Narnia re-read. The Last Battle Chapter nine. The great meeting on Stable Hill.

Synopsis: Tirian and his companions make their way to the Stable. Shift makes an announcement to the Narnians, which alters their plans. 

Jewel clearly states the fact now that things will not be ‘all right in the end’. Narnia has fallen. Now all they can hope for is a noble death, just as Roonwit foretold. All they can do is, ‘Take the adventure that Aslan sends.’ This is going to be the story of a last stand, rather than a glorious rescue.

Once again Eustace shows us his practical, common-sense attitude. I love that he sticks his hands in his pockets, despite being in Narnian armour.

In PC, Peter wondered what would happen if someone from our world was killed in Narnia. Here this thought occurs to Jill and Eustace.(I have no idea what actually would happen. It’s never confirmed. I suppose I always imagined that you would just ‘disappear’, by not returning to our world.) They both admit their fear quite openly. Being afraid isn’t seen as weakness or some sort of failing in the Chronicles. Characters are often afraid, but they have to continue with what they are doing regardless.  (Peter fighting the wolf; Lucy searching the upstairs of the Magician’s house; Edmund fighting Jadis; Jill travelling through the small cave underground; Eustace fighting the sea serpent.) Jill and Eustace don’t enjoy fighting. (Lewis always makes it clear that war can be just, noble and brave, but the reality of it is frightening, confusing and physically disgusting.) They don’t want to do it. But they know it’s right to try to help.

Eustace gives us our first clue as to the children’s true fate, when he talks about the train giving an ‘awful jerk’.

Tirian and Jewel are really close friends. Lewis greatly admired and cherished friendship. He wrote about it, for example in The Four Loves, where he is as quotable as ever: ‘Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.’ His brother Warnie was his closest friend, but he had very close friendships with others, too, notably the Inklings. Wisely, Jewel regrets nothing. He knows that there’s one path each life takes, and trusts that his is the right one. Regret can’t change the past and makes the present miserable.

Shift’s descent into alcoholism is spelled out here. He’s now the puppet of the others. If event’s weren’t altered by Tirian’s actions in this chapter, I wouldn’t like his odds of surviving for long.

I think the moment when Shift announces to the Narnians that a donkey has dressed as ‘Tashlan’, thereby discrediting Tirian and his friends, endangering Puzzle, escaping justice, and dashing the reader’s hopes, is one of the saddest, most gut-wrenching in the entire Narniad. It still makes me feel annoyed now. He’s a really despicable villain: he’s amoral. He’s a traitor. He’s outsmarted and outmanoeuvred the rightful king and his allies, which goes against all our expectations of how the story should progress.





Narnia re-read. The Last Battle Chapter eight. What news the Eagle brought.

Synopsis: The companions see Tash. Farsight the eagle brings terrible news.

I now have to admit just how ‘sensitive’ I was as a small child. The image of Tash – used at the start of this chapter and at the top of this post – terrified me. I was genuinely scared of it. I memorised where it was in the book, and would quickly turn to the next page, skipping it. (Sometimes, if I was feeling brave, I might peel back the corner of the page and peek at it.) In my defence I was only about six. And it is pretty unpleasant.

Tash is like the polar opposite to Aslan. Aslan brings light, a sweet smell and a feeling of happiness with him wherever he goes. Tash brings darkness, the smell of death, and fear with him. When I was younger I used to wonder whether the Calormenes felt cheated by their god. Didn’t they want a loving, lovely god? Aslan is implicitly the ‘god’ of Narnia, but we never hear anything about churches, shrines icons or temples dedicated to him. Tash, on the other hand,  has magnificent temples, altars and priceless statues of himself in Tashbaan.

It is repeatedly impressed upon us that you shouldn’t call on gods and the like unless you really want them to come. In other words, be careful what you wish for.

I can’t decide whether we’re supposed to agree with Eustace’s upbraiding of Puzzle, or Jill’s defence of him. Or both.

