Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Last Battle

Up far beyond [Jove]

Goes Saturn silent
in the seventh region,

The skirts of the sky.
Scant grows the light,

Sickly, uncertain
(the Sun’s finger

Daunted with darkness).
Distance hurts us,

And the vault severe
of vast silence;

Where fancy fails us,
and fair language,

And love leaves us,
and light fails us

And Mars fails us,
and the mirth of Jove

Is as tin tinkling.
In tattered garment,

Weak with winters,
he walks forever

A weary way,
wide round the heav’n,

Stoop’d and stumbling,
with staff groping,

The lord of lead.
He is the last planet

Old and ugly.
His eye fathers

Pale pestilence,
pain of envy,

Remorse and murder.
Melancholy drink

(For bane or blessing)
of bitter wisdom

He pours for his people,
a perilous draught

That the lip loves not.

Up Far Beyond Goes Saturn Silent

And so we reach the end. After this, we’re done with Narnia. I’m not sure whether I’m sad or relieved. Studying Lewis so closely has not improved my opinion of him. I was excited, don’t get me wrong, and impressed, when I read Michael Ward’s discovery of the astrological basis for the seven books of the Narniad. I’d previously shared J. R. R. Tolkien’s feeling that they were a “hodgepodge” of story elements slung together for no better reason than that Lewis liked them. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that there was a plan under it all that tied everything together. Not so pleasant was hauling out Lewis’s misogyny and moralized sadism and anti-egalitarian politics into the light. My childhood enjoyment of the series has been my mental backdrop for the whole project, and now it’s all soured, I fear irrevocably.
Just in case you haven’t read my other Narnia posts yet, here’s the theory. Lewis’s work throughout his life reveals an enduring fascination with the Seven Planets as conceived by mediaeval astrology. As a literary critic he also believed strongly in the power of subconscious influences and hidden meanings. So he wove the characters of the planets subtly into his stories, with each book placing a different planet at centre stage. I agree with Ward in substance, while disagreeing on numerous details. Where Ward takes pains to emphasize the core planet in each book, I have been tracing the patterns in the placement of secondary planets, such as the appearances of the Morning Star at moments of renewal, or the use of Lunar imagery to herald Aslan’s descents to the earthly plane.
Now if you have read the previous six posts, it’s pretty obvious that The Last Battle is going to be ruled by Saturn. First because I’ve said so repeatedly, second by elimination, and third because we’ve seen Saturn consistently associated with cold, darkness, cynicism, gloom, despair, and death, all of which come to the fore in this final story. But as the mathematics lecturer I’ve been taking notes from this semester has told his class every week, you should always double-check your answer to make sure that it’s correct. So, as I’ve done with the other books, I’ll take a quick skim through for astrological references in general.
A caveat. Once Lewis had decided to do a separate book for each planet, he must have resigned himself to the fact that that meant giving one to Saturn; and if the series was to tell of the world’s beginning under Venus, then under Saturn the Reaper it would have to tell of its end. But Lewis had originally written The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a tale of Jove triumphing over Saturn. If Saturn were to have the last word, all that would be undone. So only the first three-quarters or so of The Last Battle belong to Saturn. The finale I will treat separately, at the end of this post.
Lewis drops some pretty heavy hints that we’ll find our answers in the stars. At a time when the Narnians’ Christian hope has become an instrument of deception, only the astrologer has the truth.
Roonwit looked very grave, frowning a little. “Sire,” he said. “You know how long I have lived and studied the stars; for we Centaurs live longer than you Men, and even longer than your kind, Unicorn. Never in all my days have I seen such terrible things written in the skies as there have been nightly since this year began. The stars say nothing of the coming of Aslan, nor of peace, nor of joy. I know by my art that there have not been such disastrous conjunctions of the planets for five hundred years. It was already in my mind to come and warn your Majesty that some great evil hangs over Narnia. But last night the rumour reached me that Aslan is abroad in Narnia. Sire, do not believe this tale. It cannot be. The stars never lie, but Men and Beasts do. If Aslan were really coming to Narnia the sky would have foretold it. If he were really come, all the most gracious stars would be assembled in his honour. It is all a lie.”
“A lie!” said the King fiercely. “What creature in Narnia or all the world would dare to lie on such a matter?” And, without knowing it, he laid his hand on his sword hilt.
“That I know not, Lord King,” said the Centaur. “But I know there are liars on earth; there are none among the stars.”
“I wonder,” said Jewel, “whether Aslan might not come though all the stars foretold otherwise. He is not the slave of the stars but their Maker. Is it not said in all the old stories that He is not a tame lion.”
“Well said, well said, Jewel,” cried the King. “Those are the very words: not a tame lion. It comes in many tales.”
Roonwit had just raised his hand and was leaning forward to say something very earnestly to the King when all three of them turned their heads to listen to a wailing sound that was quickly drawing nearer.
And in case you didn’t get that the first time, the stars are also the protagonists’ only reliable guide in the darkness.
Out they went into the cold night. All the great Northern stars were burning above the tree-tops. The North-Star of that world is called the Spear-Head: it is brighter than our Pole Star.
For a time they could go straight towards the Spear-Head but presently they came to a dense thicket so that they had to go out of their course to get round it. And after that – for they were still overshadowed by branches – it was hard to pick up their bearings. It was Jill who set them right again: she had been an excellent Guide in England. And of course she knew her Narnian stars perfectly, having travelled so much in the wild Northern Lands, and could work out the direction from other stars even when the Spear-Head was hidden. As soon as Tirian saw that she was the best pathfinder of the three of them he put her in front.
Luna does not rise until Narnia’s Judgement Day, but Jill stands in for her. She has of course previously appeared only in the Lunar book, The Silver Chair. She is a skilled archer as well as an orienteer, and together both skills make her a huntress.
Then [Eustace] heard twang-and-zipp on his left and one Calormene fell; then twang-and-zipp again and the Satyr was down. “Oh, well done, daughter!” came Tirian’s voice; and then the enemy were upon them.
She is also, like Luna, a virgin. While this could pretty much be presumed from her age, Lewis doesn’t leave it at that. Virgins are known to have a special rapport with unicorns, and—
After them came Puzzle, and after him Jill and Jewel walking very close together. Jill had, as you might say, quite fallen in love with the Unicorn. She thought – and she wasn’t far wrong – that he was the shiningest, delicatest, most graceful animal she had ever met; and he was so gentle and soft of speech that, if you hadn’t known, you would hardly have believed how fierce and terrible he could be in battle.
And she does have a touch of Luna’s maddening quality.
They turned and had gone a few paces when Eustace said, “Where are you, Pole?” There was no answer. “Is Jill on the other side of you, Sire?” he asked.
“What?” said Tirian. “Is she not on the other side of you?”
It was a terrible moment. They dared not shout but they whispered her name in the loudest whisper they could manage. There was no reply.
“Did she go from you while I was away?” asked Tirian.
“I didn’t see or hear her go,” said Eustace. “But she could have gone without my knowing. She can be as quiet as a cat; you’ve seen for yourself.”
...And then, quite close to them, a voice whispered:
“Hallo! Are you all there?”
Thank heaven, it was Jill’s.”
“Where the devil have you been to?” said Eustace in a furious whisper, for he had been very frightened.
“In the stable,” gasped Jill, but it was the sort of gasp you give when you’re struggling with suppressed laughter.
“Oh,” growled Eustace, “you think it funny, do you? Well all I can say is—”
“Have you got Jewel, Sire?” asked Jill.
“Yes. Here he is. What is that beast with you?”
“That’s him,” said Jill. “But let’s be off home before anyone wakes up.” And again there came little explosions of laughter.

