-read this one, I'll have to ask -- is it explicitly stated whether Susan is on the train when it crashes or not? I've always remembered it as her dying with the others and just not getting hurled into Narnia, but it's probably pushing a quarter-century since the only time I read this one. At least if it happened the way I recall, it makes a little bit of the Problem of Susan a teensy tiny bit more palatable -- to me, anyway. Otherwise, ugh.
David Levinson
3. DemetriosX
This is definitely a book made for flinging. You've covered its negatives very well, especially Muslims worship the devil, makeup will deny you entry into paradise, and hooray, we're all dead. Not only do these utterly overshadow any of the positives in the book for me, they reach back and taint the entire series so seriously that I won't read it anymore.

As for why Peter closes the door, consider his name and the role played by another Peter in Catholic belief.
NikZ
4. Story Cottage
Thank you for your commentaries. It has been a few years since I read these with my children and I had forgotten a lot. I also appreciated your take on many of the elements of the stories.

I had a different take on Susan. I felt that it wasn't that she had embraced her femininity, but rather she chose to obsess over the superficial aspects of her "real" world and deny the magical, transformational and revelational experiences she and her siblings had in Narnia. (The fact that this focus was potentially harmful was also illustrated in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Lucy was looking in the book and desired to be as pretty and popular - as worldly - as Susan.) Susan chose not to look for evidence of Aslan in her world and deny her experiences in Narnia and that is what excluded her from joining the others at the end.

I never felt like the Pevenses would never be able to return, but there would be a period that they would have to live in their real world by faith, if you will, and if they still believed they would be able to enjoy Aslan and Narnia again, and that Aslan and magic could be found in their world if they kept looking. Anyway, this fits with my take on Lewis's Christian framework for the series.

Perhaps I was reading too much into story.
NikZ
5. TorSaric25
Long wall o' text. Eaten by internet monsters.

Susan seems to be more of a stand-in for worldliness than a character. Having a male version also might have helped.

Not seeing the islamic thing, as much as babylon.

Looking forward to Susan Cooper. First fantasy books I ever read.

Great series.
NikZ
6. Maac
Am I the only one who grew up associating Calormen with India? (The multiple gods thing would have severely precluded an Islamic reading for me.)

I am not absolving the Unfortunate Implications of the portrayal.
NikZ
7. Timpenin
This book was never my favorite either, for many of the reasons you mention above, but I've never agreed with bringing Susan's exclusion into it. I never saw "lipsticks and nylons" as a symbol of femininity or, as I've read elsewhere, to mean more explicitly her sexual maturity. My impression is that those were two items representing a change of mind for her--that she was becoming overly materialistic and shallow. In a sense, I always saw it as a gift that she did not die, and that she still has more chances to come back to God/Aslan.

And also, while I think it's valid, especially as older readers, to bring up points about things like the potential racism, I feel like we need to remember as well that these ARE modern fairy tales. Written, on the one hand, in a time that's already in our cultural past, and morever relying on many of the same devices that fairy tales have used for centuries. It's just that, in this case, we know the author. But should we feel uneasy about every fairy tale because, for example, ugly almost always equals evil? These tales are all simplifications and exaggerations of life to make a point.
NikZ
8. Mike Cugley
I'm not entirely convinced that it's Susan's femininity that's the problem, but the leaving behind of "childish" things for "grown up" things that Lewis thought was just as childish. I can't remember if it was Professor Kirke or Aunt Polly who gave the final verdict on Susan, but it was about getting to the silliest age possible as soon as you can and staying there, rather than being a woman.

I think Lewis needed one of the Pevensie chlidren to lapse. It couldn't be Lucy, she was the heart of the whole thing (and who the stories were for in the first place, it seems). It couldn't be Peter, as if the High King could fall, then what's the point? And it couldn't be Edmund because that would invalidate the betrayal and redemption arc. So that left Susan.

I wonder if, had it been one of the boys, Lewis would have been banging on about motor cars and cigarettes.

Then again, just to potentially invalidate my entire arguement, it was Susan's hormones that got a bunch of Narnians and Archenlanders in trouble in A Horse And His Boy.
NikZ
9. Maac
Then again, just to potentially invalidate my entire argument, it wasSusan's hormones that got a bunch of Narnians and Archenlanders in
trouble in A Horse And His Boy.



Hey, victim blaming! ;-) It was the dude that thought "oooh, pretty thing exists" equals "pretty thing is mine now" that started the problems.
NikZ
10. a-j
I also read the Susan exclusion being a result of her concentration on the superficial and denial of the reality of her Narnia experiences rather than a condemnation of femininity or sexual maturity. I am more in sympathy with Phillip Pullman's distaste for the idea that only through death can happiness be achieved, but I have to accept that this is central to a certain reading of Christian belief.
James Burbidge
11. jsburbidge
I always saw the Calormenes as largely based on the motifs of the Arabian Nights; but I do not think that they are, as such, meant to be "Islamic" so much as "eastern". They are a good example of Said's orientalism, but their religion in no way resmbles that of Islam or of any Western perceptions of it, except insofar as the demons resemble the djinni, afreets, or other malign spirits of folktale from the area.

On Susan: a large point of the narrative is that she's not dead. All the other characters are where they will be, finally; she's not, and has lots of time to change/mature. Polly's comment about "Grow up? I wish she would grow up!" suggests that Lewis didn't see Susan's problem, per se, as outgrowing childhood and maturing, sexually or otherwise, but rather a turning away from more fundamental things to shallower ones. (The fact that he does so using nylons and lipstick as signifiers is unfortunate.) It also suggests that maturation is precisely what Susan needs time to do, and that is what she's been given. (I'll add that the effective universalism of Lewis' treatment of Emeth doesn't even require that Susan have a conversion, or re-conversion, experience of some sort, but merely that she be/become "good", for appropriate values of "good" suited to her capacities.

