Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Last Battle


Well, we finally come to it. The Chronicles of Narnia culminates in one last tale, one last chance to meet new characters and expand our understanding of the scope of Narnia. We meet new villains, such as Shift and Ginger—even Tash himself. And we meet some new heroes, too: King Tirian and his friends Jewel, Roonwit, Farsight the eagle. Even Puzzle himself, in his own, well, puzzling way. And true to form, Lewis brings past heroes into the tale: Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole (even some others, too, before the tale is done).

But Lewis doesn't merely have the narrative on his mind here. He's also got some pretty significant cosmological issues to deal with from past stories. How exactly does the religion of the Calormenes jive with Aslan and the Emperor Across the Sea? What is the fate of those who worship Tash? For that matter, what is the fate of those reject Aslan? Are the two questions the same? Is it heresy to suggest that both Tash and Aslan can be found in the stable? Do we all ultimately find whoever it is that we truly seek? And if Lewis was brave enough in The Magician's Nephew to show us how Narnia began, does he have the guts here to also show us how it ends?

The options for discussion of this book are boundless—and we simply can't tackle them all. So this month, Jenn Wright synopsizes the Top Stories of all the news that's fit to print. Then George Rosok looks at the literary layers that Lewis uses to tear into (and build up) Narnia, and Kathy Bledsoe concludes our coverage of the Chronicles with a hard look at the stable itself.

But don't worry. The books may have ended, but the movie is coming...

Story Synopsis: Narnia News Roundup

Tashlan a Scam?
Local Ape makes a Monkey out of a Donkey and an Ass of Himself
From the Daily Chronicles

Caldron Pool – Earlier this week, eyewitness accounts had rumors of Aslan the Great’s return sweeping over Narnia—and Shift, the notorious ape, had set himself up as Aslan’s “mouthpiece.” New evidence suggests, however, that there’s more to this story than meets the eye. Documents leaked to the Press demonstrate that the ape, Shift, may be in collusion with the Calormenes to promote the new myth that Tash and Aslan (or “Tashlan”) are one and the same.

Several days ago, Shift—who normally lives near Caldron Pool—suddenly claimed a new and remarkably close relationship with Aslan, who had been sighted near Lantern Waste. With the help of tradesmen from Calormen, Shift set up residence for the Great Lion at Stable Hill, where Aslan has since been making nocturnal appearances, with Shift speaking for Him. “It’s because I’m so wise,” says Shift, “that I’m the only one Aslan is ever going to speak to. He can’t be bothered talking to a lot of stupid animals.” At Shift’s insistence, many of our talking animals have been put to work assisting the Calormenes in the destruction of our friends, the trees and Dryads.

In a startling development, Shift next announced that the “old idea of us being right and the Calormenes being wrong is silly.” Tash, he says, is, “only another name for Aslan.” Ginger, the cat, and others of our people, have joined in supporting this strange alliance of Narnia and Calormen, in spite of Aslan’s apparent change since His last confirmed appearance.

Suspicion has recently surfaced among the dwarfs that this new Aslan was nothing more than some animal sewn up in a lion skin. This rumor has not been confirmed, but government surveillance photos from Caldron Pool show that Shift and his friend, Puzzle, the donkey, indeed recently came into possession of a full lion skin. Puzzle has not been seen in recent days. Unless Shift can produce both Puzzle and Tashlan simultaneously, we suspect something may be mucked up on Stable Hill.

Narnia’s King Reported Dead
Vacationing Monarch Loses Mind, Then Life, After Murderous Rampage
From the Calormen HotNews

Cair Paravel – King Tirian of Narnia, spending a holiday at his hunting lodge not far from the eastern end of Narnia’s Lantern Waste, was surprised to come upon talking beasts being used for manual labor by our fellow Calormenes, who have begun systematically chopping down Dryad trees for trade. Victims of a fit of rage, two of our innocent countrymen were murdered. Tirian and his accomplice were soon apprehended and bound to await trial. During the night, the culprits have disappeared, and are presumed dead.