Then one of her own arrows hit a man, and another hit a Narnian wolf, who had, it seemed, joined the enemy. But she had been shooting only for a few seconds when she had to stop... Jill was astonished to see how unprepared the Calormenes seemed to be. She did not realize that this was the result of her work and the Eagle’s. Very few troops can keep on looking steadily to the front if they are getting arrows in their faces from one side and being pecked by an eagle on the other.
A little Lunar imagery creeps in, appropriately, shortly before the viewpoint shifts from Earth to Heaven.
The little party by the white rock watched these doings and whispered to one another. They had found a trickle of water coming down the rock and all had drunk eagerly – Jill and Poggin and the King in their hands, while the four-footed ones lapped from the little pool which it had made at the foot of the stone. Such was their thirst that it seemed the most delicious drink they had ever had in their lives, and while they were drinking they were perfectly happy and could not think of anything else.
The quieter parts of the story take place in daylight, and so Sol is mentioned at regular intervals, but persistently juxtaposed with expressions suggesting either inadequacy or harm.
“...Would it not be better to be dead [said Tirian] than to have this horrible fear that Aslan has come and is not like the Aslan we have believed in and longed for? It is as if the sun rose one day and were a black sun.”

The sun went down and it began to be twilight.

The wood was full of the pale, dreary light that comes before sunrise, and [Tirian] was soaking wet with dew; it was nearly morning.

“Gosh!” said Eustace. “It’s getting hot in this sun. Are we nearly there, Sire?”

The next business was to light a fire, for inside that tower it still felt more like a cave than like anything indoors and set one shivering. But they got warm gathering wood – the sun was now at its highest...

While the Dwarf had been speaking the day seemed to have changed. It had been sunny when they sat down. Now Puzzle shivered. Jewel shifted his head uneasily. Jill looked up.
It’s clouding over,” she said.
“And it’s so cold,” said Puzzle.
“Cold enough, by the Lion!” said Tirian, blowing on his hands. “And faugh! What foul smell is this?”

The others watched [the shadowy figure of Tash] for perhaps a minute, until it streamed away into the thicker trees on their right and disappeared. Then the sun came out again, and the birds once more began to sing.

The sunlight slanted through the trees, birds sang, and always (though usually out of sight) there was the noise of running water. It was hard to think of horrible things like Tash.
The title of The Last Battle might seem to strike a Martial note, but there was more Martial action in The Horse and His Boy, never mind Prince Caspian. There is no siege, no pitched battle, no climactic duel. Tirian’s last stand at the Stable is a minor skirmish involving less than a hundred combatants all told. It would barely have merited a paragraph in the history of the Calormene annexation of Narnia, had the world not happened to end the following morning.
[Tirian] flew upon the chief soldier like lightning. Eustace, who had drawn his sword when he saw the King draw his, rushed at the other one; his face was deadly pale, but I wouldn’t blame him for that. And he had the luck that beginners sometimes do have. He forgot all that Tirian had tried to teach him that afternoon, slashed wildly (indeed I’m not sure his eyes weren’t shut) and suddenly found, to his own great surprise, that the Calormene lay dead at his feet. And though that was a great relief, it was, at the moment, rather frightening. The King’s fight lasted a second or two longer; then he too had killed his man and shouted to Eustace, “’Ware the other two.”
But the Dwarfs had settled the two remaining Calormenes. There was no enemy left.

With a flash of swords and of the Boar’s tusks and Jewel’s horn, and with deep baying from the dogs, Tirian and his party were rushing on their enemies, like men in a hundred yards’ race...
The King's party were cutting their way right into the enemy. The Unicorn was tossing men as you’d toss hay on a fork. Even Eustace seemed to Jill (who after all didn’t know very much about swordsmanship) to be fighting brilliantly. The Dogs were at the Calormenes’ throats. It was going to work! It was victory at last—

And now the levelled spears were closing in on Tirian and his last friends. Next minute they were all fighting for their lives.
In a way it wasn’t quite so bad as you might think. When you are using every muscle to the full – ducking under a spear-point here, leaping over it there, lunging forward, drawing back, wheeling round – you haven’t much time to feel either frightened or sad.
The “woodcraft” scenes dimly recall the endless forest-walking chapters of the Martial book. This time Lewis keeps it short, and tells us he’s keeping it short.
Then the real wood-work began. From the moment at which they first saw the Hill to the moment at which they all arrived at the back of the stable, it took them over two hours. It’s the sort of thing one couldn’t describe properly unless one wrote pages and pages about it. The journey from each bit of cover to the next was a separate adventure, and there were very long waits in between, and several false alarms. If you are a good Scout or a good Guide you will know already what it must have been like.
If Mars’s light is faint, Venus is more hidden still. There is no Morning Star. There are perhaps Venereal harmonics when we are reminded that the season is early spring:
The waterfall keeps the Pool always dancing and bubbling and churning round and round as if it were on the boil, and that of course is how it got its name of Caldron Pool. It is liveliest in the early spring when the waterfall is swollen with all the snow that has melted off the mountains from up beyond Narnia in the Western Wild from which the river comes.