On allegory: as with the other books, this is not allegorical. It could be said that it's the very presence of the literal identity of Aslan with Christ (implicit, in context, in higher versions of England and Narnia both being outgrowths of the Mountains of Aslan which makes it one of the least allegorically tinged (if most literally Christian) of the books. Both realms are present, side by side, with one deity and one moral order -- there is a literal, not allegorical relationship between them. Nor does it seem to be implied that one can read the Narnian end-of-the-world as an allegorical key to the Parousia: the features of which Lewis makes use (the living stars, the presnce of "Father Time", the destruction of the landscape by the dragons) are all "shiny" features of the previous books, drawn on as native to the Narnian continuum.
Eli Bishop
12. EliBishop
About Tash: It's not at all clear to me that Lewis means him to be the devil, or even *a* devil. He's not out in the world trying to cause trouble, and he seems to have been summoned to Narnia involuntarily; he doesn't seem to care that the Calormenes worship him and may not have really interacted with them before at all. Sure, he's pretty unpleasant and he'll eat a person if you throw one into his room, but I saw him as more of a wild animal (a supernatural one) who had his own job in the world and just wasn't meant for humans to interact with, let alone worship.
NikZ
13. Dr. Cox
It's been a long time since I've read The Last Battle, but I remember thinking of Susan as simply stuffy and interested in grown up things that are superficial, nothing more. It depends on how much stock a woman puts in those things beyond using them as tools to achieve a complete look (one compotent missing does give an "incomplete puzzle" look . . . but sometimes I leave off the eyeliner when I'm in a hurry anyway :)). I suppose, though, it's sometimes a fine line between looking neat to avoid looking unkempt and looking neat to show how much value you have (when really it's Jesus' death for us and His love for us that gives us value, whether or not we believe and all that that belief includes but I hope we all do).
Azara microphylla
14. Azara
I belong to the throw-it-against-the-wall brigade. I can't remember who talked of having an old Puffin set where the first six were falling apart from re-reading, while The Last Battle still looked brand new, but that was definitely my case as well.

What got me most was the culmination of Lewis' habit of setting something up as permanent or lasting a very long time, and then undercutting the whole idea. The Professor has this amazing, historic house in the country, but loses it a couple of years after the first book. The Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time turns out to be a few hundred years old. In Prince Caspian, the survival of the orchard the children planted as Kings and Queens is a sign of how long a time has passed since then; in The Magician's Nephew the earthly apple tree has been and gone in less than forty years.

The way Ramandu the star talks of his age really doesn't fit at all into the final timeline of the books: the days when I was a star had ceased long before any of you knew this world, and when I have become as young as the child that was born yesterday, then I shall take my rising again. When I read that, I had a mental image of almost endless Narnian time stretching both backwards and forwards: The Magician's Nephew chopped off the back history, and The Last Battle did the same for the future.

I loved the image at the end of The Silver Chair: often in hot summer days the Narnians go in there with ships and lanterns and sail to and fro. Now it turned out that, oops, that whole world had vanished. I still think it was a big mistake to specify that Tirian lived two hundred years after Rilian. Given the way Lewis could vary the time passing in our world, it would have been easy enough to set The Last Battle a thousand years or more later. For me, the great restoration of Old Narnia in Prince Caspian lost a lot of its shine when I found out it only lasted 250 years.
Eli Bishop
15. EliBishop
Mari: "I don’t like to think of them having to spend eternity in a dark stable because of this. I’m hoping they will eventually get up and try a bit of exploring."

Lewis's depiction of hell/limbo/purgatory in "The Great Divorce" is a lot like this: people stay there out of a combination of inertia and paranoia, but they always have the option of venturing out, although after a certain point anyone who's insisted on staying there has pretty much no soul left to be salvaged.

Anyway-- thanks for these well-written and thoughtful rereads!
NikZ
16. Xanthi
It's been a long time since I reread this book, but a lot of it sticks in my memory as I've read it many times.

My take is that Peter closed the door because he was the High King of Narnia. Lucy found Narnia originally, but it would be very sad for her to have to close the door. Closing the door was a responsibility, and that is what the High King embodied. Who is responsible for closing your parent's casket for the last time on this earth? Oh, drat, now I'm all misty.

Susan had a loss of faith. But I'm a boy, so the context around that probably didn't hit me in the same way. But that's the way of it, we each come to books from our own unique place. I like the thought others expressed that she had time for redemption. Some people/teenagers do seem to go through a stage of being obsessed with being "grown up". Some of us feel inadequate to ever be "grown up" and reject it stridently as foolishness to cover up that feeling.

I always loved knowing that the world would be remade perfect and far better, and me too, so while it was sad and sort of cool seeing Narnia "die", it was even more wonderful to go further up and further in. To think that someday I will wake up to someone calling me by my true name, and finally having no aches, no pain, no sorry - to be able to run for days and days at incredible speeds without tiring - to meet tons of people and share our stories - to meet and stay with the One who created me and loves me truly and fully, to have more that small moments of awareness of his presence... Well.

At the end, wasn't it clear that they were in Narnia which was part of "Heaven" which would include our Earth upon it's final destruction? That Aslan was just a different manifestation of God's Son, like Jesus here on our earth?

As to Tash, I don't think it was just "doing good things". I think the young prince served and worshipped "Tash" in a true way. I've never been sure how to express what seemed obvious, but I think someday in heaven I will meet Buddhists and Muslims, who, listening to their heart and soul and conscience and doing their best and rejecting aspects of the only religions and gods they have known actually end up worshiping God, just not in name.

This is that priest of Melchizedek (sp?) reference made in Christianity, that the Bible indicates that there were those who followed God who were not the Jews or of their heritage. That God has not left himself without a witness. So that young man worshiped the only God (Aslan/Emperor) he knew how but in a way were his heart was right. Going back over to Christian personal thought, I think the real moment of decision may be before the throne, that there may be those that never "choose" God while alive but who at the throne will recognize the God they have always served in their heart and choose him and find their name in the Book of Life.

This is probably formed from reading a lot of other books by Lewis, that the rejection of God is something in our hearts and soul that transcends time or location. After all, Lucifer knew who God was, spent time with God, of all that exists should know full well the nature of God, and he still decided knowing the consequences to reject God. People are like that too, knowing we will die, we still engage in self-destructive behaviors. Not against our will, but fully with its cooperation.
NikZ
17. Jim Haley
Just a couple of comments from a guy who considers The Last Battle one of his favorite Narnia books (though my absolute favorite is The Silver Chair) - but who hasn't read them in probably 15 years (since I was in college).

Two things didn't quite connect for me between what the reviewer felt was trying to be said in the book and how I remember it for myself.