The king was not alone in his madness; in addition to Jewel, the unicorn, who shared in the slaying of mere tradesmen, Tirian was known to be in league with Roonwit the centaur, who had gone on record asserting that Aslan’s reappearance had not been seen in the stars. Not long after Tirian’s misdeed, the centaur was himself slain while attempting to stir up dissension in the vicinity of Cair Paravel. A bloody police action was necessary to put down a riot later that day. Tirian and Jewel, meanwhile, claimed to have given themselves up voluntarily and sought court with Aslan, but were told that Aslan is not interested in seeing anyone personally. Witnesses at last night’s fireside congress at Stable Hill heard Tirian shouting down local officials’ assertions that “Aslan means neither less nor more than Tash.” The two culprits were then removed and bound at a distance.

Early this morning, the king’s bonds were found cut, but Shift the ape and Rishda Tarkaan report that the King was, indeed, granted audience with “Tashlan” and consumed whole. Reports of children seen with Narnia’s king are widely thought to be lies.

Cold, Hard Tash
Calormene God Makes Rare Appearance in Narnia
From The Narnia End-Times

Stable Hill – In the midst of unconfirmed and conflicting reports of Aslan the Great’s return to Narnia, and unprecedented claims for the existence of “Tashlan,” reliable witnesses are now reporting sightings of the Calormene god Tash.

In recent days, things have gone from bad to worse in Narnia. King Tirian has been deposed and is rumored to be dead. Cair Paravel has been laid waste, the majority of dwarfs have lost faith in Aslan’s very existence, and vast swaths of our forests have been decimated. Yet a new horror has come on the scene: amidst a putrid stench, moving shadow, and disheartening spiritual oppression, a vast four-armed vulture-headed figure has been seen storming through the forest, heading north toward Stable Hill.

But is all lost, we wonder? Rumors that Tirian is alive may just be true. During the night, Tirian’s friend Jewel, who had been held captive on trumped-up charges of murder, was also mysteriously freed; and once again a human boy and girl were reportedly accompanying him. Most significantly, Shift the ape has been unable to produce both Tashlan and his friend Puzzle simultaneously, thereby casting further suspicions on the ape’s dubious claims about who is inhabiting Stable Hill. Has Puzzle flown the coop, we wonder? And has Tash come to roost in his place? And where is the real Aslan in all of this?

Conspiracy Unmasked
Shift, Ginger, and Others Caught in Treasonous Pact with Invading Calormenes; Chaos Ensues
From the Daily Chronicles

Stable Hill – In what may prove to be the last battle for Narnia, King Tirian and his company last night confronted the traitorous ape, Shift, and his Calormene handlers at Stable Hill. A wild firelit battle ensued, and one by one, combatants from both sides were cast, or ran headlong into, an unknown fate in “Tashlan’s” Stable.

What truly lies inside that stable, we still do not know for certain. In an occurrence that has not happened since Narnia began, the first witness to the stable’s contents lost the gift of speech. After being mocked by now-faithless dwarfs, Shift the ape declared that Tashlan would make no more appearances; however, single courtiers could enter and meet with Him inside the stable. Ginger, the cat, a known supporter of the Tashlan regime, smugly volunteered to enter the stable and meet the hybrid god; but he exited yowling and as intranslatable as a common cat. Subsequently, at least one Calormene villain was thrown dead from the door of the stable.

King Tirian, meanwhile, who made his appearance during this charade accompanied by two heroes of Narnia-past (Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb), brought with him irrefutable evidence of the conspiracy: the donkey, Puzzle, missing since rumors began to surface. Sources close to Tirian assure us that Puzzle, like Jewel, was, indeed, rescued from the stable, having been crudely sewn into a lion skin by the scheming Shift.