[Tirian’s hunting lodge was] where he often stayed for ten days or so in the pleasant spring weather.

It was a little after two in the afternoon when they set out, and it was the first really warm day of that spring. The young leaves seemed to be much further out than yesterday: the snow-drops were over, but they saw several primroses.
Those, and occasional references to The Magician’s Nephew, are about it for Venus.
Right through the middle of that ancient forest – that forest where the trees of gold and of silver had once grown and where a child from our world had once planted the Tree of Protection – a broad lane had already been opened.

“And it was like this. The Professor and Aunt Polly had got all us friends of Narnia together—”
“I know not these names, Eustace,” said Tirian.
“They’re the two who came into Narnia at the very beginning, the day all the animals learned to talk.”
“By the Lion’s Mane,” cried Tirian. “Those two! The Lord Digory and the Lady Polly! From the dawn of the world! And still in your place? The wonder and the glory of it! But tell me, tell me.”
Mercury and Jove, meanwhile, are not merely absent but negated. Mercurial eloquence falls before thuggish sneering, equivocation, and Calormene pomposity.
“None of that! Hold your noise!” said the Ape with a snarl. “Who said anything about slavery? You won’t be slaves. You’ll be paid – very good wages too. That is to say, your pay will be paid into Aslan’s treasury and he will use it all for everybody’s good." Then he glanced, and almost winked, at the chief Calormene. The Calormene bowed and replied, in the pompous Calormene way:
“Most sapient Mouthpiece of Aslan, The Tisroc (may he-live-forever) is wholly of one mind with your lordship in this judicious plan.”
You’ll remember, of course, that Calormen was the chief antagonist of the Mercurial book. As before, the Calormenes have enslaved a Talking Horse with no regard for the personhood which one can infer from his faculty for language:
“Work, lazy brute,” shouted one of the Calormenes; and as he spoke he struck the horse savagely with his whip. It was then that the really dreadful thing happened.
Up till now Tirian had taken it for granted that the horses which the Calormenes were driving were their own horses; dumb, witless animals like the horses of our own world... But as that savage blow fell the horse reared up and said, half screaming:
“Fool and tyrant! Do you not see I am doing all I can?”
The Calormene god Tash – on whom we shall have more to say later – seems to have the power to cancel Mercury’s gift of speech.
“Now, Ginger,” said the Captain. “Enough of that noise. Tell them what thou hast seen.”
’Aii – Aii – Aaow – Awah,” screamed the Cat.
“Art thou not called a Talking Beast?” said the Captain. “Then hold thy devilish noise and talk.”
What followed was rather horrible. Tirian felt quite certain (and so did the others) that the Cat was trying to say something; but nothing came out of his mouth except the ordinary, ugly cat-noises you might hear from any angry or frightened old Tom in a backyard in England...
“Look, look!” said the voice of the Bear. “It can’t talk. It has forgotten how to talk! It has gone back to being a dumb beast. Look at its face.” Everyone saw that it was true. And then the greatest terror of all fell upon those Narnians. For every one of them had been taught – when it was only a chick or a puppy or a cub – how Aslan at the beginning of the world had turned the beasts of Narnia into Talking Beasts and warned them that if they weren’t good they might one day be turned back again and be like the poor witless animals one meets in other countries. “And now it is coming upon us,” they moaned.
On the Jovial side of things, kingship rapidly falls into disrepute. Tirian loses his crown to dishonour very early in the story.
As soon as they came to the place where the work was going on the Calormenes raised a cry and came towards them with their weapons in hand. But the King held out his sword with the hilt towards them and said:
“I who was King of Narnia and am now a dishonoured knight give myself up to the justice of Aslan. Bring me before him.”
“And I give myself up too,” said Jewel.
...They put a rope halter round Jewel’s neck. They took the King’s sword away and tied his hands behind his back. One of the Calormenes, who had a helmet instead of a turban and seemed to be in command, snatched the gold circlet off Tirian’s head and hastily put it away somewhere among his clothes...
“O Lord Shift, mouthpiece of Aslan,” said the chief Calormene. “We bring you prisoners. By our skill and courage and by the permission of the great god Tash we have taken alive these two desperate murderers.”
“Give me that man’s sword,” said the Ape. So they took the King’s sword and handed it, with the sword-belt and all, to the monkey.
His capacity for Jovial hospitality is also seriously compromised.
Not many yards away grey battlements rose above the tree-tops, and after a minute's more walking they came out in an open grassy space. A stream ran across it and on the far side of the stream stood a squat, square tower with very few and narrow windows and one heavy-looking door in the wall that faced them...
“Welcome friends,” said Tirian. “I fear this is the best palace that the King of Narnia can now offer to his guests.”
Tirian was pleased to see that the two strangers had been well brought up. They both said not to mention it and that they were sure it would be very nice.
As a matter of fact it was not particularly nice. It was rather dark and smelled very damp. There was only one room in it and this room went right up to the stone roof; a wooden staircase in one corner led up to a trap door by which you could get out on the battlements. There were a few rude bunks to sleep in, and a great many lockers and bundles. There was also a hearth which looked as if nobody had lit a fire in it for a great many years.
Both Mercury and Jove are dispatched in a single pivotal scene. First an eagle, a royal and Jovial bird, approaches, and addresses Tirian by his monarchal title.
If one had known what was going to happen next it would have been a treat to watch the grace and ease with which the huge bird glided down. He alighted on a rocky crag a few feet from Tirian, bowed his crested head, and said in his strange eagle’s voice, “Hail, King.”
Though Jovial by nature, Farsight is playing a Mercurial role: he’s a messenger.
“Hail, Farsight,” said Tirian. “And since you call me King, I may well believe you are not a follower of the Ape and his false Aslan. I am right glad of your coming.”
“Sire,” said the Eagle, “when you have heard my news you will be sorrier of my coming than of the greatest woe that ever befell you.”
Tirian’s heart seemed to stop beating at these words, but he set his teeth and said, “Tell on.”
His first message is that the victory of The Horse and His Boy is undone. Note the effect on the listeners.
“Two sights have I seen,” said Farsight. “One was Cair Paravel filled with dead Narnians and living Calormenes; The Tisroc’s banner advanced upon your royal battlements; and your subjects flying from the city – this way and that, into the woods. Cair Paravel was taken from the sea. Twenty great ships of Calormen put in there in the dark of the night before last night.”
No-one could speak.
Then follows an image of Sagittarius overthrown – Sagittarius being, as Michael Ward points out, one of Jupiter’s “houses” in the Zodiac as Gemini and Virgo are Mercury’s.
“And the other sight, five leagues nearer than Cair Paravel, was Roonwit the Centaur lying dead with a Calormene arrow in his side. I was with him in his last hour and he gave me this message to your Majesty: to remember that all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy.”
“So,” said the King, after a long silence, “Narnia is no more.”
On Narnia’s last night, all the stars fall.
Immediately the sky became full of shooting stars. Even one shooting star is a fine thing to see; but these were dozens, and then scores, and then hundreds, till it was like silver rain; and it went on and on. And when it had gone on for some while, one or two of them began to think that there was another dark shape against the sky... right overhead, up in the very roof of the sky as you might call it... At any rate, there were no stars there: just blackness... And then the starless patch began to grow, spreading further and further out from the centre of the sky. And presently a quarter of the whole sky was black, and then a half, and at last the rain of shooting stars was going on only low down near the horizon.
With a thrill of wonder (and there was some terror in it too) they all suddenly realized what was happening. The spreading blackness was not a cloud at all; it was simply emptiness. The black part of the sky was the part in which there were no stars left. All the stars were falling; Aslan had called them home.
But three planets remain outside the door. Having swallowed Luna, Sol is in his turn extinguished by Saturn, who has the melancholy honour of being the last living soul on the wasted landscape.
But when Aslan had roared yet again... they saw another patch where there were no stars; and the patch rose up higher and higher and became the shape of a man, the hugest of all giants... He must be on the high moorlands that stretch away to the North beyond the River Shribble. Then Jill and Eustace remembered how once long ago, in the deep caves beneath those moors, they had seen a great giant asleep and been told that his name was Father Time, and that he would wake on the day the world ended.
“Yes,” said Aslan, though they had not spoken. “While he lay dreaming his name was Time. Now that he is awake he will have a new one.”