First was the suggestion that Calormenes might equate to Muslims - I recall in college thinking that Lewis was using them as an allegory for Jews, which doesn't make that thought any more or less true - I think what it amounts to is that Lewis is really just trying to create a set of "bad guys" who do not have the same believe structure as the "good guys" do. Going along these same lines, we then need to consider that perhaps the audience meant for these "fairy tales" is specific - that it was the author's intent to speak to a Christian audience and give them a message - and when we're talking about Christians (who can tend to be very non-inclusive of other religions, even within their/our own doctrine) sending a message that people who might not be "Christians/Narnians" and who might not worship "Jesus/Aslan" might still find themselves on the side of right and redeemed in the eyes of their shared God. While this message might be insulting to those outside the Christian faith - that message IS a good one for those within the faith, a faith that might otherwise completely exclude those people.

Second, the idea that it is because Susan was interested in feminine things that she's no longer welcome. Again, I think we need to consider it as less about "feminine" and more about "things" - i.e. material goods or "worldly things". What's being said here is that Susan has chosen the material, the worldly, as opposed to the devine. The messages for Christians from the Bible are fairly clear on this point (easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven - i.e. because a rich man knows not how to give to his fellow man) - and so here we have Susan who seems to have shunned belief for worldly/material. It's not because she embraced being a woman, it's because she turned her back on God/Aslan.

Long post, but I'm not trying to say there is only one way to look at this - nor that my way is the right way - only that perhaps the reviewer was seeing specific things that not everyone takes away from the book. Lewis had a particular audience in mind, and within that context I think it actually sends a very powerful message, one that subverts some common thinking and can really lead to a much better understanding of faith. I'm glad that people outside his intended audience enjoy the books, but when we move into that area it becomes harder to judge it as imparial, since it was never meant to be such a thing.
Beth Friedman
18. carbonel
One eye-rolling bit for me is the Calormene named Emeth -- that's Hebrew for "truth."
Laurel Lyon
19. laurellyon
This is one of the very few books I have ever flung away in disgust, when I got to the last line and realised the whole Narnia saga was about Christianity. As a 10 year old atheist I felt completely betrayed.
Sim Tambem
20. Daedos
Nice summary - and a lot of good comments, too.

I always saw Susan's problem being materialism, not feminism, too.

And Lucy could have closed the door, too, but Peter was the High King. Maybe it was a responsibility thing, not an honor thing.

Also, I never connected the Calormen with Muslims, either (I agree with the multiple god thing). Maybe they were simply meant to represent a conglomeration of all non-Christian societies.

Also, I understand all the head-shaking going on about Islam, but who should he have chosen to play the role of antagonist-nation? I doubt it would have made anyone any happier if he'd chosen another identifiable group.

Is it just me, or do we do ourselves a disservice by searching for things to upset us.

"No one can offend you without your permission."
-Eleanor Roosevelt
Thomas Jeffries
21. thomstel
As a youngster (pre-teen) I started reading The Last Battle eagerly. The Magician's Nephew was awesome, as I am very much a sucker for a "how did it all begin?" story. Running smack into a couple of really dud characters (the ape and the donkey) and watching their random antics at impersonating Aslan, I flipped the book shut for a bit, disappointed. It wasn't anywhere near as fun as other books in the series had been.

When I went back to it, a little less spring in my step, and got through the middle of tale, then I started to get excited again. This was going to be a "here's how it all ended" story, which is my 2nd favorite type to read. OK, buckle down, get to the end... whizz! bang! cameos all around! Great!

When I read the book again in my mid- to late-teens, that's when I wanted to throw it out in the trash. All the negative aspects of what's been said so far were RIGHT THERE, ruining it. My life had moved into a place where the underlying messages were able to resonate with my newfound life experiences, and my much-more-analytical bent due to the continued rigor in schooling, my religious upbringing, and the increased awareness of the world. How dare life get in the way of my childhood pleasures!

In any case, I doubt my currently world-weary self could manage much of it these days. Here's hoping that a child somewhere, perhaps even one of my own, can come to the story and see the wonder while remaining innocently oblivious to the terrible undertones. Christianity, even in allegory, can be very unforgiving, and considering that's one of its pillars...well, as I said, a cynic coming to a tale of this sort isn't going to be cheered by it, no matter how cheery it seems at a surface level.
NikZ
22. HelenS
If the one to open the door to Narnia had been the one to close it, wouldn't that have been Uncle Andrew? :-) Oh, and I always did wonder how Peter just happened to have a key in his pocket that locked that door. But the whole thing is supposed to be rather dreamlike.

I can see why people dislike this book, but I remember really liking all the "further up and further in" part -- swimming up the waterfall and all that. And I must admit it didn't occur to me for *decades* that Susan had been left alone in the real world with all her family dead.

It really doesn't make any sense at all that they all had to die at the same time, given that heaven is outside time anyway. They could just as well have died at different times, seems to me.
Fake Name
23. ThePendragon
I second the request for a re-read of the Chronicles of Prydain. I loved those books, and they were my introduction to fantasy.
C C
24. Hatgirl
Oh good, other people who don't subscribe to the traditional "Susan was banned from Heaven because she embraced her femininity" line that most academics like to trot out. I have always read it that Susan rejected Narnia, not the other way round. She viewed believing in Narnia as childish (when in the context of the books it was a real place that she had really been to) and embraced the superficial aspects of being an adult, rather than "true" adulthood.

"Grown-up, indeed," said the Lady 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. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one's life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can."

That paragraph rings even more true today than it did then.

I wonder if the relatively high rate of irritation with Susan in these comments (compared to the almost ubiquitous agreement in non-genre commentaries that she was given a raw deal by Lewis) is because most of the people on this site have at some time or other been told that their interest in fairytales is childish. And so we know that Susan was wrong to believe that in order to wear lipstick and nylons, she had to reject Narnia. She could have embraced the fantastical and worn a diamond crown.
NikZ
25. Stefan Jones
Homework for those with strong tolerance for squick and ruthless revisionism:

"The Problem of Susan" by Neil Gaiman.
NikZ
26. (still) Steve Morrison
The choice of a donkey to wear the lion's skin is most likely an allusion to Aesop's fable, "The Ass in the Lion's Skin".
NikZ
27. Cheryl Pangolin
Nothing profound to add, I just wanted to chime in and say how much I enjoyed this blog series analyzing the good and bad of Narnia, and am very much looking forward to what you tackle next!
Mari Ness
28. MariCats
Wow. Looks as if we're trying to catch up to the Wheel of Time comment threads here :) My answers will be coming in multiple comments.