As Rishda Tarkaan and Shift began to lose control of the situation at Stable Hill, armed conflict broke out. Tirian, Jewel, Farsight the eagle, and all true Narnians withstood more than one assault from Calormene forces. Opportunistic dwarfs, with the exception of one Poggin, rallied to the cry “Dwarfs for the Dwarfs!” and actively slaughtered combatants from both sides. Most of Narnia’s talking horses were slain in the melee. One by one, the dwarfs were overcome by Calormene forces, and thrown into the stable as sacrifices to Tash. They joined the ape, Shift, hurled into the stable by Tirian as the battle began. Ruefully, Tirian’s early success in the battle could not be sustained as Calormene reinforcements arrived. One by one, his companions either fell or were captured. Eustace was the first to be captured and added to the list of human sacrifices to Tash. Jill followed Eustace not long after. Finally, Tirian fought Rishda Tarkaan himself, and forcefully took him to join the rest in the stable.

What is their fate? We do not yet know. After Tirian and Rishda disappeared, the battle soon died down. Both sides now uneasily await new developments during this brief lull in the fighting. Only one thing is clear: Aslan is not here, and never was. But everyone feels that the dawn will bring an end to this chapter of Narnia’s history, and maybe an end to Narnia itself.

News from the Other Side
Aslan Triumphant; Tash Banished; Narnia Reborn
From the Real Narnia News

The Western Mountains – In a series of wholly unexpected events, Aslan has made His final victorious appearance, and all that was ever wrong has been made right.

First, the mystery of Stable Hill is resolved. Both Tash and Aslan were to be found inside, and Tash took those who belonged to him. His evil task accomplished, he slunk away at Aslan’s command. The friends of Narnia, meanwhile—the High Kings Peter and Edmund, Queen Lucy, Digory Kirke, Polly Plummer, Queen Helen and King Frank—were called by Aslan to join Eustace and Jill in this glorious triumph: this new Land of Narnia, beyond the stable door.

In a curious twist of fate, the dwarfs who passed the stable door were taken neither by Tash nor by Aslan, but by a strange darkness. As Aslan noted, the “dwarfs chose cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds.”

And as hard as it may be to believe, Aslan Himself opened the stable door on the Old Narnia, and brought it to a swift end. The spirits who were Narnia’s stars fell from the sky; Father Time snuffed the light from the sun and the moon; and every being that ever lived in Narnia came rushing to Aslan as He stood at the door and cold and darkness descended. Each one either passed into shadow, or was called “further up and further in” to the New Land—a new land for those who served Aslan in their hearts, whether they knew they did so or not. Among Aslan’s new subjects is numbered Emeth, the Calormene.

We have all journeyed through this New Narnia and beyond, in fellowship with the Heroes of Narnia, new and old, and have ascended the Western Mountains into circles of Narnia ever higher—beyond time, beyond history, and beyond death.

Further In and Further Out

Near the end of C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, Lucy and the faun Tumnus—whom she (and the rest of us) met when she first entered Narnia through the wardrobe—discuss the world through which they are walking. Lucy and her companions have followed Aslan “further up and further in” as He instructed, passing through a series of worlds that resemble Narnia. The Narnia in which they actually lived had been destroyed at Aslan’s bidding, yet each of the worlds through which they have since passed appears to be just like Narnia—only each appears more “real” than the last. Tumnus says the progression is “like an onion: except that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.”

Tumnus’ words are an apt self-referential metaphor for what Lewis succeeds in doing with this last book in the Narnia series, on more levels than one.

First, his story peels the layers of Narnia away as he chronicles the events that will eventually lead to its demise; the story starts very simply, but as it progresses the imagery and narrative become more imaginative and complex.

Second, he skillfully and imaginatively documents the end of Narnia we know, and puts the layers of the onion back together as he describes the new worlds through which the characters pass—and the imagery in the latter part of the book is the most vivid and interesting of the entire series.

Let us first examine the onion-peeling he works in building the story. It starts with great simplicity, introducing Puzzle the donkey and his “friend” the ape, Shift. Shift is a master manipulator, getting Puzzle to do almost any task by turning things on their head, and making it always look like Shift is doing Puzzle a favor.