And out there it began to grow light. A streak of dreary and disastrous dawn spread along the horizon, and widened and grew brighter, till in the end they hardly noticed the light of the stars who stood behind them. At last the sun came up. When it did, the Lord Digory and the Lady Polly looked at one another and gave a little nod; those two, in a different world, had once seen a dying sun, and so they knew at once that this sun also was dying. It was three times – twenty times – as big as it ought to be, and very dark red. As its rays fell upon the great Time-giant, he turned red too: and in the reflection of that sun the whole waste of shoreless waters looked like blood.
Then the Moon came up, quite in her wrong position, very close to the sun, and she also looked red. And at the sight of her the sun began shooting out great flames, like whiskers or snakes of crimson fire, towards her. It was as if he were an octopus trying to draw her to himself in his tentacles. And perhaps he did draw her. At any rate she came to him, slowly at first, but then more and more quickly, till at last his long flames licked round her and the two ran together and became one huge ball like a burning coal. Great lumps of fire came dropping out of it into the sea and clouds of steam rose up.
Then Aslan said, “Now make an end.”
The giant threw his horn into the sea. Then he stretched out one arm – very black it looked, and thousands of miles long – across the sky till his hand reached the Sun. He took the Sun and squeezed it in his hand as you would squeeze an orange. And instantly there was total darkness.
As so often, Lewis is playing fast and loose with consistency here. In The Silver Chair, the sleeping Father Time took up the length of a cave merely “about the shape and size of a cathedral”; if that makes him tall enough to reach the Sun in this universe, then all the Talking Birds should be going about with singed wings. Never mind. We know Father Time was called Saturn in manuscript, and this scene marks both his triumph and his passing.

In the Seventh Region

Another way to test the planetary hypothesis would be to run a few comparisons across all seven books and see how well they match up. Since this is the last Narnia post, there’s unlikely to come a better time to do this. There’s no rigorous proof, of course, and if it weren’t for Lewis’s well-established fascinations with mediaeval astrology and hidden meanings I would be on the side of the sceptics. But given the patterns Ward has established, these are interesting coincidences, if they are coincidences.
The different ways the children traverse the worlds mostly form a planetary pattern:
  • In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Jovial book, they pass through a wardrobe holding coats that ”looked more like royal robes... when they had put them on”.
  • In Prince Caspian, they are whisked to Narnia by a summons, as if by a military command. You might think of that magical horn as a bugle-call or as a phallic symbol; either way, it’s Martial.
  • In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, they enter through a painting, launching that Solar book’s pervasive subtextual discourse on the liberal arts.
  • The Horse and His Boy breaks the pattern, because there is no interplanar travel. However, it turns out that Shasta/Cor was first brought to Calormen by an act of theft, which is appropriately Mercurial.
  • In The Silver Chair they step upwards through a wall into Aslan’s Country, as befits the Lunar divide between the Earth and the Heavens that dominates the rest of the story.
  • In The Magician’s Nephew they insert their fingers into rings and then plunge into pools in a warm forest, a decidedly Venereal image.
  • Here is how they arrive in The Last Battle:
    “Well there we were in the train [said Eustace]. And we were just getting to the station where the others were to meet us, and I was looking out of the window to see if I could see them when suddenly there came a most frightful jerk and a noise; and there we were in Narnia and there was your Majesty tied up to the tree.”