The lamb is mentioned again. Does the fact that nobody knows what’s happened to it mean something bad has happened?

The springtime sights and sounds that surround them are like those Edmund and the other Pevensies saw when the enchanted winter ended in LWW.

It appears that Eustace has maintained his interest in biology which was mentioned in VDT.

Jewel explains to Jill – and us – that for most of Narnia’s history, it has been a calm, peaceful place. She has only ever heard stories of the difficult times, as this is when people from our world have been called into it. This peaceful round of tournaments, dances and the like is exactly the Narnia I longed for as a child. We are given tantalising glimpses into Narnian history – or myth: the beautiful queen Swanwhite; Moonwood the hare; King Gale and the Lone Islands. I love the description of the effect of this on Jill:

‘The picture of all those happy years, all the thousands of them, piled up in Jill’s mind till it was rather like looking down from a high hill on to a rich, lovely plain full of woods and waters and cornfields, which spread away and away till it got thin and misty from distance.’

Is this maybe the way Lewis looks at the history of literature?

Jill talks hopefully of Narnia lasting forever, but Jewel sets her right. The only world which can last forever is Aslan’s country. Neither of them know, however, how close the end is.

Farsight’s name reminds me of the way centaurs are named in Narnia: a compound word related to the animal’s nature.

So, after a pleasant springtime walk with talk of past glories, the story takes us traight back to misery. Cair Paravel, the palace I’ve dreamed of for years, is full of corpses. My Narnian dreams are all turning into nightmares.This is hideous. Roonwit’s final words always make me tear up:

‘Noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy.’ It’s one of my absolute favourite lines the entire Chronicles. True, sad and beautiful.





Narnia re-read. The Last Battle Chapter seven. Mainly about Dwarfs.

Synopsis: The companions free some dwarfs who, apart from Poggin, refuse to join them. They return to the tower.

I had never heard the term ‘manikin’ (as opposed to mannequin) before. Apparently it comes from Dutch, and is a diminutive of man. It is most commonly used to mean those small poseable wooden figures used by artists to help them draw people in different poses. I didn’t know ‘slyboots’ was a real word either, but I like it.

I’ve looked for any reference or source for Tirian’s ‘password’ – ‘The light is dawning, the lie broken,’ – but I can’t find one.

Seeing the woodland creatures frightened and miserable was grim, but the reaction of the dwarfs is somehow more disheartening. I know that the subtext is about religious belief, but that aside, seeing people being so relentlessly negative and self-centred is no fun at all. I find I’m back to not enjoying the story again.The sense of frustration experienced by Tirian is palpable. If we were undecided about Griffle, his rudeness to Jill and ingratitude at the rescue confirms our suspicions about him. Discourtesy is never a good sign in the Narniad.

Tirian mentions his ‘wallet’, but I’m guessing he meant some sort of small bag or coin purse rather than what we would recognise as a wallet.

Eustace’s emotions in relation to fighting and killing the Calormene are similar to how Peter felt about killing the wolf who attacked Susan in LWW. Unfortunately, Aslan isn’t around to tell Eustace to clean his sword, as he was with Peter, so Eustace gets in trouble with Tirian.

Poggin joining the party provides some much needed relief from the gloom.

Poggin cooks using a herb called Wild Fresney. Fresney is a village located in Normandy, France, but this may well just be a coincidence. I like it when Lewis creates little details like plants and fish peculiar to Narnia. It makes the world feel richer and more convincing.

Jewel is described as noble, beautiful, delicate and so forth, but I find myself warming more to Puzzle. He feels more ‘real’, like the horses in HHB.

Shift’s apparent descent into alcoholism is a strange thing to see in a children’s book. Lewis wasn’t a teetotaller (For example, he enjoyed ‘beer and Beowulf’ evenings at Oxford.) and didn’t disapprove of alcohol – if anything, he was suspicious of non-drinkers such as Harold and Alberta Scrubb in VDT. However, I suppose it’s the excess, rather than the alcohol, which is the problem here. Similarly, enjoying food isn’t bad, but Shift is greedy and wants endless fruit and nuts.