In this way, for starters, Shift persuades Puzzle to jump into Caldron Pool to retrieve a floating object. What Puzzle nearly drowns for turns out to be a lion skin. Shift convinces Puzzle to go on a long walk even though Puzzle is worn out from struggling in the pool. When Puzzle returns, Shift shames Puzzle into wearing the lion skin as a cloak even though Puzzle worries that it might be disrespectful to the great lion, Aslan.

In the passages describing these events, Lewis writes in a simple prose. The technique is reminiscent of fables in which the characters introduce a dilemma, then go on to solve it and deliver a simple moral message. However, rather than leading to a simple resolution, The Last Battle’s humble beginning avalanches into the eventual destruction of an entire world. Shift, of course, has plans for Puzzle and that rough-sewn disguise—as we soon find out after we are introduced to Tirian, the current King of Narnia.

The King and his best friend Jewel are enjoying a bucolic morning at Tirian’s hunting lodge. They have heard Aslan may be back in Narnia after a long absence, and they are joyously hopeful. But the Centaur, Roonwit, arrives and dispels that notion, warning that the stars tell of no visit by Aslan. At nearly the same time, a Dryad appears, crying out that trees are being murdered—and then she collapses, her own tree apparently also felled.

The tone of Lewis’ prose grows more complex as the causes behind these tragedies unfold. Tirian and Jewel are eager to be off to investigate and prosecute those responsible. Roonwit counsels that Tirian should wait, but Tirian sends Roonwit to Cair Paravel for reinforcements while he and Jewel go off to the forests. They discover that the felled trees are to be sold to Calormenes and that talking animals are helping. What’s worse is that the animals say this is at Aslan’s orders. Tirian and Jewel decide they must go on and “take the adventure that comes to us.” They are determined to do this even though they are crestfallen that all they and their ancestors have believed about Aslan all these years may not be true.

At this point Lewis’ prose even becomes omniscient. He says about their decision to go on that Tirian “did not see at the moment how foolish it was for two of them to go on alone... But much evil came of their rashness in the end.” And much evil did come; but did their actions change the outcome? Not as far as we can see, because Roonwit would soon enough be killed even before he reached Cair Paravel—and Cair Paravel itself, we learn later, was already overrun by Calormenes, and its occupants killed or on the run. So at this point Tirian and Jewel are already on a path leading to Narnia’s demise—going “further up and further in” through the events that will lead to destruction, powerless to change the outcome, though they will fight with every fiber trying to save Narnia. So we must trust that Lewis’ narration at this point is omniscient. The story itself does not convince us that what the narrator tells us is true.

But events are indeed unraveling Narnia. Jill and Eustace arrive to help Tirian and Jewel, who have turned themselves over to the Calormenes, having rashly murdered two of their soldiers. Togther, the party soon confirms that the “Aslan” who has appeared is the donkey Puzzle, dressed in a lion suit and acting as the puppet of Shift who, with the help of the Calormenes, wishes to impose his avaricious whims and desires on credulous Narnians. Jill manages to capture the masquerading donkey—or rather release him, because Puzzle is eager to stop the ruse.

The situation continues to come apart as a succession of plans and hopes comes to naught. They are helpless, and each of them is forced into the stable where all expect to meet their demise either by the Calormene soldier hiding there or by the Calormene god, Tash, who has come into Narnia—unwittingly called there by Tarkaan Rishda. Once inside, though, Tirian, who is last in, is surprised to see that he is in another world lit by an early summer sun; and he is welcomed by all the “friends of Narnia”—Digory, Polly, Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Eustace, and Jill. And at this juncture, Lewis’ prose takes an even stranger turn, as the battle which still rages outside the stable—and the fate of Tirian’s other friends—is wholly forgotten in favor of chuckles, high language and diversions with dwarfs.

Susan is not there, however. The one purely negative critique I have of this story is the narrator’s comments about Susan. I was confused earlier in the story when the “Friends of Narnia” were short a member. In an odd aside at this point, Lewis’ story takes time to explain that Susan is no longer a friend of Narnia. The true “friends” explain to Tirian (and us) that Susan no longer remembers her adventures in Narnia as having actually occurred. Jill says, “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.” This aside seems to serve little purpose in the story. It is also a weak mini-critique of how we turn our backs on our childhood and core values as we grow older. Yet what makes this interlude even possible is the increasingly complex narrative layers that Lewis employs.