    “Well when that awful jerk came [said Eustace to Jill] – the one that seemed to throw us into Narnia – I thought it was the beginning of a railway accident. So I was jolly glad to find ourselves here instead.”

    ...Eustace said to King Peter, “You haven’t yet told us how you got here. You were just going to, when King Tirian turned up.”
    “There’s not much to tell,” said Peter. “Edmund and I were standing on the platform and we saw your train coming in. I remember thinking it was taking the bend far too fast.”...
    “And what happened then?” said Jill.
    “Well, it’s not very easy to describe, is it, Edmund?” said the High King.
    “Not very,” said Edmund. “It wasn’t at all like that other time when we were pulled out of our own world by Magic. There was a frightful roar and something hit me with a bang, but it didn’t hurt. And I felt not so much scared as – well, excited. Oh – and this is one queer thing. I’d had a rather sore knee, from a hack at rugger. I noticed it had suddenly gone. And I felt very light. And then – here we were.”

    “There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over; the holidays have begun. The dream is ended; this is the morning.”
    From Our World’s point of view, they have succumbed to the Saturnine condition of death.
Some Narnia readers I’ve known were appalled that the characters turned out to be dead at the end. But that’s what Lewis did with every one of his full-length works of fiction. The Pilgrim’s Regress ends with John crossing the brook to the Landlord’s castle. The Screwtape Letters ends with the anonymous “patient” getting killed in the war and going to Heaven, to Screwtape’s disgust. The Ransom trilogy ends with Ransom whisked away to Venus forever. Till We Have Faces breaks off mid-sentence, followed by a little note from a minor character explaining that the narrator, Queen Orual, was found lying with her head on the manuscript. Only The Great Divorce ends with its protagonist alive on Earth, and that’s because the whole book was set in (a dream of) the afterlife.
The Narnia series is famed for its sumptuous descriptions of food. Lewis picked one of these out as an example of critics over-thinking things – someone thought the high tea Lucy enjoys in Tumnus’s cave was a surrogate sex scene – so take all this with a grain of salt. But the meals are not randomly distributed either. Again they fall into a planetary alignment:
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, being Jovial, puts on a lavish spread. The meal with Tumnus and the fish dinner with the Beavers are followed by Father Christmas’s tray of hot tea. Even the White Witch uses rich food (Turkish Delight) as a temptation.
  • The Martial Prince Caspian makes the children win their sustenance through hard work and, most prominently, battle – with a wild bear. The victory feast is of forest fruits, which may reflect Mars Silvanus, although since Lewis hadn’t settled on writing seven books at that point it may have more to do with the minor, Venereal theme.
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader abandons subtlety. The banquet on Ramandu’s Island is explicitly brought from the rising Sun by those Solar birds.
  • The Horse and His Boy Mercurially steal nearly everything they eat, arguably including the lunch Shasta is treated to in Tashbaan, since that was intended for Corin, not him.
  • The Silver Chair has Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum hunting wild birds for meat, in accordance with the Lunar Huntress persona. Later they themselves are hunted, and narrowly avoid becoming the meal.
  • The Magician’s Nephew gives Digory and Polly a packet of toffee to signify Venereal sweetness, then a breakfast of fresh-grown magical toffee-fruits to underline Venereal fertility.
  • The Last Battle treats Tirian to some modern English food. Lewis, you may remember, felt that modernity was fundamentally Saturnine in spirit (and we’ll see much more of that in a while).
    “What about some grub? – I mean for you, Sir, we two have had our breakfast,” said the Boy.
    Tirian wondered very much what he meant by “grub”, but when the Boy opened a bulgy satchel which he was carrying and pulled out a rather greasy and squashy packet, he understood. He was ravenously hungry, though he hadn’t thought about it till that moment. There were two hard-boiled egg sandwiches, and two cheese sandwiches, and two with some kind of paste in them. If he hadn’t been so hungry he wouldn’t have thought much of the paste, for that is a sort of food nobody eats in Narnia.
    The homegrown Narnian meals, while better than “paste”, still take too long and are otherwise imperfect.
    Dinner was, however, a dull meal, for the best they could do was to pound up some of the hard biscuit which they found in a locker and pour it into boiling water, with salt, so as to make a kind of porridge. And of course there was nothing to drink but water.

    Poggin... took Jill’s bow, went out and shot a couple of wood pigeons... When Jill and Eustace came out of the Tower yawning and rubbing their eyes at almost half past ten, the Dwarf showed them where they could gather plenty of a Narnian weed called Wild Fresney, which looks rather like our wood-sorrel but tastes a good deal nicer when cooked. (It needs a little butter and pepper to make it perfect, but they hadn't got these.)... While the meal was cooking – which seemed a very long time, especially as it smelled nicer and nicer the nearer it came to being done – the King found a complete Dwarfish outfit for Poggin...
    All this while Jill went to and fro, sometimes stirring the pot and sometimes looking out enviously at the Donkey and the Unicorn who were contentedly grazing. How many times that morning she wished she could eat grass!