Ginger the cat is ready to betray Narnia and Narnians, merely for profit. Lewis leaves us in no doubt about how terrible this is.

We learn that Ginger and Rishda Tarkhaan (and presumably other characters, including Shift) are non-believers. They don’t think Tash or Aslan exist. As we come to the close of the Chronicles, the parallels and ideas which link Narnia to religious ideas from our world are increasingly obvious. I didn’t really think about this when I was very small, but as I got older (and was unsure about what I did or didn’t believe myself) I began to feel a little uneasy in some way. Would I be like Griffle if I were in Narnia? I really hoped not.


Narnia re-read. The Last Battle Chapter six. A good night’s work.

Synopsis: The companions free Jewel and discover Puzzle.

Immediately, I find that this chapter, like the previous one, is much more upbeat and enjoyable than the first four.

Lewis clearly intends us to admire Jill and Eustace’s woodcraft. It does make me wonder how long I would be able to survive in Narnia. Or in the wilder places in our world. Could I start a fire? Feed myself? Avoid being tracked?

Why do I feel proud that Eustace and Jill are decent at fighting skills?

Once again, Narnian air strengthens and ‘improves’ people from our world.

Is it true that you can train yourself to wake when you want to?

We are now seeing Tirian’s leadership skills. He plans, he is practical, he seems calmer and more determined than before. He’s passed through despair and rage and is just getting on with the job in front of him.

I always enjoy hearing about the Narnian stars. It sounds a little strange to describe them as burning, but with no light pollution in Narnia, the skies would be crystal clear and packed with visible stars. We learn that Narnia’s equivalent of the pole star is the Spearhead.

We learn that Jill has developed her woodcraft through being a Girl Guide in our world. Guides were (and are) taught lots of practical skills. ‘How the Girl Guides Won the War’ by Janie Hampton is well worth a read on this subject.

There’s quite a typical Eustace reaction when Tirian notes Jill’s skill at tracking. He grudgingly admits it, but says it’s due to her small size. Even though he’s ‘good’, Eustace does tend to default to slight grumpiness. Jill’s really impressive in this sequence. I know Lewis doesn’t always cover himself in glory when it comes to gender roles in Narnia, but I really think Jill is an excellent example of a rounded, real female heroine.

We are told how quiet the wood is: no cheerful creatures, no dancing fawns, no busy dwarfs. The picture of Narnia which the reader has built up in previous books, all the hundreds of little reasons we love the place, are missing. This isn’t our Narnia any more.

We can see how much Tirian has changed since the beginning of the book in his treatment of the Calormene. Instead of killing him in a rage, he apologises for tying him up.

Eustace and Tirian react very differently to Jill entering the stable, but if she hadn’t, the entire story would have turned out quite differently – especially for Puzzle.

As far as I’m aware, the illustration at the end of this chapter (and at the top of this post) is the only use of silhouette in Pauline Baynes’ illustrations of the Chronicles. However, some editions of the books use brightly coloured covers with silhouette images on them.

If I were reading this for the first time, I’m sure I’d be confidently thinking that the tide was now turning for Tirian, and that things were about to start going right. Of course, having read the book many times before, I know this is not the case.







Narnia re-read. The Last Battle Chapter five. How help came to the King.

Synopsis: Eustace and Jill appear. They free Tirian and make their way to a tower.

When Eustace stops mid-sentence: ‘I thought -‘ he is presumably about the refer to the railway accident.

‘Anything might happen now,’ is the second glimmer of hope so far in this book, after Tirian’s vision. However, the reader must remember that Tirian is already known to us as the last king, in the last days. Whatever might happen, it won’t be enough to save Narnia. This positivity is reflected in the birdsong and sunshine which appear.