@NikZ and ThePendragon -- :: smacks head :: I knew when I was writing Tor.com about future rereads that I was missing one of the major children's fantasy series, and couldn't remember which one. Thanks for reminding me. I think the Chronicles of Pyrdain is a definite possibility (and maybe I can even sneak in a look at the Disney film), but it won't be for another few months, at least - as it is, the posts I promised up above are getting pushed back a couple of weeks to accomodate a few other ones - including an upcoming Tor.com special week; stay tuned!

I suspect I mindblanked on the Chronicles of Pyrdain because I never did manage to read the entire series, and I don't own any copies (although I just checked and they are readily available at the local library.)

Anyway, back to Narnia after that little diversion.

@Jeff Dougan -- No one ever says "Susan wasn't on the train," but they do go to some effort to say who was on the train, or waiting at the station. Waiting at the station: Edmund and Peter; on the train, Digory, Polly, Lucy, Jill, Eustace, and "our people" - immediately specified as Peter, Edmund and Lucy's parents. This is verified when the parents later show up in the heavenly England. Susan's name is omitted from this list.

Lewis is reported to have told upset children that because Susan wasn't dead, she still had time to change, and discover the really important things in life -- and maybe eventually get into Narnia.

Neil Gaiman's story, "The Problem of Susan," gives one version of the adult Susan. It makes for painful if realistic reading.

@DemetriosX - But St. Peter just guards the gates and looks at the Recording Angel's list of bad and good deeds; he doesn't shut the gates. Somewhat off topic, several Italian fairy tales showcase a trickster getting past the good natured St. Peter, and after reading those I could never think of St. Peter as a particularly effective guardian. Anyway.

C.S. Lewis was Church of England, not Catholic, although he certainly would have been aware of St. Peter and his role.

@Story Cottage -- I don't disagree with what you and many commentators are pointing out, that Susan's real problem is not so much embracing her femininity, as focusing on trivial, superficial issues. Unfortunately, he also defined some of these trivial, superficial issues in very stereotypically feminine terms - nylons and makeup.

Lewis reportedly told children upset by Susan's fate that she would have a chance to enter Narnia again -- if. So he would have agreed with your comforting thought.
NikZ
29. tom nackid
I have always assumed that the Calormenes were based on pagan, pre-Islamic Arabs. Who, by the way, ARE considered to be "demon worshipers" by many later islamic Arabs.
Sim Tambem
30. Daedos
Susan is female (as some people have pointed out already), so anything materialistic she is interested in would - by definition - pertain to women (at least some women) in some way. The notion that it is "feminism" that is keeping her out of Narnia is not only contradictory to Christianity (as I understand it), but it also does a fair job at offending logic.

I will say, however, that if by some strange, sexist chance that is what Lewis was going for, then I, too, am outraged.

@ 29 - I like the cut of your jib, but do the Calormenes have to represent someone? Maybe they just represent Calormenes...
NikZ
31. HelenS
Well, at least lipstick and nylons *are* fairly superficial matters. And he speaks of himself as an adolescent as having been every bit as silly about trying to act and dress in a "grown-up" way (indeed, probably sillier, as Susan seems to have well repaid the effort of dressing up, which Lewis as a boy didn't). Incidentally, it's Jill who sums up Susan in that one throwaway comment, and presumably as a keen Girl Guide of fourteen or so her attitude is well in character.

It should also be remembered that Lewis was an adult before either lipstick or nylons became common wear; naturally he wondered why they should be considered so necessary. Isn't there a story about his asking why, if Claire Bloom was considered the most beautiful woman in the world, she would want to wear lipstick? (Bloom subsequently portrayed Joy Davidman in the TV version of _Shadowlands_, by the way.)
Mari Ness
32. MariCats
@TorSaric25 - I haven't encountered Susan Cooper's series in years, so it will be interesting to return. I think I should be reaching it sometime in April or early May.

@Maac - I think Calormen could possibly be read as inspired, or at least partly inspired, by India (certainly Lewis would have been fairly familiar with at least some aspects of Indian culture.) Especially because, as you note, Hindu India, unlike Islam, recognizes multiple gods. I tend to think he more had the Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey) in mind, however, for a few reasons: one, as other commentators on these posts have noted, Lewis in academia studied medieval European literature and very specifically studied accounts of the Crusades and the influences of medieval Islamic art and philosophy on western European art, so it would have been on his mind, so to speak; the specific Calormene words use the long "aa" sound that Lewis would have associated with Arabic; three, the multiple gods mentioned in The Horse and His Boy have apparently completely vanished here; we hear only of Tash, making the Calormene culture of this book more monotheistic (and given the passage of time between books, maybe they did move to a monotheistic religion, although that's not in the text and only supposition); four, although Hinduism and Christianity have certainly come into conflict over the years, and Lewis would have been aware of the very recent successful struggle for Indian independence, he would have been more aware -- indeed, deeply studied - the geographically closer, more prominent struggles between Christianity/Islam.

So, keeping the problematic history of the British Raj firmly in mind, I'm still inclined to read the Calormenes as Muslim. (Or maybe from Pakistan.)

But you are right: Calormene as India is really not any better of a reading in any case.

@Timpemin - I got into this issue a little bit more in one of my Oz posts (The Silver Princess of Oz), but for now, I'll say that yes, I do think it matters, even with an understanding of the context.

I don't think that fairy tales should or do make for easy reading; I think their power comes, in part, from showing us -- as children or adult readers - just how unfair and inequitable the world can be, a world where - in an original Grimm telling - your mother can tell you to cut off your toe or your heel for a chance at marrying a prince. Not a pleasant story.

But I also think it's important to understand what influences these fairy tales and fantasies can leave on us - and that's easier to do when we examine the tales closely. For what it's worth, I do think that Lewis was remarkably inclusive for his period and time, but that doesn't stop me from examining his thinking.

@Mike Cugley - You almost had me until the end there! As I noted in the post and my original comments, much of Lewis's concern does seem to have been Susan's focus on trivial, unimportant things -- unfortunately including things that Jill defines as nylons and lipsticks.

But - no, I can't blame her for the invasion of Narnia/Archenland. Plenty of men have heard the word "no" in response to a marriage proposal and not reacted by invading another country - moreover, a country that she wasn't even queen of! I blame Rabadash completely for that one.

