All good things must come to an end, as the saying goes, and Narnia comes to an end with The Last Battle. With this book, Narnia fans must contend with not just one but two sad endings: the end of the book series and the end of Narnia itself. At least, the old Narnia that we know and love.
This is because The Last Battle is all about the end of the world: the bad guys are punished and the good guys are rewarded with eternal life in the new Narnia. In much the same way that The Magician’s Nephew serves as the Book of Genesis of the Narnian Bible, The Last Battle is the Book of Revelation. It is set “in the last days of Narnia” with Tirian having the distinction of being the last king of Narnia. He must deal with Narnia’s equivalent of the anti-Christ, a donkey called Puzzle pretending to be Aslan. Puzzle is being manipulated by Shift the ape to trick Narnians into serving the evil Calormenes and cutting down talking tress for lumber. Even worse, Shift uses Puzzle to promote the biggest heresy of all: that Aslan and Tash (the evil deity of the Calormenes) are one and the same.
New Narnia, Old Friends
When Narnia is in trouble, it is of course time for children from our world to come to its rescue. Tirian prays to Aslan for help and the great Lion obviously hears his prayers because Eustace and Jill (from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) somehow find their way back to Narnia. I am not quite sure why Aslan bothers to send the children to aid Tirian because in the end, Aslan must have decided that Narnia has become too evil to be saved: he decides to end Narnia himself and leads the good people to his country, the new Narnia. There beloved characters from the previous books welcome them including Polly and Digory from The Magician’s Nephew, Mr Tumnus and the Pevensies – minus Susan.
Yes, Susan apparently is not in “heaven” with the rest of them because she has stopped believing in Narnia and become more interested in “nylons and lipstick and invitations” In other words, Susan chooses to grow up. There have been several articles written about the injustice of Susan’s exclusion from the new Narnia and I don’t intend this review to be another. I will say, however, that Susan’s transformation and exclusion has always bothered me. How can a former queen of Narnia stop believing in the kingdom she once ruled? It does not strike me as realistic.
The Last Battle provides a bittersweet ending to a beloved series. On the one hand, the ending works beautifully because it brings back old favourites in a reunion that gives a satisfying happily-ever-after feel that all fairy tales should have. But on the other, I do not like the idea of the old Narnia destroyed, gone forever. It was my second home. How dare C. S. Lewis destroy it! I realise that his intention was never to write another Narnia book again, but I feel that he should have given his readers the option to at least imagine further adventures in their favourite imaginary land.
The Last Battle won the annual Carnegie Medal from the Library Association which recognised it as 1956’s best children’s book by a British subject.