When Eustace explains who they are, he shows that his inability to tell a story clearly (as discussed in VDT when he was a dragon) is unchanged.

Why was is Digory who felt Narnia’s need for aid, rather than the others? Normally, Lucy is the most sensitive to such things.

Had any of the seven friends ever considered digging up the rings before? Surely the idea must have crossed someone’s mind on a rainy afternoon?

The thought of Peter and Edmund breaking into someone’s garden dressed as workmen is so incongruous it made me laugh.

We are told that all the Pevensies have now left school. I wonder what each one is doing?

Tirian’s keys sound really interesting. I’d love to see them. Who wouldn’t want a set of ‘keys made for opening solemn and secret rooms in palaces, or chests and caskets of sweet-smelling wood that contained royal treasures’? What secret rooms were there in Cair Paravel? Who else had a key to them? Were they the same rooms as those in the Pevensies’ rule? What special treasures are there now? Is there anything like Susan’s horn? In fact, what happened to Susan’s horn? Did anyone ever try to use it again? What about Lucy’s cordial, or Rhindon, Peter’s sword?

It seems a strange thing to say that Tirian was ‘pleased to see that the two strangers had been well brought up’.

Jill is given a hunting knife instead of a sword. I can’t think of any instance in the entire Chronicles where a girl or woman wields a sword rather than a knife or dagger.

It seems funny that Jill and Eustace still refer to each other as Pole and Scrubb. They know each other pretty well by now.

I’ve always enjoyed any opportunities I’ve had to try archery, partly because it seems such a Narnian skill to have. Jill and Eustace have both been practising since their last visit. I think this is the only time we hear about anyone developing skills with their return to Narnia in mind. I’d always imagined that maybe a year had passed (in terms of our time) since the events of SC. However, according to the timeline in Ford’s ‘Companion to Narnia’ (itself based on writings by Lewis) it is 1949, seven years after SC. This would make Eustace and Jill sixteen. This is much older than I’d ever imagined them to be when reading the books as a child.

The lighting of fires, and sitting around fires, is often used to signify cosiness and comfort in the Chronicles. So it is here in the tower.

Jill wishes for tea – how very British.




Narnia re-read. The Last Battle Chapter four. What happened that night.

Synopsis: Tirian is tied to a tree. Some animals help him. He calls to our world for help, and experiences a vision of the friends of Narnia.

Tirian is tied to an ash tree. Yggdrasil, the world ash tree, is what links the different worlds in Norse mythology. This seems fitting as the Last Battle contains many echoes of Ragnarok, the battle at the world’s end, where monsters defeat gods and the world itself is destroyed.

Tirian, a king who is bound by ropes, is helped by the smallest animals of the wood, including mice. The same thing occurred when mice tried to gnaw away Aslan’s ropes on the Stone Table. The animals’ love for their king, and their fear and despair at Aslan’s orders, is very moving. They risk their own safety, and the wrath of their ‘god’, to help Tirian.

Tirian here feels (understandably) sorry for himself, and compares his misfortune with the lives of his ancestors. This allows us to remember the stories ourselves, of Rilian (SC) and Caspian X (PC/VDT/SC). We are told that Rilian was his great-grandfather’s great-grandfather. If we measure one generation as roughly 25 years, this would mean that no more than two centuries have passed since the events of the Silver Chair. It doesn’t seem that Narnia’s history is particularly long. I always wondered why it didn’t continue for millenia, when our world has existed for millions of years.

At first, Tirian prays for help for himself, (‘Come and help us now.’) Nothing happens. When he prays for a second time, he explicitly states that he wants help for Narnia, not himself, and is even willing to die for this cause. At this point, nothing ‘real’ changes, but he himself feels different, and more hopeful. This is just what happens in VDT. When the ship is lost in the darkness surrounding the island where Lord Rhoop is, Lucy is just as afraid as the rest of the crew. However, when she prays to Aslan, despite there being no immediate change in her circumstances, she begins to feel better.

