Narnia re-read. The Last Battle Chapter twelve. Through the stable door.

Synopsis: Tirian and the others end up going through the stable door. They are surprised by where it leads and who they meet.

Imagine how Jill would have felt watching Eustace being thrown into the stable. She’s in a different world. Nobody knows where she is. Her only friend from her own world is now presumably dead. And yet she remembers not to damage her bowstring by crying on it.

The dark confusion of this scene is no longer recognisable as Narnia. And we are left without hope now – the ‘last battle’ is ‘hopeless’.

Again, the action continues apace, and we return to seeing things from Tirian’s, rather than Jill’s, point of view.

The saying goes that it is darkest before the dawn, and this definitely applies here. Eustace and Jill have gone into the stable. Narnia is lost. Cair Paravel has fallen. Dozens of good, brave animals have been killed. But the dawn comes with Tirian’s jumping through the door with Rishda Tarkaan.

The description of Tash, combined again with Pauline Baynes’ illustration, makes him suitably unsettling. As a child, I found him very frightening. (Ford’s Companion to Narnia describes Tash’s appearance as the most ‘terrifying’ scene in the Narniad. Interestingly, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford – the city where Lewis spent most of his adult life – houses some ancient carvings of multi-limbed, bird-headed gods which look very like Tash. I wonder if he was familiar with them.

Where is Tash’s ‘own place’? Is it hell? Or is there a Tash’s Country just as there is an Aslann’s Country?

Hearing that a voice is ‘strong and calm as a summer sea’ made me think that the speaker would be Aslan. But it is Peter.

Polly, Jill, Digory and Eustace are described as Queens and Kings. Are they royalty in Narnia because of their actions? Or is everyone royalty in this new place?

The Susan Situation.

Of all the passages in the Chronicles, the one which is most often discussed, particularly in negative terms, is this: When Tirian asks where she is, the others (who clearly display annoyance and frustration about the situation) explain that she is ‘no longer a friend of Narnia’. Jill mentions that she is only interested in ‘nylons and lipstick and invitations’. She has broken the Narniad rule of remaining ‘child-like’, and chosen being ‘grown-up’ over Narnia.

My response to the passage, and the issues raised by it, is as follows:

Susan has not come to ‘real Narnia’ with the rest of the children. She is excluded. This really bothered me as a child, and still does now. Susan always got the worst of the plotting and dialogue. She was the least keen to go to Narnia; the least keen to follow the white stag; the most prone to negativity; the least likely to see Aslan; the most easily frightened. Lewis never seemed particularly keen on her. But not to get to Narnia? Why punish her like that? (One worried reader asked Lewis about her fate in a letter, and Lewis replied, ‘The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there’s plenty of time for her to mend and perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end . . . in her own way.’) I found this most unsatisfying. I wanted the four thrones to be filled again.

The mention of lipstick etc. is seen by many as evidence that Susan’s exclusion is punishment for her being an adult woman interested in sex and relationships. I don’t quite see it like that. To me it seems more that her superficiality is the issue, not her sexuality. (Although I certainly don’t deny that Lewis had some decidedly 19th Century attitudes to gender roles, I don’t agree with those detractors who say that he hated and feared women, and wrote the Chronicles to reassert his skewed gender values.) A useful (I think) discussion of the accusations levelled at Lewis in relation to this passage can be found at http://www.narniaweb.com/resources-links/are-the-chronicles-of-narnia-sexist-and-racist/

The idea that Susan could possibly forget about Narnia never rang true with me. She was queen of a country filled with mythical beings and talking animals. For fifteen years. How could anyone forget that? She watched Aslan being murdered, then resurrected, and rode through Narnia on his back. If Polly and Digory never forgot the golden colour of Aslan’s mane (which MN tells us they didn’t) how could she possibly forget all this? So, are we supposed to imagine instead that she has not forgotten Narnia, but rejected it? Does she feel betrayed by a world which has shut her out, permanently? Is she fed up of waiting for years for a call that never comes? (She is in her twenties by the time of LB.) I’m unconvinced by the whole thing. Did Lewis even give it proper thought before he cast her aside?

It seems unfair that Susan is excluded when others (Edmund! Eustace! The dwarf who shot the horses!) have done terrible things and been forgiven. I imagine there is a religious ‘lesson’ here about faith, or worldliness, or that hell is of our own making, but I’m not at all sure what it is.

Another problem I have with the gap left by Susan is that it surely means that the others can’t be truly happy and satisfied in this new world. Imagine them sitting in Cair Paravel, trying not to look at the fourth throne, and not wanting to play with the golden chess set. Imagine them repeatedly and wearily explaining to everyone they see that no, Susan isn’t there. It’s depressing.

Finally, the idea of what happens in our world at this point is horrible. We are expected to be happy – as are the others – with a situation where Susan is suddenly, unexpectedly bereaved in the most traumatic way. She is utterly alone. No parents. No siblings. All of them have gone in one single unexpected moment, and she doesn’t know where they now are. I’ve seen people argue that this unimaginable misery is what Susan needs to develop spiritually, so that she can make her own way to Aslan’s country. Really? It seems like overkill to me. Literally.

 

 

 

 

 

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