But let’s get back to the situation Tirian now finds himself in. He and all the Friends of Narnia are clean and in fresh new clothes. Aslan soon greets them, but they stand witness as Aslan directs the end of Narnia.

Lewis’ imagery now gets really interesting. A giant (Father Time from The Silver Chair) rises up and blows his horn. The stars fall from the sky, but remember—in Narnia stars are living beings. The beings fall from the sky and stand among them still glowing, lighting the landscape. Then all the creatures of that world are called and come racing toward them as Aslan stands at the door, casting a great shadow to his left. To his right is entry into the new world. As the creatures approach him, some are fearful or angry and those creatures run to Aslan’s left into darkness, never to be seen again. The others are joyful (if perhaps also fearful of Aslan), and they move to Aslan’s right into the new world.

The powerful imagery continues as a flood rises up that covers all the land. The sun and the moon come up right after each other and the sun engulfs the moon. Then at Aslan’s command the giant throws his horn into the sea and he squeezes the sun until there is total darkness. Everything becomes frozen and Aslan commands Peter to close the door—and at that the Friends and their companions believe Narnia is no more. Of course, they are very sad, Lucy in particular. And here the first phase of Lewis’ narrative layering concludes. All of the layers of the Narnia we have known before have been exposed.

But Aslan is quite happy and calls over his shoulder as he races away, “Come further in! Come further up!” Lewis is about to put the layers back together again in his second narrative phase.

As the Friends and company go further in they (and we) meet up with many old friends from past Narnian adventures. They all gradually begin to notice how this new world looks very familiar—and they realize that this world is just like Narnia, only “more like the real thing.”

They continue into this new world and there is a wonderful image of all of them diving into Caldron Pool and swimming up the waterfall to another land—which is an even more real Narnia. Then they run all the way to the West Mountains where they climb the hill (now mountain) on top of which is the garden that Digory had entered to retrieve the apple in The Magicians’s Nephew. There they find they are not simply in a garden but in another entire world—another, grander Narnia that is yet again more real than all the previous Narnias.

So Lewis and his characters peel the onion of the “real” Narnia for us, and in the end we have all discovered an entirely new Ideal Narnia to inhabit—one that will never be subject to Jadis, Miraz, Shift and the like.

Through his imagery and narrative style, Lewis provides an example we all can follow. We also can find ways to peel the layers of our lives away to find a more real and greater existence.

How often do we find ourselves consumed in our own routine, acting out an extended version of muscle-memory instead of being aware that what we do actually affects our lives and the lives of others? How much more could we accomplish by also going further up and further in?

One of my current favorite musicians is a young Australian artist named Ben Lee. The title song of his latest album is “Awake is the New Sleep.” In this song he cheerfully admonishes all of us who are holding back, just going through the motions, to “wake up and just do it.” Written half a century apart, similar advice from both Lewis and Lee is effective counsel for us all.

“Come further in! Come further up!”
“Wake up and just do it!”

The Stable-ity of Narnia

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven… —Revelation 4:1
There is a rather trite saying going around garden stores these days. It can be found on placards made to hang in sheds or atop metal flower bed stakes or even on magnets that are sure to be added to refrigerator doors already groaning from the weight of collected “wisdom,” cherished family pictures, and coupons for cat food. The sentiment?

“Life Began in a Garden.”

In The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis presents us with a child-friendly (if sometimes gruesome) version of the Bible’s book of Revelation. And in this version, the focal point is not a really a garden, but a stable. This does not refute the Biblical truth of life beginning in the Garden of Eden, of course, but instead opens up the larger question of which life is most worth pursuing—eternal life with Aslan in His world, or eternal destruction and separation from Aslan. Just as Aslan uses the stable as the doorway of decision into the real Narnia, God used a stable as the foundation of decision for mankind—the beginning of the end, if you will.

