Happy Friday, readers! Last night, for those of us in North Carolina, we experienced the magic of a southern snow. The only thing that could make it better is curling up with a cup of hot cocoa and getting lost in the wondrous world of a great book, so grab your Narnia book set and dive into the winter wonderland with us!
Last week, we discussed the theological influences on C.S. Lewis’ beloved masterpiece, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Moving forward to the last book of the Narnia Chronicles, The Last Battle, readers experience Narnia’s final reckoning and Aslan’s final triumph.
David Downing, one of the greatest C.S. Lewis scholars to have ever existed, conducted a study of each of the seven novels. Titled “Into the Wardrobe”, he discusses each novel at length, giving theological explanations and biblical themes for every story. He points out that in The Last Battle, the novel opens up with an apocalyptic tone, discussing how the last days of Narnia were being spent.
In this last book, we see that children are dying and all hope is beginning to seem lost, much the way we see the first earth passing away in Revelation. In Narnia, there is a famous old proverb about King Aslan which the beavers recite to the children in the first book:
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again” (146).
This poem is reminiscent of a passage in Hosea,
“They shall go after the Lord, who roars like a lion” (Hosea 11:10),
and in Isaiah,
“I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
An infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime” (Isaiah 65:19-20)
We see that the lion is used as a symbol for God, and we see that his return cures the world of evil, death, and sorrow, much like the proverb of Aslan asserts.
Many critics consider the time between Lewis’ first novel in the series and his last novel in the series to be symbolic of the time we are in now, the time in between Christ’s death and his return, the time in which Christians patiently await him.
In Bruce Edward’s C.S. Lewis: Apologist, Philosopher, and Theologian, he points out that Lewis “enables us to see in the shadows of the present life a glorious future with God…beautifully portrayed in the final volume of the Narnia Chronicles, The Last Battle.
In the concluding scene, which depicts the end of time:
…the things that began to happen …
were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.
And for us, this is the end of all the stories,
and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after.
But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.
All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia
had only been the cover and the title page:
now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story,
which no one on earth has read:
which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (192)
The final words of the Narnia Chronicles echo the final words of The Book of Revelation, where it is written that there will be no more thirst, that all will walk together as children of God, and
“…the city has no need of sun or moon
To shine on it, for the glory of God is its light,
and its lamp is the Lamb.
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth
Will bring their glory onto it. Its gates will
Never be shut by day – and there will be no
Night there. People will bring into it the
Glory and the honor of the nations.” (Revelation 21:23-26)
Although The Book of Revelation brings about a sense of fear, it ends with a sense of hope. We are told to not be afraid because those who keep to the right path will be rewarded, and there will come a time when all the earthly dangers will cease to exist.
In The Last Battle, readers actually get to witness what it would be like when this day comes, as Narnia is in a state of perfection after Aslan’s triumph. We are left with a sense of promise for the future, and all we can do as readers is look back at the journey from book one to book seven in awe.
The Bible is often referred to as the greatest book ever written because it has everything that a good story needs. We see scandal, the rise and fall of heroes, death, resurrection, and world destruction. It isn’t always difficult to find the biblical undertones in many stories because there are so many books and films that contain strong religious undercurrents. Narnia is one in a long line of artistic works that is filled with Christian themes.
Take Star Wars; for example, whose entire premise revolves around the battle between the dark side and the light side, with the light side being led by jedis in brown robes who use the force to do good against evil. These robes remind us of the robes Jesus is often depicted wearing, and the robes that Franciscan priests wear during their day-to-day. The force can be interpreted to be the Holy Spirit that breathes life into them and allows them to essentially work magic through the strength of their own minds.
When jedis depart, they often tell each other “May the force be with you”, which is reminiscent of what the priest says to his congregation during Catholic masses, “may the peace of the Holy Spirit be with you,” to which we reply, “and also with you”.
In the Star Wars series, we see that Darth Vader is the leader of the dark side, a once powerful jedi who gave into his darkness, now seen as a fallen angel of sorts, much like Satan, who was once an angel of God, but gave into his own darkness, and now serves as the king of hell.
The religious implications are strong with Star Wars, but what makes the Narnia Chronicles stand out is how the entire series seems to mirror the New Testament, from the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection all the way to his second coming. Each novel in the series consists of a biblical message that follows a creative retelling of a biblical story.
Interestingly enough, Lewis always denied that the Chronicles were meant to be anything more than a simple children’s story. He detested when they were referred to as an allegory, and he maintained throughout his life that they were never supposed to be a Christian retelling.
Many fans and readers have had a difficult time believing this because of Lewis’ affinity for theology, and for his spectacular reputation as a Christian apologist. It seemed that he could never escape these topics, and even though he may not have set out to write a fictional story of the Christian faith, it seems that he was so molded by his beliefs that the outcome of the Chronicles was an inevitability.
C.N. Manlove’s article “The Birth of a Fantastic World: C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Magician’s Nephew’”, primarily focuses on one novel in the series, but he ends his study with a grander analysis of the series as a whole, and how the Christian themes of good and evil, life, death, resurrection, the apocalypse, and the second coming turned Lewis’ Chronicles into a beloved classic. He explains:
Perhaps the deepest theme…
is how out of evil is created a greater good.
The magical meddlings of Uncle Andrew set in motion
the whole process that is to end in Narnia.
Digory’s curiosity sets loose the Witch;
but in a sense it also initiates the creation of Narnia.
Always the lesser becomes the greater; some better thing is made.
Even the broken piece of lamppost turns into a whole shining lamppost
that is to light the way back to the wardrobe…
Out of an apple acquired in obedience comes a whole tree to preserve Narnia.
Out of an act done for another comes the act most desired for the self.
The whole book unfolds like creation itself;
it is in the end an exhibition of divine power and love
even more than it is a chapter in the history of Narnia. (83)
Although this quote focuses more on the individual novels of the series, the sentiment can be applied to all of them as a collective whole. The series unfolds like the New Testament itself, giving readers a better understanding of The Bible and of the greatest story ever told. Perhaps it was not Lewis’ intention to do so, but in creating the Narnia Chronicles, he gave the world a most powerful interpretation of Christianity, and he gave insight into how we should view Jesus’ life, resurrection, and his long-awaited return.