Dreams have held significance throughout the Chronicles. Here, Rilian feels compelled to call out to our world, then enters some sort of dream state or vision.In Prince Caspian, Lewis showed us what being summoned (like a genie in a lamp) is like, from the point of view of the genie. Here, we are shown what a vision or apparition is like, from the point of view of the vision itself.

Young me was quite jealous of the seven friends of Narnia. I had plenty of friends but none who felt as I did about Narnia (or other stories such as the Lord of the Rings) to talk with about it. I imagined their cosy meals in post-war dining rooms, where they chatted about the stories of Narnia, and maybe discussed their hopes of returning one day. Keeping such a massive secret from everyone else must have made them closer. This is why the situation with Susan, discussed in later chapters, seems so strange to me. Wouldn’t she want to spend time with people who knew who she really was, and what she had achieved?



Narnia re-read. The Last Battle Chapter three. The Ape in its glory.

Synopsis: Tirian regrets his actions. He and Jewel give themselves up. Shift speaks to the other animals.

I remember quite clearly reading this chapter as a child and willing Tirian and Jewel to head straight to Cair Paravel. I simply couldn’t understand why they would hand themselves over to people who clearly weren’t particularly honourable. (Their lack of honour is confirmed when they claim that, ‘By our skill and courage… we have taken alive these two desperate murderers.’

Since we last saw Shift he has become even worse. His appearance would be comical if it weren’t so depressing. I’ve read a number of different interpretations of what Shift represents: Dictators in general, Stalin, Hitler, worldly ‘sins’ and the Antichrist. As the Narniad isn’t a straightforward allegory (see earlier posts about Lewis’ description of it as a ‘supposal’) I think the answer is that he is a combination of things. Certainly, his role is similar to the Biblical Antichrist:

‘For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.’ (Matthew 24:24)

However, he also seems to represent what happens when greed, selfishness and cruelty take over a person. And in light of Lewis having lived through both world wars prior to writing the stories, presumably such ideas would contain echoes of leaders who subjugated the people they ruled, making them miserable slaves. The idea of the animals ‘working’ for the Tisroc, and their wages being paid to Shift/Aslan for ‘everybody’s good’ is an idea which would ring alarm bells for anyone familiar with 20th Century history. The paper crown shows us that Shift has no real right to rule, he is a mockery of a true king.

‘Mouthpiece of Aslan’ reminded me of Tolkien’s ‘Mouth of Sauron’.

Seeing the ape confuse and belittle and frighten the Narnian talking animals is both frustrating and depressing.

When Shift insists he’s a man, it reminds me of King Louie in the Jungle Book, another ape obsessed with being human.

Shift shows us how terrible his dream of Narnia is, ‘roads and big cities and schools and offices and whips and muzzles and cages and kennels and prisons’. This idea of a miserable ‘modern’ world as opposed to a natural, rural ideal appears again and again in the Chronicles, reflecting Lewis’ own deep mistrust of ‘progress’ and industrialisation.

It is fitting that the innocent question which cuts to the heart of the problem is posed by a lamb, an animal often used to represent Christ, and used as an avatar by Aslan in VDT. When Shift spits at it, it shows us that he really is evil.

I think this chapter is even more depressing than the first two. There’s the utterly reprehensible Shift, selling his own people to slavers. There’s the misery and dejection of the innocent animals. There’s the lies about Aslan. Then there’s the frustration. Tirian isn’t allowed to speak. The animals do nothing. Aslan does nothing. No help comes rushing in from our world.


Narnia re-read. The Last Battle Chapter two. The rashness of the King.

Synopsis: Tirian learns that talking trees are being felled and talking beasts are being used as slaves by Calormenes. He and Jewel kill two Calormenes.

Just in case we’d missed the pointers in the previous chapter, here we are introduced to the ‘last of the Kings of Narnia’. This isn’t subtle foreshadowing. We are being told quite clearly that Narnia is coming to an end.