In the Bible, Eden originally became off limits because of the sin committed there by Adam and Eve, which doomed humanity to eternal destruction. However, in an astounding display of love and mercy, God chose a Plan B—the birth of Jesus in a lowly, smelly stable—as the beginning of the story of salvation. According to that story, all who believe in and call on the name of the One born in the stable will be saved and have life forever with God in Heaven.

With pure genius, Lewis also presents the idea that life (eternal life—the only life that matters) begins in a stable, and thus the stable door represents passage from the “shadow of Narnia” into “Aslan’s real world.” The titular Last Battle is not the physical fighting between the Narnians and the Calormenes (which is a very limited part of the story) so much as the individual’s spiritual battle of choice: the stable of salvation or the stable of destruction. The irony is that both buildings are really one and the same, and Lewis uses his characters well to prove this point.

Of foremost import is the fact that Lewis chooses to capitalize the word “stable.” This is a device he uses throughout his writing, both fiction and non-fiction, when he wants the reader to take notice and get a point. It is no accident that Shift, the ape, creates an Anti-Aslan with a lion skin on Puzzle, the donkey, and houses him in a Stable.

Each character or group of characters subsequently represents a response to the invitation to enter the Stable of Eternal Life. The chosen response determines the final destination of the individual—to dwell with Aslan forever or to become fodder for Tash.

First we must deal with Shift. The Apostle Peter has two very clear warnings that pertain to who Shift is and what he is doing here:
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. —1 Peter 5:8
…there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. —2 Peter 2:1
The ape is one who knows who Aslan is but defiantly refuses to bow before Him. He creates an Anti-Aslan, but in truth is the Anti-Christ himself. He becomes the lord and “mouthpiece of Aslan,” claiming that he is “so wise that [he is] the only one Aslan is ever going to speak to.” Shift invents “Tashlan” and claims that Tash and Aslan are one and the same. Many Narnians buy into the ape’s subterfuge, but some refuse to believe the blasphemy and are persecuted, imprisoned, even sacrificed for refusing to worship Tashlan and listen to Shift.

In our own post-modern, similarly “enlightened” world, Satan’s most effective weapon has been the promotion of tolerance to undermine the path to salvation. These are some of Satan’s lies:

  • Christians are no different than Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, etc.
  • Christ is just another man, a great prophet of history, and not the “name under heaven given to men by which [they] must be saved.”
  • It is a silly thing to claim that the path to salvation is narrow and difficult and must be chosen. Wouldn’t Christ want everyone to be saved without such requirements? How can modern and enlightened people believe that God, who claims He is love, consigns those who do not choose Christ to eternal death?
  • Christianity is an intolerant religion whose claims must be suppressed and refuted.

Shift does not accept the salvation of the Stable but creates his own religion to replace it, one designed very much along the lines of our own contemporary objections. He is an ape who wants to be a man, and misuses a good thing to deceive believers and lure them into apostasy just as Satan today tempts believers to give in to the call of the world.

Puzzle, however, is an Ass: one who has enough knowledge to know there is a difference between good and evil, but one who has not developed that knowledge into a faith that can save him from being used and manipulated. He knows of Aslan but doesn’t have any personal experience with Him. He is the perfect picture of the person who believes there is a God but has not bothered to move beyond that declaration. This type of believer, one that Jesus calls “lukewarm,” is in awe and fear of God’s power to exact retribution for wrongs committed, but has no knowledge of the power of God’s love and His desire to save. The Stable is just a place in which to hide or feel confined. The door of the Stable represents only a path that must be taken—knowing full well that an awful judgment is all that is deserved and all that waits on the other side. Puzzle’s faith is really born when he finally meets Aslan face-to-face and he is saved “as one plucked from the fire.”