@a-j -- I don't dispute Philip Pullman's reading on this, but what I find interesting is that the earlier Narnia books did have moments of great (and little) happiness, showing that no, you don't have to die to be happy. Even in this book Jewel the Unicorn spends some time telling us that most of Narnia's history was peaceful and plentiful, focused mostly on parties and good food.

You might have to die (or become a cat) to find constant happiness - but I certainly don't think you have to die to find happiness.

@jsburbidge - Given that Lewis would have defined "allegory" differently (and in medieval/classical terms) my word choice there was perhaps problematic. Maybe a better word would have been "retelling." This is certainly a retelling of the Book of Revelation (which is absolutely and often intentionally an allegory, using very specific symbols/characters to represent Christian believers, the Roman Empire, churches in Turkey that had irritated the writer, and so on), and perhaps I should have used that word -- but a retelling of an allegory is going to feel like an allegory, even if it doesn't quite fit the specific literary trope.

I don't know if Susan has to have a conversion. I do know that to return to Narnia, she will have to find belief again - and this after getting kicked out of Narnia in the first place while knowing her younger siblings and irritating cousin get to go again (I honestly do think she turned to trivial things in part to deal with this disappointment) AND after her parents and siblings have just died in what would seem to her to be a meaningless train accident. It's possible that this accident might shock her back into belief. It's possible that it might do the opposite. Grief affects people in different ways.

@EliBishop - The foul smell, fear, and eating of bodies are all associated with traditional devils, but let's at least call him not on the Narnian side :)

@Dr. Cox - I agree that Susan is mostly interested in superficial things. What bothers me is that these superficial things are identified with makeup and nylons - two traditionally "feminine" items, and items also needed by women for the workplace when this book was published.

@Azaru - Part of the problems that you are pointing out stem from the fact that Lewis did not have a series in mind when he started writing. By The Silver Chair, he certainly knew he was writing a series, but he had no idea how much longer it would continue - just a few books before he decided he was tired of the whole thing.

That happens a lot in children's fantasy series - that, along with the talking animals, is the chief thing that Oz and Narnia have in common, actually; neither began as a series even if they ended up that way. But certainly with Narnia it ended up causing the narrative problems that you mention.

@EliBishop -- Oh, it's pretty clear from the text that Aslan isn't trapping the dwarfs in the stable and that they can come out whenever; they just don't want to. I just can't help hoping that at some point they will want to.

@Xanthi - Yes, at the end, the book makes it very clear that they are in a Heaven that includes the ideal and the perfect from every world and every time - thus they can see the Professor's old mansion, for instance, and all of the good parts of England, on another one of Aslan's mountains. Heaven in this depiction certainly isn't restricted to Narnia.

And I did like the exhilarating depiction of heaven and the afterlife (although I'm still not sure why everyone was running) as well as all of the tiny details about climbing up the waterfall and so on, and the loss of all fear. That was wonderful. It's part of what makes this book so aggravating -- in those parts, Lewis showed what marvels he could write.

Lewis definitely would have agreed with you that Buddhists and Muslims can and will be met in heaven. Not all Christians would - part of the idea behind the missionary movement, since those particular Christians did not want anyone doomed to hell if a choice could be given.

@Jim Haley - I have to admit I don't read the Calormenes as Jewish at all.

I do think, however, that you are spot on in one point: people are going to read this text (and most of the Narnia books, really) very differently depending upon their ages and cultural backgrounds. As we saw with the first book, many non-Christian readers missed the Christian bits and references to the Crucifixion completely -- because if you aren't aware of the Crucifixion, you will. The same is true here - and you are right to point out that Christians and non-Christians may very well get completely different messages from this book.

@Carbonel - Heh. I missed that completely, but then again most of my Hebrew vocabulary consists of swear words :)

@Laurellyon -- To be fair, I think Narnia contains more than just Christianity - the earlier books in particular contain adventure and some very powerful discussions/examples of morality, choices, and imagination. But you are certainly not the only person to fling this book!

@lambson -- Hmm.

With all due respect to Eleanor Roosevelt, I have a bit of a problem with that -- mostly because, as a wheelchair user, I have become all too aware that attitudes often translate into genuine problems for those perceived as different - whether as actual/potential adversaries or marginalized people. And sometimes, the very real things that upset us - in my case, lack of ramps on sidewalks, inability to get into buildings or to certain places and so on - can lead us to wonder what the background attitudes are that are causing these things.

Does that mean that we can't be oversensitive? Certainly not. I think a lot of people - and I include me in this category - are often too quick to find insult where none is intended. But I think examining and explaining attitudes can help.

@thomsell - For what it's worth, when I was a kid I completely missed any of the negative Islam (or, as people are suggesting, Hindu) overtones, caught up in the magic of the world. I was just mad that Susan didn't get to join everyone in Narnia and that everyone had to die because the animals couldn't tell the difference between a donkey in a lionskin and a real lion. But I still enjoyed the wonder of the rest of the book.
Pamela Adams
33. Pam Adams
I'm going to jump right past the problematic issues and get to a bit or two that I love.
Let's start with the Talking Dogs. First, they all leap to assist the King. "They were mostly great big dogs with thick shoulders and heavy jaws. Their coming was like the breaking of a great wave on the sea-beach: it nearly knocked you down." I've known plenty of dogs (and dog situations) like that. Second, they are happy as can be to have gotten to Aslan's country. Third of course, is their discovery of Emeth, and their reaction to parts of his story.

"And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me Beloved, me who am but as a dog--"
"Eh? What's that?" said one of the Dogs.
"Sir," said Emeth. "It is but a fashion of speech which we have in Calormen."
"Well, I can't say it's one I like very much," said the Dog.
"He doesn't mean any harm," said an older Dog. "After all, we call our puppies Boys when they don't behave properly."
NikZ
35. Stefan Jones
I never made it through The Final Battle.

I know I read The Magician's Nephew, and enjoyed it. But something "meta" happened between the two.

Did someone tell me that Narnia was Christian propaganda, ruining the experience for me? Or was it simply a case of starting the book and just getting disgusted early on?

I vaguely recall the bit about getting hit by a train, and the disguised donkey . . . was it all too much?

* * *
RE lipstick and nylons. Popping into my head is that wonderful, sad montage in Toy Story 2 where Jessie the cowgirl relates through song how she came to be abandoned.
Mari Ness
36. MariCats
Sorry that it's taking me so long to answer these excellent comments. I am having problems with my robot. Really. (My Roomba.) Which is an awesome problem to have on the Tor.com site. Anyway, onwards!