Tirian is sitting beneath an oak tree. Oaks have long been used to symbolise strength, endurance and constancy, all of which Tirian will need. It also has ‘kingly’ associations: the Royal Oak in English history, the links to Thor and Zeus.

Cair Paravel is now described, not just as a castle, but as a royal city. Narnia must have become increasingly urbanised (something Lewis would likely not approve of).

Jewel the unicorn is not as I remembered him. For some reason I’d never absorbed the fact that he had a blue horn. Is this true of all Narnian unicorns? I’d also forgotten that he wore a golden necklace.  Unicorns, since Medieval times, have been used to represent purity, goodness and even Jesus. In heraldry, unicorns are often depicted wearing collars or chains, just as Jewel does. In the British coat of arms, the lion and unicorn are used to represent England and Scotland.

I wonder who Tirian and Jewel had fought wars against.

What were the decorations on the ‘curiously carved’ bowl of wine given to Roonwit?

As ever in the Chronicles, the centaur is depicted as serious, solemn and with a deep understanding of astronomy/astrology. His name follows the usual kenning-style form, discussed in my post about SC chapter 16.

Seeing the beech dryad ‘felled’ is a really poignant moment. The dryads and naiads seem to be like the ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ of the tree, whereas the physical tree itself is merely the body.

Tirian, particularly in the first half of the book, is shown to be very emotional. He is sent into a rage by the news from Lantern Waste, and his words and actions are led more by emotion than by careful thought. He is too angry to pause and take stock of the situation. This subject is discussed with clarity in Ford’s ‘Companion to Narnia’. It is also worth noting that his melancholy in different parts of the story links to the Saturnine character of the book. Michael Ward’s ‘Planet Narnia’ explains this link between the book and the pre-Copernican imagery linked to the planet Saturn with exhaustive detail. As mentioned on a number of occasions in these posts, it is a highly convincing theory, with an abundance of supporting evidence. In short, themes associated with Saturn include: treachery, disaster, and death, penitence and contemplation. All of these are explored in The Last Battle.

Just as in LWW, the importance of caring for your sword is mentioned here.

Tirian and Jewel are horrified by the thought that Aslan, who they have loved and longed for all their lives, might not be what or who they thought. The words of the story at this point continue the theme of endings, sadness and pain: ‘miserably’, ‘evil’, ‘rashness’ and so on. The seriousness of the situation is shown in this exchange:

‘Horrible thoughts arise in my heeart. If we had died before today we should have been happy.’

‘Yes,’ said Jewel. “We have lived too long. the worst thing in the world has come upon us.’

The description of the wood’s desecration, and the talk of holy trees and the Tree of Protection remind me very strongly of Tolkien’s woods, particularly Saruman’s treatment of the woods around Orthanc.

Tirian and Jewel kill two Calormenes, but not in battle. It could be called a murder (although there was certainly provocation. Two chapters in and the reader has had nothing remotely positive to enjoy. On reflection, this story is quite depressing so far.


Narnia re-read. The Last Battle Chapter one. By Caldron Pool.

Synopsis: Shift and Puzzle find a lion skin. Shift persuades Puzzle to wear it.

The very first line of this story sets the tone of doom and dejection: ‘In the last days of Narnia…’

We are taken back to Lantern Waste, which was our first point of entry to the Narnian world in LWW.

Shift’s name is a clue to his nature. His nature is ‘shifty’, and as the story develops he will ‘shift’ the Narnian’s focus and belief from Aslan to Tashlan. Meeting Shift, and being told about his relationship with the hapless Puzzle, is confirmation that something is rotten in the state of Narnia. He’s thoroughly unpleasant: wheedling, selfish, patronising and cruel. I was a little frightened of him as a child, although I wasn’t entirely sure why. His pretence at being offended, emotional manipulation and constant complaints, make me wonder whether he was based on a specific person from Lewis’ life or was just the embodiment of certain traits.