King Tirian and his friend the unicorn are both “jewels” in the rough: believers whose relationship with Aslan is not strong enough to give them the “peace that passes all understanding” when conflicting reports come to them. Instead of listening to the wisdom of Roonwit, the Centaur prophet, they easily fall prey to confusion and in doing so act rashly. If they knew Aslan well, they would know Him by His attributes and not just by the description “not a tame lion.” This phrase, repeated often within a few pages, leads them to ignore wise counsel and to act in anger and their own power, bringing them to commit the sin of murdering two Calormenes for beating a Narnian talking Horse—just as the Biblical Moses killed an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave.

Since they really do not know whom they worship or why, though they long for Aslan—He has simply become a “great” lion of the past—Tirian and Jewel are easily duped into the despair that comes from discovering that the truth they thought they understood is not the truth at all. This is very much like the believer of today, one who decides that God really intends to take a “hands off” approach and leaves it up to each of us to make decisions and run our own lives. Unfortunately, the danger is that “much evil [comes] of their rashness in the end,” and we have witnessed throughout history the horrors done in the name of Christ by Christians who believe they must take God’s business into their own hands.

The blessing is that Tirian and Jewel do come to understand who Aslan really is through the trials they have brought upon themselves and the errors they have committed. This offers to all believers the hope of complete restoration (despite some wrong turns along the way) and the joy of hearing Christ say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” just as Aslan says to King Tirian. The walk of faith is a life-long process, not an overnight fait accompli.

Tirian discovers that when a person gets to his lowest point and finally calls on the name of Aslan, the Great Emperor-over-the-Sea responds to the prayer of faith—and acts. The result isn’t always what was expected; but then comes true understanding of the phrase, “not a tame lion.” Aslan cannot be manipulated or controlled. Aslan does not act in whimsical and arbitrary ways. Aslan can be trusted to remain true to His character and to be consistent in word and action. Aslan does not change.

What Tirian’s prayer does is to bring Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb back into Narnia. These two characters are the last of the children from the first six books who are young enough to return to Narnia. They have a firm knowledge of Aslan, and an unwavering faith in Him. These are the strengths around which King Tirian and the remaining true Narnians rally. The children’s appearance brings renewed faith to Tirian, and he finds the power within himself to boldly stand up to the lie that has been perpetrated by Shift.

Jill and Eustace embody God’s intention that a primary purpose of a believer’s life is to encourage those whose faith may be faltering. Ask any believer today and he will surely have at least one story of a time in his life when he thought he had hit rock bottom and there was no further hope. His testimony will be that other believers “found” him, encouraged him, and lifted him back to living faith. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the problem was removed, only that strength was given to remain steadfast and, often, to come through the difficulty stronger in Christ than ever before.

Thanks to the children, Tirian and Jewel (though dreading the dark portal of the Stable and what may lie beyond) have the courage of faith to hope that it “may be… the door to Aslan’s country”—and find that this is indeed the case. Still, Tirian and all the rest still went through that Stable door with imperfect knowledge, going on faith that they would never be alone.

But finally, we must address the dwarfs’ plight, for they are perhaps the characters most to be pitied and mourned. In The Great Divorce Lewis says, “Every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind—is, in the end, Hell.” The dwarfs of The Last Battle epitomize this type of hell. Aslan has been absent from Narnia for so long that the dwarfs (if not complete atheists) are at least agnostic. They feel sorely abused for having been fooled by a dressed up donkey and agree with Griffle who says, “I’ve heard as much about Aslan as I want to for the rest of my life.”

When the dwarfs enter the same Stable as all of the other characters, and when Truth stands embodied in Aslan, they cannot see Him. At Lucy’s behest, Aslan prepares a wonderful banquet for the dwarfs but they think they are eating straw in a stinking stable. “You see,” says Aslan, “they will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

Wayne Martindale, in his book Beyond the Shadowlands: C. S. Lewis on Heaven & Hell, warns, “The Dwarfs’ case is a warning that hypocrites provide agnostics with a rationalization for not believing anything. A pretender once seen through is a more powerful weapon in Satan’s arsenal than an outright atheist.” An atheist is, after all, actually in the habit of believing in something—a habit that can be turned in a different direction. C. S. Lewis provides himself as a case in point.