@HelenS -- Well, ok, Uncle Andrew found the rings, sure, but, didn't Digory pick the pool to jump into and find Narnia?

The description of the Narnia heaven is exhilarating; I'm just unhappy with some of what we needed to go through to get there.

@Hatgirl - I don't question that Susan rejected Narnia and called it childish. But. She did this only after Aslan had told her she could never return.

Edmund and Lucy got another trip; Peter got to study under Digory, so all three had a chance to have their impressions and faith in Narnia restored. Susan didn't. She did get a trip to the U.S., granted, which seems to have worsened things (although I don't think that's what Lewis meant by that trip.)

So, first she got tossed out, then she lost her faith and decided that she didn't believe in Narnia after all and would focus on other things to divert herself, and then her family died in a train crash. I'm a non-makeup, non nylon person myself, and like Jill I loved Girl Scouts, but I can still feel for Susan here.

@(still) Steve Morrison (why still?) -- References to donkeys are also all over the Old Testament. The specific reference that Lewis might have had in mind is the prophecy that I am slightly misquoting in an effort not to reread Issiah and other prophets that the Son of Man/God/Messiah would enter Jerusalem on a donkey, thus proving that he was the Son of Man/God/the Messiah, a prophecy Jesus fulfilled by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Lewis also was very aware of traditional religious imagery showing the Virgin Mary on a donkey (multiple pictures) and Jesus on a donkey (not quite as many, but still). In any case donkeys are definitely associated with Jesus and as a sign of Jesus.

Given some of the classical references in the first two books, Lewis might also have had Silenus in mind - but since he presents Silenus in a positive light, I'm thinking not.

Which is not to say that Aesop's fable wasn't yet another influence, just that quite a lot is going on here, and the choice of donkey is definitely not accidental.

@Tom MacNid - Given the presence of pre-Islamic Arabs in Biblical texts, often described as demon worshippers, you may be on to something here - not that this really improves the reading either.

@HelenS again (sorry, didn't realize you wrote two comments) Nylons had been around for awhile before Lewis wrote this book. I have no doubt that he thought the emphasis on them completely silly - I do myself - and that he was unaware of the relative freedom they brought women as well as their eventual importance in the workplace.

The unfortunate truth was that even in World War II, where nylons became a very hot and treasured commodity, women needed them for work. Post World War II - a woman without nylons could not get a professional job. Pantsuits were out; long skirts were out; bare legs WERE SERIOUSLY OUT. Thus, nylons - necessary to prevent the bare legs in the workplace. (At that time many people could still remember the days where women were required to wear long skirts everywhere.) In some workplaces this remains true unless a woman chooses to wear pantsuits. As I said, I entirely agree with Lewis that this was utterly silly, and the entire focus on covering women's legs silly, but, true. But this could be an entirely different post, and, in Lewis' defense, I don't think we can blame him for not focusing on the problems of women's clothing. He does make several points here and there in the Narnia books suggesting that your good, fancy clothes should be comfortable, not cumbersome -- excellent advice.
Mimi Epstein
37. hummingrose
Somewhere along the line this book was converted from my favorite of the Narnia books (so tragically sad!) to the one I want to throw across the room, to the point where I can't even reread the others because I can't not reread it.

But hooray, George McDonald! Are you going to cover The Light Princess in addition to The Princess and the Goblins (and Curdie)?
Pamela Adams
38. Pam Adams
Okay, I ran out and got the Bastables books, so they're on the TBR pile for the weekend.

Quick discontinuity note- didn't Magician's Nephew say that Digory and Polly both got married, but not to each other? When Eustace and Jill are explaining themselves to Tirian, Eustace says "She's Miss Plummer, but we call her Aunt Polly." Perhaps our discussions here should act as a warning to YA/childrem's series writers- be careful what you say, as your audience cares an awful lot.
Mari Ness
39. MariCats
@hummingrose -- That's the current plan, although it's going to be delayed a bit by an upcoming Tor.com week.

@Pam Adams - I just went and rechecked. It's Bree and Hwin from The Horse and His Boy who got married but not to each other. Digory and Polly are just described as always great friends, although by the standards of children's literature not featuring Jo March they probably should have married.

I really don't have a problem with that, though - I really never saw Digory and Polly as any sort of romantic partners (it might be their age, admittedly) and neither does anything particularly heroic to rescue or help the other, as do Shasta and to a lesser extent Aravis (by rescuing the horses and getting them out to the Tombs, and not deserting Shasta) in The Horse and His Boy. I can easily see Polly remembering that Digory once hit her, even if she forgave him, and both deciding to just stay friends. Works for me.
Pamela Adams
40. Pam Adams
Thanks- I remembered the line, but not the source, and both of those have gone back to the library.

Plus, the Professor always seemed like one of those Oxford Don-like natural bachelors. I have to dig out The Story of the Amulet soon- they had a similar absent-minded professor.
NikZ
41. SitkaSpruce
@MariCats - You said everything I have been itching to say once I had read all this posts. Bravi!
NikZ
42. BMunro
@EliBishop, re your comment on Tash

"It's not at all clear to me that Lewis means him to be the devil, or even *a* devil. He's not out in the world trying to cause trouble, and he seems to have been summoned to Narnia involuntarily; he doesn't seem to care that the Calormenes worship him and may not have really interacted with them before at all. Sure, he's pretty unpleasant and he'll eat a person if you throw one into his room, but I saw him as more of a wild animal (a supernatural one) who had his own job in the world and just wasn't meant for humans to interact with, let alone worship. "

Aslan specifically says in the story that Tash is his opposite, which argues he's a hell of a lot more than some sort of wild animal.

A fuller quote:
"The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he had truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted."

Sounds like the devil to me.
Sacha G
43. Fortune_Prick_Me
Thanks Mari for the re-read. There has been a lot of back and forth over the real world inspiration for Calormene culture.

I had an immediate reaction when reading Horse and his Boy (I wasn't even 10 yet) when I first saw the term Calormen... Colour(ed) Men. When our horses and heroes meet up with Nordic Archenlanders at the end, I knew my gut reaction wasn't misplaced.

The Last Battle just makes me think that Lewis was portraying an amalgamation of foreign, non-christian, non-lily white, non-English, others. Turkish, Arab, Indian doesn't really matter.. they're not Anglo-European. They are Calormen.