I’ve always had a soft spot for donkeys, and Puzzle turns out to be lovely, but he is immensely frustrating here. I used to wish he would stand up to Shift, or that someone else was nearby to have a quiet word with him.

How did the lion skin end up in the river?

Is there really a place in Narnia called Chippingford? It sounds like a commuter town somewhere in the Home Counties. (Chipping is a common prefix in British place names, derived from the Old English for a market or market square, and Puzzle does appear to be going there to buy goods, so I suppose it makes sense.)

Where would Narnians get hold of bananas and oranges? Presumably they couldn’t be grown in Narnia or Archenland. Are they imported?

We guess that Shift has something unpleasant in mind from the moment he realises what the lion skin is, but our suspicions are confirmed when he is sewing the coat. He is anxious that the talking animals don’t see him, so we know he must have a plan in mind, and it must be one which is dubious in some way.

Puzzle clearly believes in Aslan. He sees all lions as ‘rather solemn’ by association. He is horrified at the suggestion that he might be mistaken for him. He views the thunder and earthquake as signs of godly displeasure. Shift clearly does not believe in Aslan as a living being, although he may think he existed at one time in the past. Of course, the reader knows the truth, having read the rest of the series.

This chapter as a whole is a strange one, when viewed in isolation as the first chapter in a children’s story. It’s quite grim. Two animals in a dying land are in some sort of abusive relationship. Even when compared with the other Narnia books, it’s still quite odd. There are no humans, from our world or the Narnian world. We don’t meet any characters who could be described as admirable or heroic. I have no idea what it would be like to read it with no prior knowledge of Narnia at all, but I’m not entirely sure that the casual reader would definitely want to read on.


Narnia re-read. Beginning The Last Battle: issues of race.

 I felt that before I began my re-read of this book of the Chronicles of Narnia, I had to make a post addressing issues of race, in relation to the story. I did this with HHB, but The Last Battle is the Narnian story I have the most problematic relationship with.


Points of view and opinions about the work of C. S. Lewis tend to divide quite sharply between devoted lovers of his work and staunch detractors. This can make it difficult to find objective opinions about certain aspects of the Chronicles.

People who love Lewis’ writing are often heavily invested in the writer himself. This particularly applies for certain groups of people, who see him as a mentor in terms of their religious faith. Because of his skill at making his reader feel like they know him, that they have common ground, that they have a relationship with him, they can become very defensive about him. And because his religious writing has given many people comfort and inspiration, there is sometimes a tendency for him to be presented as someone ‘saintly’. This attachment to these readers’ idea of Lewis can lead people to be very sensitive to any criticism of him.

On the other side of the argument, those who are (very definitely) not fans of Lewis can be quite vitriolic in their dismissal of the man and his works. They see his writing as a series of defences of the indefensible: racism, sexism, inequality, bigotry and ‘the system’. Because of this, they see the Chronicles as unsuitable for children, due to it being full of cruel, out-dated and hateful messages.

I hope that I fall into neither camp, but can see the points of view of both. So I’m trying to look objectively at The Last Battle. (Hopefully without offending anyone myself.)

The reason this subject is relevant to this story (as it was with HHB) is the prominence of Calormen and Calormenes. The country of Calormen, its people, and how they are described, is where the problems lie. Some of the accusations levelled at Lewis are, I believe, justified, some are inaccurate, and others can be explained but perhaps not excused.

Accusations I believe are justified.

Mention is made of the ‘dark’ skin colour of the Calormenes, which is contrasted with the ‘fair’ Narnians. Throughout the book the reader is left in no doubt as to which nation is the ‘better’ one. This is a generalisation, as the race of characters doesn’t determine their qualities, but is noticeable nevertheless.

Something which never occurred to me as a child reader, but which struck me as an adult, is the part of the story where Tirian, Eustace and Jill use ‘juice from a stone bottle’. They rub it over their skin, and it makes them ‘as brown as Calormenes’. This is basically ‘blacking up’. It’s not something I’m comfortable with and made me feel uneasy when I read this passage.

