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Book review: The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

The Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia, #7)The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bittersweet end to The Chronicles of Narnia. This is C.S. Lewis’ Narnian rendition of the end of time, clearly influenced by Revelation and other New Testament books of the Bible. I’ve always felt that the story is too short, and the battle’s scale seems too small. However, the book’s second half is more interesting, as it allegorically deals with Judgement Day and the afterlife. Of all the Chronicles, this book raises the most theological questions for me.

I liked the description of the New Narnia as containing all the best of the Old Narnia; all the good things in Old Narnia were simply a shadow of the New, just as Heaven will be a perfection of the current creation. Several unexpected characters appear in the New Narnia, as well as characters from all the other Chronicles. In the New Narnia, the Narnians can eat any fruit; there’s no longer any forbidden fruit as there was in the beginning of Narnia in The Magician’s Nephew (or in the Garden of Eden).

Whenever I read this book, I’m disappointed by the fact that Susan seems to have fallen away, and is “no longer a friend of Narnia.” Lewis doesn’t reveal whether this is a temporary or permanent condition, and I don’t know if he was making a statement about Christians falling out of salvation.

Don’t look too hard for parallels between this book and the Bible; not all characters and events have a direct match. Shift, the devious ape, and Puzzle, the dimwitted donkey, together seem to represent Antichrist and possibly his false prophet. The Calormenes discover that Tash, their diety, actually exists. Maybe Lewis meant Tash to represent pagan deities, which aren’t real, or demons, which are.

Shift tries to convince the Narnians that Puzzle is Aslan in order to earn their allegiance. Shift pressures Puzzle into playing along with his ploy, showing that intellectuals often influence laypeople of weak faith. Shift says that Aslan doesn’t show up “these days”, just as modern intellectuals criticise the religious as being old-fashioned. Roonwit the centaur says, “The stars never lie, but men and beasts do,” by which Lewis means that we must watch for the signs of Jesus’ coming, and not be fooled by false prophets.

Puzzle is relatively innocent due to his gullibility, and he later repents and enters the New Narnia. I’m not sure what point Lewis may have been trying to make about Puzzle’s apparent salvation.

A major theme of the book is the danger of considering false religions and deities as equal to Christianity. Shift says that the Calormenes worship the same god as the Narnians; Tash is Aslan, and Aslan is Tash.
“Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes being wrong is silly...The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who.”
It’s not politically correct to elevate Christianity above the other religions; we’re told we must treat all as equally valid.

Of course, Shift doesn’t actually believe in Aslan or Tash. Later, Ginger the cat and Rishda Tarkaan agree that all who are enlightened know there’s no Aslan or Tash. This is a common modern sentiment as well; religion is seen as simply a crutch for the unenlightened.

The part of this book that I’ve struggled the most with is the presence of the Calormene soldier Emeth in the New Narnia. Aslan tells Emeth,
“I take to me the services which thou has done to [Tash]. 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 has 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.”
Emeth responds, “Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.” Aslan replies, “Unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."

Apparently, Lewis left the doors to Heaven open quite widely. In The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III, he says,
“I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god, or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know him. For He is (dimly) present in the good side of the inferior teachers they follow. In the parable of the Sheep and Goats those who are saved do not seem to know that they have served Christ.”
In this, Lewis seems to contradict the Bible’s teaching that belief in Jesus alone provides salvation; see, for example, John 14:6: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

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