    What was left of the pigeon-meat and rabbit-meat was not worth bringing away but they took some biscuits.
Less trivial, presumably, are the various roles Aslan plays throughout the series. Michael Ward interprets Aslan in each book as Christ presented sub specie whichever planetary intelligence is at centre stage. I disagree. I don’t think Lewis stuck to that pattern all the way through. Aslan is never Saturnine even in The Last Battle, and in The Silver Chair he is much more Solar than Lunar. That being said, his first few utterances in each book do fall pretty well into the schema.
  • Aslan’s first words in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are
    “Welcome, Peter, Son of Adam,”, said Aslan. “Welcome, Susan and Lucy, Daughters of Eve. Welcome He-Beaver and She-Beaver.”
    While welcoming guests is inherently Jovial, one could also argue it’s a fairly generic opening line. Aslan moves on to discuss the matter of Edmund’s sin and coming redemption.
    “Please – Aslan,” said Lucy, “can anything be done to save Edmund?”
    “All will be done,” said Aslan. “But it may be harder than you think.” And then he was silent again for some time. Up to that moment Lucy had been thinking how royal and strong and peaceful he looked; now it suddenly came into her head that he looked sad as well. But next minute that expression was quite gone.
  • This time Prince Caspian is the odd one out. Aslan meets Lucy in the dead of night and says
    “Welcome, child,” he said.
    “Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
    “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
    “Not because you are?”
    “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
    His next words are a soupçon more Martial in tone, but I wouldn’t blame you if you concluded that was just confirmation bias on my part.
    “Lucy,” he said, “we must not lie here for long. We have work in hand, and much time has been lost today.”
  • In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader we first hear of Aslan through Eustace, and the one direct quote he gives us is not notably Solar.
    “Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – [said Eustace,] ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.”
    But when Aslan appears on the page in his own right, once more speaking to Lucy, we’re back on track:
    “Oh, Aslan,” said she, “it was kind of you to come.”
    “I have been here all the time,” said he, “but you have just made me visible.”
  • Aslan comes to Shasta in several forms in The Horse and His Boy. When he finally speaks, it’s on the Mercurial subject of speech.
    “Who are you?” [Shasta] said, scarcely above a whisper.
    “One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.
  • The Aslan of The Silver Chair, as I’ve argued, is mostly Solar and partly Jovial, but his first utterance asserts lordship over the Lunar domain of water.
    “If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”
    They were the first words [Jill] had heard since Scrubb had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff. For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking.
  • In The Magician’s Nephew Aslan sings for a chapter and a half before he talks, creating life in the new-born Narnia – an essentially Venereal function.
    In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself... it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard.
    His first words command Narnia to awake, and almost immediately to love:
    Then there came a swift flash like fire (but it burnt nobody) either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying:
    “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”
  • In The Last Battle as in The Silver Chair, Aslan stays in his own country and does not enter Narnia proper. When we meet him the Saturnine part of the story is already closing. Nevertheless his first two speeches elaborate upon the Saturnine theme: the ending of the royal line, the hardship Tirian has endured, and the limits of divine grace.
    Then he fixed his eyes upon Tirian, and Tirian came near, trembling, and flung himself at the Lion’s feet, and the Lion kissed him and said, “Well done, last of the Kings of Narnia who stood firm at the darkest hour.”
    “Aslan,” said Lucy through her tears, “could you – will you – do something for these poor Dwarfs?”
    “Dearest,” said Aslan, “I will show you both what I can, and what I cannot, do.”
Finally, I noticed something about the first character named, and the first character with a speaking line, in each book. It stood out when I considered The Magician’s Nephew, as you’ll see. But it becomes even more salient with The Last Battle.
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:
    Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.

    “We’ve fallen on our feet and no mistake,” said Peter. “This is going to be perfectly splendid. That old chap will let us do anything we like.”
    Peter, like Jove, is male (and a High King).
  • Prince Caspian:
    Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, and it has been told in another book called The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe how they had a remarkable adventure.

    “What’s up, Lu?” said Edmund – and then suddenly broke off and made a noise like “Ow!”
    Peter and Edmund, like Mars, are male (and warriors).
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:
    There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

    Edmund and Lucy tried not to grudge Susan her luck, but it was dreadful having to spend the summer holidays at their Aunt’s. “But it’s far worse for me,” said Edmund, “because you’ll at least have a room of your own and I shall have to share a bedroom with that record stinker, Eustace.”
    Eustace and Edmund, like Sol, are male. (Actually, this one is not quite as tidy, because there are speech-marks around Mrs Pevensie’s reported statement in the previous sentence that Susan “would get far more out of a trip to America than the youngsters”. But the sentence reads just fine without them, and they may have crept in during editing.)
  • The Horse and His Boy:
    This is the story of an adventure that happened in Narnia and Calormen and the lands between, in the Golden Age when Peter was High King in Narnia and his brother and his two sisters were King and Queens under him.

    Sometimes if Arsheesh was there Shasta would say, “O my Father, what is there beyond that hill?” And then, if the fisherman was in a bad temper he would box Shasta’s ears and tell him to attend to his work.

    “And now, O my host,” said the Tarkaan, “I have a mind to buy that boy of yours.”
    I’ve counted two first speaking lines there because Shasta’s does not occur within the timeline of the story – it’s something he says “sometimes”. No matter. Peter, Shasta, and Anradin Tarkaan, like Mercury, are all male.
  • The Silver Chair:
    It was a dull autumn day and Jill Pole was crying behind the gym.

    And she hadn’t nearly finished her cry when a boy came round the corner of the gym whistling, with his hands in his pockets. He nearly ran into her.
    “Can’t you look where you’re going?” said Jill Pole.
    Jill, like Luna, is female.
  • The Magician’s Nephew:
    This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began.
    In those days Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road. In those days, if you were a boy you had to wear a stiff Eton collar every day, and schools were usually nastier than now. But meals were nicer; and as for sweets, I won’t tell you how cheap and good they were, because it would only make your mouth water in vain. And in those days there lived in London a girl called Polly Plummer.

    “Hullo,” said Polly.
    “Hullo,” said the boy. “What’s your name?”
    “Polly,” said Polly. “What’s yours?”
    “Digory,” said the boy.
    “I say, what a funny name!” said Polly.
    “It isn’t half so funny as Polly,” said Digory.
    “Yes it is,” said Polly.
    “No it isn’t,” said Digory.
    I don’t count the Bastables, Sherlock Holmes, or the reader’s grandfather as Narnia characters. Polly, like Venus, is female. She is the first named and the first to speak – yet within a few pages Digory becomes, and pretty much stays, the book’s viewpoint character. In the Lefay Fragment (check the Prince Caspian and Magician’s Nephew articles if you need a refresher on that) the story begins with Digory, and he initiates the conversation with Polly. It really does look like Lewis rejigged that aspect of the opening scene just so his introductions would match the genders of the planets throughout the series.
  • The Last Battle:
    In the last days of Narnia, far up to the west beyond Lantern Waste and close beside the great waterfall, there lived an Ape. He was so old that no-one could remember when he had first come to live in those parts, and he was the cleverest, ugliest, most wrinkled Ape you can imagine. He had a little house, built of wood and thatched with leaves, up in the fork of a great tree, and his name was Shift.