The worst part of the story, for me, is when a dwarf uses the term ‘darkies’. I know there are plenty of people in our world who use such poisonous terms, but Narnia was always supposed to by my (and presumably many other peoples’) refuge from such ugliness. I wish I had an excuse or explanation for this but I don’t.

Accusations I believe are not correct.

It has been suggested that Lewis used the Calormenes as a Narnian equivalent to Muslims. I really don’t believe this is the case. The Calormene religion is not monothestic: Tash is the god mentioned most often, but Azaroth and Zardeenah are also worshipped. Sacrifices are made to these gods in secret rituals. This is most unlike Islamic worship, either in the Mosque or during daily prayers. I personally see no link between Islam and the Calormene religion. I imagine it to be more of a ‘mish-mash’ of ideas Lewis picked up from multiple sources. (Similarly, the habit of saying ‘may he live forever’ after the Tisroc is mentioned is inspired by E Nesbit’s ‘The Story of the Amulet’ rather than copying PBUH)

Explanation and exploration (not justification) of some points.

Lewis was a product of a particular place and time: the British Isles of the early Twentieth Century. He only left Britain/Ireland twice (once to go to war). He lived a ‘stuffy’ life, working in the closed world of academia, surrounded by other men, and immersed in texts from much earlier times. This was not an ideal breeding ground for ‘modern’ or progressive thinking on such issues as race and gender. Lewis doubtless had, and expressed, prejudices and opinions which we would find wrong today. In fairness, this was the case for the majority of men of this time. Naturally, we wish that the opinions of authors whose work we enjoy mirrored our own, more enlightened ways of thinking, but it is difficult to apply our standards to the world Lewis grew up in. (He was thirty before women gained full voting equality, for example.) This doesn’t necessarily excuse some of the things included in his work, but does help to explain them.

Lewis did, however, revel in his ‘fogeyish’ ways. He liked large helpings of plain food (without the garlic which Calormenes enjoyed). He drank ale, was boisterous in pubs and smoked heavily. He was self-consciously nostalgic and pined for an idealised  pre-industrial world which had never truly existed. He sought out the company of other middle-aged men to smoke, drink and be boisterous with. Lewis, who thought so long and so deeply about so many things, didn’t seem prepared to spend too long thinking about how he was portraying the Calormenes to his readers: were they to be judged partly on their skin? Was their ‘darkness’ bound up with the aspects of their culture which are shown to be wrong, such as tyranny and slavery?

Having loved the Chronicles in my childhood, I feel sad that this issue is contained within them. Narnia was always the place I would escape to when our world seemed unjust and unfair. (I didn’t notice anything about race in them as a child, to be honest – it sailed right over my head, along with many of the religious allusions. Plus, even thirty years ago, our awareness of such matters was much less widespread.) I think what bothers me most is the thought of a child reading the stories and feeling that Narnia is for other people, people whose skin is fairer than theirs. That wardrobe doors are selective about who they let in. I don’t know if people do feel this when reading this book, but the thought isn’t a pleasant one. I wish I could wholeheartedly endorse the Chronicles to everyone, without any hesitation or reservations at all, but am not entirely sure I can. There are always going to be provisos.

On the positive side, when I read the story I see hopeful points as well as the ones mentioned above. Characters of both cultures are shown to have weaknesses and strengths, to be good or otherwise. And in a world where Aslan knows and sees what is inside people – their thoughts, their fears, their hopes – he doesn’t judge them by their appearance but by their actions. Emeth is the most obvious example of this.

On reflection, I would say that I would still read the story with children, but also have a discussion about it with them to ensure that they were clear on certain points as and when they arose. As a child I was fascinated by descriptions of the Calormene world, without absorbing any of the prejudices held therein. Hopefully this could be the case for others.