But what happens to Shift, Ginger the Cat, and Rishda Tarkaan? None of the three believe in anything supernatural. They create their own god, Tashlan, to manipulate those vulnerable and gullible beings around them in order to assume power. The Tash in whom he does not believe consumes Shift. Ginger loses his sanity. Rishda is carried off by a very real “non-existent” being. In the end, we can only assume that the three finally believe that Tash, at least, is real!

Agnostics, though, as we see with the dwarfs, are very difficult to persuade to believe in anything. “Once burned, twice shy” is an extremely difficult philosophy to break down. The agnostic dwarfs cannot see or comprehend the glory of the Stable and so are consigned forever to the Hell of their own minds. Significantly, this seems no better a fate than that which awaits those who pass into Aslan’s shadow.

The Stable of The Last Battle forces each character to confront what he believes and to act accordingly. The door leads either into the real Narnia (which will exist for all eternity) or back into the “shadowland” Narnia, which is swallowed up into oblivion.

The Stable in Bethlehem on that cold, starry night two thousand years ago welcomed a baby who would transform the meaning of life. When we understand the beauty of that child, and the sweet smell of Jesus’ sacrifice rising to Heaven from the cross, we have truly left the concept of the lowly and stinking stable behind and are ready to accept the invitation to “Come further up, further in!”


The Last Battle
Chapter 1
  • Panniers. Originally, these were large bread baskets slung onto pack animals. Today, these are fabric bags used in balanced pairs on bicycles and so forth. In the context of this story, these were probably general-use baskets or bags that Shift would sling across Puzzle’s back.
Chapter 2
  • Sapient. Wise. This is worth commenting on in this context since the human species is called “homo sapiens,” which means “wise man.” Hence, the Calormene is using this term with extreme irony in addressing Shift, who is, after all, merely an ape.
Chapter 5
  • Wire. A telegram. Before the telegraph, messages were delivered by hand. With the advent of the telegraph, messages could be sent electronically, “by wire.” A message sent “by wire” came to be known as “a wire.”
  • Rude. Today, we almost universally use this term to mean, “Behaving as if a cable news talk show host.” Lewis, however, uses the term to mean “rough” or “crude” (and no, he doesn’t use “crude” to describes those same cable personalities, either—though perhaps he would if he were alive today).
  • Stiff. Since locks are generally made of iron or steel, yes—most locks are indeed stiff. What Lewis means, though, is that the lock was slightly rusty, making it hard to turn the key.
  • Firkin. A type of cask, most frequently used to store ale. Casks were formed of staves, like barrels, but were much smaller. A firkin generally held nine gallons, or about a quarter barrel.
Chapter 6
  • Miscarry. Go awry. Tirian is not suggesting that he’s pregnant; he’s suggesting that his plans might fail.
  • Rive. To tear apart. “Riven” means “torn apart.”
  • Malapert. An impudent, disrespectful person. Any time a word begins with “mal,” it means something bad.
Chapter 7
  • Manikin. Literally, “little man.” Disrespect is meant in this usage.
  • Moke. Just an archaic term for “donkey.”
  • Touch One’s Cap. Give deference to. It used to be the custom, when passing a respectable person, to touch one’s hand to the brim of one’s cap and bow ever so slightly.
  • Wood Sorel. Oxalis, a wild herb.
Chapter 8
  • Homely. Not “a touch on the ugly side,” but just plain “home-like.”
Chapter 12
  • Flannel. Not so many years ago, “flannel” by definition meant “wool.” These days, we don’t wear so much wool, and flannel (almost by definition) means “cotton,” which is quite comfortable. Unlined wool flannel, by contrast, tends to be pretty scratchy stuff to wear.
Chapter 13
  • Tongues. This is food. Really. At one time, the tongues of various animals (usually cattle or game) were considered delicacies. Today, you can still get tongue from your butcher, but you don’t typically see tongue served with your fries at Mickey D’s.