    And all the nicest things that Puzzle brought back were eaten by Shift; for as Shift said, “You see, Puzzle, I can’t eat grass and thistles like you, so it’s only fair I should make it up in other ways.” And Puzzle always said, “Of course, Shift, of course. I see that.”

    And as they looked at Caldron Pool Shift suddenly pointed with his dark, skinny finger and said,
    “Look! What’s that?”
    “What’s what?” said Puzzle.
    “That yellow thing that’s just come down the waterfall. Look! There it is again, it’s floating. We must find out what it is.”
    As in The Horse and His Boy, that first speaking line is not within the timeline. Again, no matter. Shift, like Saturn, is male, but that’s only the beginning of the resemblance between them. He is clever, though his wisdom will later fall short of the Saturnine and Rishda Tarkaan and Ginger the Cat will take command. He is the villain of the story, as Saturnine characters have been throughout the series (except for Puddleglum). He is old, and he is ugly. And he is an Ape, a precursor to humanity, as Saturn was a Titan, a precursor to the gods, rather than a god as such.
    In another unprecedented development, the primary viewpoint character doesn’t appear until the second chapter. He too is a bit different from what the previous six books might have led you to expect.
    About three weeks later the last of the Kings of Narnia sat under the great oak which grew beside the door of his little hunting lodge... He loved to live there simply and at ease, away from the state and pomp of Cair Paravel, the royal city. His name was King Tirian, and he was between twenty and twenty-five years old; his shoulders were already broad and strong and his limbs full of hard muscle, but his beard was still scanty. He had blue eyes and a fearless, honest face.

    “I cannot set myself to any work or sport today, Jewel,” said the King. “I can think of nothing but this wonderful news. Think you we shall hear any more of it today?”
    “They are the most wonderful tidings ever heard in our days or our fathers’ or our grandfathers’ days, Sire,” said Jewel, “if they are true.”
    One’s early twenties hardly count as old age, of course – except that all the other protagonists in the series have been half that or less. (And yes, once again, Tirian, like Saturn, is male.)
Saturn was the Bringer of Old Age long before Gustav Holst wrote his Planets symphony. His progerian role dominates The Last Battle, so let’s take a look at it.

Old and Ugly

Saturn’s name in Greek was Kronos (often Latinized to “Cronus”), which is close enough to khronos “time” that the pun goes back to antiquity. In Renaissance works he is pictured with an hourglass as well as a scythe. When Lewis renamed him “old Father Time” he was being traditional, not original. Time itself is sometimes a malign force.
Presently the crowd of beasts broke up and began going away in different directions. Some passed close to Tirian [tied to a tree]. They looked at him as if they were both frightened and sorry to see him tied up but none of them spoke. Soon they had all gone and there was silence in the wood. Then hours and hours went past and Tirian became first very thirsty and then very hungry; and as the afternoon dragged on and turned into evening, he became cold too. His back was very sore...
The stars came out and time went slowly on – imagine how slowly – while that last King of Narnia stood stiff and sore and upright against the tree in his bonds.