Count me in the book throwing group, much as I loved the end of world description.
Beth Mitcham
44. bethmitcham
I like Jo Walton's take on Susan:
http://papersky.livejournal.com/154809.html

As a kid this was always my least favorite because of Susan, the re-writing of Calormene, but I did like Reepeecheep. Although I didn't recognize the specific links, it felt more warped to fit a (religious) agenda than the others.
NikZ
45. images8dream
I find the decisivness that these books causes quite interesting. Many of my atheist friends revile Narnia; as an atheist, I have never had that problem. After all, I enjoy reading about the Greek myths and the Norse myths and the Hindu myths, none of which I believe to be true. Similarly, I can enjoy Christian myths, which I don't think are true either. Most fantasy written for children is heavy handed at times, it just comes with the territory. And let's face it; Christianity is nothing new. I think that is part of the reason why Lewis's blend of paganism with the Christiam framework works so well. It ties Christainity to humankind's deeper, mythological past. The dying god myth, the end and recreation of the world, the death of the evil "other tribe", these things can be found in all mythologies.
As for the Caloremen as Muslims, I just don't see it. They worship a bird God; something any Muslim would find offensive. Just because they live in the desert doesn't mean that they correspond to the Muslim world of today. There is a long tradition in English literature of orientalism, something another poster mentioned. When you need bad guys, you go exotic to make things more exciting. Sure it is xenophobic, but Lewis was writing in the 1950's, coming off two world wars and the cold one looming. Also, the leader of the Calormens, Rishda Taarkan doesn't even believe in Tash. Doesn't sound like an orthodox Muslim to me.

Sure there are flaws in the series; but something about Lewis's writing is utterly delightful.
NikZ
47. (still) Steve Morrison
@42: This actually seems to be a theological error on Lewis's part, since he himself said (in The Screwtape Letters? I think so but am not sure) that the Devil isn't the opposite of God, but rather of Michael! Tolkien once noted that Lewis had a tendency to Dualism in his fiction, even though he consciously rejected it.

@36: Because I lost the ability to comment as "Steve Morrison" after the Tor.com server crash some time back. Some people who've had this problem have been commenting as "Formerly {screen name}" to make it clear that they're the same person; but since I use my real name, and I haven't changed it in real life, I'm reduced to commenting as "(still) Steve Morrison"!
Claire de Trafford
48. Booksnhorses
Great post and posts Mari; thanks.

People have said most of what I would have said in the comments. Reflecting back on the book, of which I am in the 'nearly new as un re read' brigade, I think that I disliked this one as much for the much more obvious and inescapable religious elements, as for the destruction of Narnia. I'm pretty oblivious to symbolism in general and can easily overlook the previous books but this one rams it down your throat. In addition there are the problems with the timeline mentioned above.

In short this one is not for me, and I think I always found Trinian a bit wet as well even aged 11.
NikZ
49. Gorbag
@43.Fortune_Prick_Me

CS Lewis was taught Latin and Greek from a very early age, as was then the custom of the British middle class on up. After I learnt Latin, Calormen became parseable as Calor - hot; -men - present participal ending; the whole word meaning "hot place".

It's the same as California - hot place - in Spanish.

So, if CS Lewis had been American, instead of being Anglo-Irish, the Calormenes would have been Californians.

Re: lipstick, nylons, and Susan embracing her femininity; I am ever so glad she was not embracing her masculinity through nylons and lipstick. But then, CS Lewis could not have written such a book. :)
David Levinson
50. DemetriosX
MariCats@28: I disagree about St. Peter. He holds the keys to the kingdom, after all, with the "power to bind and to loose". I don't know just how great the differences are between the C of E and Catholic views of him are, but I would expect a fair amount of overlap. And whether or not St. Peter makes his decisions based on what the Recording Angel has written down, Peter closes the door expressly on Aslan's orders.

As for St. Peter being a lousy guardian, in Dante he states that he was told always to err on the side of leniency. The slightest desire to move towards God is supposed to be enough to get past him, so he's probably just having a little fun with the tricksters.
NikZ
51. Dr. Thanatos
Gorbag@49,

Your pickup on Calormen=men of calor is a good call, I was thinking the same thing.

However, if you read this as "Men from a Hot Place" Arabia, California, and Heck all work.

If you read this as "Hot Men" then specifically South Beach or San Francisco might work, although this is a topic that I lack quotability in, neither being an expert in Hot Men or being a Hot Man myself.

I would consider Calormen to be read as "Men of Calories," a species on which I can comment on with much more personal experience...

My feelings on the series are known from the re-read of LWW; I did not throw this book, as I read it as fantasy, but I did take a deep breath and refrain from doing a book report on it in Hebrew School...
NikZ
52. HelenS
The Tisroc in _The Horse and His Boy_ is certainly a Man of Calories.

I was joking about Uncle Andrew, of course. It should have been one of the guinea pigs, only they're too short to reach the handle ;-)

More seriously, during the war, women did often go barelegged, with stripes painted down the backs of their legs to represent the seams of their nonexistent stockings.
Fake Name
53. ThePendragon
Mari@28

Hooray And thanks! I will personally send you copies of all the books if need be! They really are what got me intop fantasy and reading in general and they are still among my favorite books of all time. One pet peeve though, it's spelled Prydain. Everyone gets it wrong. Still, much thanks for adding it to your list, and I look forward to reading your articles on them, however long it may take. :)
NikZ
54. Angiportus
At 12, I found "Last Battle" confusing and rather depressing, at least partly because religious indoctrination had dealt me only a glancing blow. But at 16, I understood it a lot better, even though I had nothing to do with any official faith, for now I had seen for myself the effects of people twisting stuff around that I had depended on, telling me things that absolutely made no sense, no more than dry water or a black sun. Speaking of suns, I long wondered if that red dying sun was inspired by Wells' "Time Machine".
This has been quite an insightful set of articles, helping me see some new things about the Narnia series. A similar examination of MacDonald's goblin and North Wind books is indicated. Sleigh's Carbonel trilogy would also be welcome.
Ursula L
55. Ursula
I don't disagree with what you and many commentators are pointing out, that Susan's real problem is not so much embracing her femininity, as focusing on trivial, superficial issues. Unfortunately, he also defined some of these trivial, superficial issues in very stereotypically feminine terms - nylons and makeup.

The problem, though, is that in the real world, these "superficial" aspects of femininity can have very non-superficial consequences. If, as a woman, you don't play by the rules when it comes to makeup and fashion, you can find yourself margenalized.

Heck, I've lost jobs because my boss didn't like the shoes I wear - plain black leather lace-up shoes, that fit my feet. They don't make fashionable women's shoes that I can wear.

If makeup and nylons are "superficial" then there shouldn't be such severe consequences for women who reject them. The cost of being expected to wear nylons and makeup daily isn't superficial - neither product is particularly long-lasting, and it adds up.

When you're expected to devote considerable time and money to your appearance, and judged severely based on your adherance to these standards, it isn't superficial to become obsesed with these unreasonable expectations, and trying to somehow manage to live up to the expectations.

***

As for Susan rejecting Narnia because it is "childish" - she was told that she could no longer come to Narnia because she was too old, no longer a child. When Aslan when out of his way to define Narnia as for children, should she be blamed for believing him?

Narnia rejected Susan for not being a child, long before she rejected Narnia as childish.
NikZ
56. RichardNarniareader
Hello to all!!!
Firts of all,great articles about the Narnia series.The Narnia saga is the first I ever had and enjoy them still (even though I´m 20).I would Like to point a few observations:

About Susan:I´m also among the thousands outraged at her expulsion .In an ideal world all the Pevensies should be in Narnia,just for OCD's sake.Still,I find it a great shame.Curiosly,I discovered that Lewis was saving Susan for more stories. Maybe, just maybe,in one of the possible stories she would have been redeemed, unfortunatetly, Lewis passed before he could.There´s a short story by Neil Gaiman that deals with Susan so read that (I know I will).

About Christian themes:Every writer writes about what he knows. Robert Jordan wrote about masonic themes of personal growth, for example. Lewis was a born again Christian, how is he not going to introduce those themes into his books? People put themselves into their writings, mine would probably be about a Nietzschenian archetype,an atheist would write about a hero who destroys idols and brings the world into the light of science, and so on.

Seriously, are you going to let those tidbits embitter the experiences you had reading Narnia? Dreaming about rings and gardens,looking for worlds behind wardrobes,desiring to encounter Aslan and drown in his golden mane,to dance with Bacchus and driads,cry about Aslan death and rejoice about his return to life, to look beneath worlds and see exotic places and everything you imagined about that world.You are letting that go away just because of a few references?(Okay,I admit it,I have a lot of imagination and I read them when I was very little,and still do(both the books and imagination))And yes,I know there is a lot of Christian referencing,but also there is ,as many commenters have said, a lot of tolerance showing in the character of Emeth.Also,remember the epoch the books were written in.

As for logic,and death as means of happiness:They are in essence books for kids,do you really think logic is required,?We are talking about a geocentric flatword with shiny white hot people and with animals to whom being bigger takes no toll on their skeletons and everyone speaks English (even animals and trees).Also, read some short stories of Grimm,there are lots where death brings happiness.There' s a story about an angel giving a girl a rose and the next day she is dead,but looking beautiful and the rose is in bloom(hardly a lesson for kids,I still thinks there is one m in Grimm they should take away).

Thanks for bearing all my ranting and keep all the good work you´re doing on Tor.
NikZ
57. HelenS
If makeup and nylons are "superficial" then there shouldn't be such severe consequences for women who reject them.

Perfectly true, and I venture to say that's one area where Lewis would heartily agree with you. But do you really expect Jill to have thought all that out, when she expresses how Susan irritates her?
NikZ
58. Mike Cugley
@MariCats In the unlikely event that anyone is still reading these comments :) (I only found this again because the Tor.com RSS reader keeps throwing up old articles)...

Susan did like Rabadash enough to get her group in hot water by going to Calormene itself (hence the need to enact a thrilling escape), but the invasion of Archenland (and proposed invasion of Narnia) was all Rabadash, and not in any way Susan's fault.

I can no longer remember if that's what I meant when I wrote it, but you're right, blaming Susan for Rabadash's invasion is just wrong.
NikZ
59. Another Dave
The problem wasn't Susan. The problem was Lewis. Look at the roles generally given to women in the Narnia books: witches, hags and dull school marms. In Narnia, "good" women are typified by Mrs. Beaver. Good women attend to domestic matters, wait on their husbands and follow their leads and dream wistfully of new sewing machines. Lewis may have appreciated the potential for faith, courage and wisdom among girls, but he clearly had nothing but contempt for adult women, and Susan bore the brunt of that distaste.

The point is further made by the assertion that "once a king or queen or Narnia, always a king or queen of Narinia." We heard that quote a lot in the first two books. I recall even Alsan said it once. However, by The Last Battle, we discover that "always" actually means "for as long as is convenient." In a series that celebrates Christian themes, Lewis casual misue of the term "always" is disturbing to say the least.
NikZ
60. anonymous187
I would just like to add things.

(i) I'm a Lewis fan but I've read his books, and one of his faults was his contempt for femininity. Did you notice in The Silver Chair that he described the giantess Queen as "dreadfully fat.. Powdered face" and said that "The King was better than the Queen". He may not have been aware of it, but it just shows how he disliked adult women in general, because, really, what's wrong with a powdered face? Also he wrote a story published in The dark tower where he did write that a woman's world was full of shallow things such as flowers and parties and shoes and clothes. As a girl myself, I don't think it's shallow at all and are part of the things that we can enjoy in this world. He seem to only forgive women's fondness for clothes if it's not in the modern style. In short, he also hates industrialism as much as Tolkien.

(ii) India wrote amazing epics like Mahabharata, but I don't see anyone hurling it and calling it names because it's a propaganda to make us convert to Hinduism. Similarly, I've also read books and watched films that could as well might be labelled as Atheist Propaganda by hinting that God doesn't exist, but isn't Narnia also just a hint?

If we point out flaws like the problem with the politics, like the way they handled the things they were fighting for in Prince Caspian, or how the book handled the morals, then it is a valid philosophical argument. But to hurl the book just because the themes are Christianity may be bordering to a sort of racism. It's as if any Muslim who would mention Allah is already a culprit, or a Buddhist who imparts his wisdom should already be banished. What on earth are we to speak about? Speak objectively about everything and be like that of advertisements screened and stripped of any political or religious context? Where is the freedom in that?

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