Then came the worst part, the waiting. Luckily for the children they slept for a couple of hours, but of course they woke up when the night grew cold, and what was worse, woke up very thirsty and with no chance of getting a drink.
On the other hand, one of the book’s most intense images is a positive picture of deep time. Note the “cornfields”, a reference to Saturn the Reaper. Also, consistency alert: Narnia wasn’t “stirred and upset” in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
“Oh, this is nice!” said Jill. “Just walking along like this. I wish there could be more of this sort of adventure. It’s a pity there’s always so much happening in Narnia.”
But the Unicorn explained to her that she was quite mistaken. He said that the Sons and Daughters of Adam and Eve were brought out of their own strange world into Narnia only at times when Narnia was stirred and upset, but she mustn’t think it was always like that. In between their visits there were hundreds and thousands of years when peaceful King followed peaceful King till you could hardly remember their names or count their numbers, and there was really hardly anything to put into the History Books. And he went on to talk of old Queens and heroes whom she had never heard of. He spoke of Swanwhite the Queen who had lived before the days of the White Witch and the Great Winter, who was so beautiful that when she looked into any forest pool the reflection of her face shone out of the water like a star by night for a year and a day afterwards. He spoke of Moonwood the Hare who had such ears that he could sit by Caldron Pool under the thunder of the great waterfall and hear what men spoke in whispers at Cair Paravel. He told how King Gale, who was ninth in descent from Frank the first of all Kings, had sailed far away into the Eastern seas and delivered the Lone Islanders from a dragon and how, in return, they had given him the Lone Islands to be part of the royal lands of Narnia for ever. He talked of whole centuries in which all Narnia was so happy that notable dances and feasts, or at most tournaments, were the only things that could be remembered, and every day and week had been better than the last. And as he went on, 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.
Narnian time and Our-World time don’t line up with each other, as we’ve known from the start. Lewis does seem to be keen on the idea that time isn’t an absolute. Before Narnia he discussed it in The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, and Miracles. The one surviving recording of Lewis’s voice is his exposition of it in one of the radio broadcasts later collected as Mere Christianity. We know Lewis habitually thought in planetary terms; did he perhaps attack absolute time because he conceived it as an aspect of the dominion of Saturn? In any case, note what he does with it here.
“I say,” said the girl. “It was you, wasn’t it, who appeared to us that night when we were all at supper? Nearly a week ago.”
“A week, fair maid?” said Tirian. “My dream led me into your world scarce ten minutes since.”
“It’s the usual muddle about times, Pole,” said the Boy.
“I remember now,” said Tirian. “That too comes in all the old tales. The time of your strange land is different from ours. But if we speak of Time, ’tis time to be gone from here; for my enemies are close at hand. Will you come with me?”
Eustace is wrong. It is the opposite of the usual muddle about times. In every other instance in the entire Narniad, the rule has been: intervals spent in Narnia take no time in Our World, but intervals spent in Our World equate to longer intervals in Narnia. It has been hundreds of Narnian years since Jill and Eustace last visited. You’ll remember that in Prince Caspian the Pevensies had not a whisper of regret for the passing of Tumnus and the Beavers. Here – well, here under Saturn there is a whisper of regret. It is a taste of things to come.
“I’m Eustace Scrubb and this is Jill Pole,” said the Boy. “And we were here once before, ages and ages ago, more than a year ago by our time, and there was a chap called Prince Rilian, and they were keeping this chap underground, and Puddleglum put his foot in—”
“Ha!” cried Tirian, “are you then that Eustace and that Jill who rescued King Rilian from his long enchantment?”
“Yes, that’s us,” said Jill. “So he’s King Rilian now, is he? Oh of course he would be. I forgot—”
“Nay,” said Tirian, “I am the seventh in descent from him. He has been dead over two hundred years.”
Jill made a face. “Ugh!” she said. “That’s the horrid part about coming back to Narnia.”
There’s a time-related consistency issue with that “more than a year ago”. In his hurried exposition of the Our World backstory, Eustace tells Tirian that
“...the day after that was the day Pole and I had to go back to school – we’re the only two who are still at school and we’re at the same one. So Peter and Edmund were to meet us at a place on the way down to school and hand over the Rings. It had to be us two who were to go to Narnia, you see, because the older ones couldn’t come again.”
But the events of The Silver Chair take place only a few months (in Our World) after those of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which happens a year after Prince Caspian, which happens a year after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. If Lucy has now finished school, then that makes her about thirteen when she first went through the wardrobe, and – no. Just no. Oh, pedantically “more than a year ago” includes “several years ago”, so it’s not a contradiction in strict logic, but nobody actually uses the phrase that way.
The Pevensies couldn’t return, you may recall, because Aslan told them in previous books that they were too old. Time ages people. Again Lewis doesn’t entirely neglect the positive side. Prince Caspian and The Silver Chair both tell us that Narnian air returns skills to second-time visitors that they picked up the first time round. Under Saturn, Jill and Eustace actually physically become older:
[Tirian] was surprised at the strength of both children: in fact they both seemed to be already much stronger and bigger and more grown-up than they had been when he first met them a few hours ago. It is one of the effects which Narnian air often has on visitors from our world.
Wisdom is a characteristically Saturnine trait, albeit (unlike Solar enlightenment) flavoured with pessimism. We’ll explore it some more soon. Wisdom comes with age, but that is a connection Lewis is careful not to endorse. Instead he puts it into the mouth of a liar – whose wisdom is as illusory as his humanity.
“And now there’s another thing you got to learn,“ said the Ape. ”I hear some of you are saying I’m an Ape. Well, I’m not. I’m a Man. If I look like an Ape, that’s because I’m so very old: hundreds and hundreds of years old. And it’s because I’m so old that I’m so wise. And it’s because I’m so wise that I’m the only one Aslan is ever going to speak to. He can’t be bothered talking to a lot of stupid animals. He’ll tell me what you’ve got to do, and I’ll tell the rest of you. And take my advice, and see you do it in double quick time, for He doesn’t mean to stand any nonsense.”
Like Trumpkin in Prince Caspian and Edmund in The Horse and His Boy, Tirian presumes the protagonists can’t handle danger because they are children. And like Trumpkin and Edmund, he is wrong.
Tirian... turned to the children and said: “Now, friends, it is time for you to go hence into your own world. Doubtless you have done all that you were sent to do.”
“B-but we’ve done nothing,” said Jill who was shivering, not with fear exactly but because everything was so horrible.
“Nay,” said the King, “you loosed me from the tree; you glided before me like a snake last night in the wood and took Puzzle; and you, Eustace, killed your man. But you are too young to share in such a bloody end as we others must meet tonight or, it may be, three days hence. I entreat you – nay, I command you – to return to your own place. I should be put to shame if I let such young warriors fall in battle on my side.”
“No, no, no,” said Jill (very white when she began speaking and then suddenly very red and then white again.) “We won’t, I don’t care what you say. We’re going to stick to you whatever happens, aren’t we, Eustace?”
“Yes, but there’s no need to get so worked up about it,” said Eustace who had stuck his hands in his pockets (forgetting how very odd that looks when you are wearing a mail shirt). “Because, you see, we haven’t any choice. What’s the good of talking about our going back! How? We’ve got no magic for doing it!”...
When Tirian realized that the two strangers could not get home (unless Aslan suddenly whisked them away), he next wanted them to go across the Southern mountains into Archenland where they might possibly be safe. But they didn’t know their way and there was no one to send with them. Also, as Poggin said, once the Calormenes had Narnia they would certainly take Archenland in the next week or so; The Tisroc had always wanted to have these Northern countries for his own. In the end... Tirian said they could come with him and take their chance – or, as he much more sensibly called it, “the adventure that Aslan would send them”.
Which is somewhat at odds with his feeling when he first encountered the children:
...Tirian kept on stealing glances at his companions. The wonder of walking beside the creatures from another world made him feel a little dizzy; but it also made all the old stories seem far more real than they had ever seemed before ... anything might happen now.
As I showed you in the introductory essay, Lewis repudiates the notion that wisdom goes with age and folly with youth. Take particular note of this, because it is the key to one of the biggest critical problems in The Last Battle. But I’m saving that for later.
Time also ages and corrodes inanimate objects. In Prince Caspian the armour and weapons at Cair Paravel were preserved by “some magic in the air of the treasure chamber”. In the tower at Lantern Waste the work has to be done by hand.
[Tirian] was determined that they should not be caught unarmed, and began searching the lockers, thankfully remembering that he had always been careful to have these garrison towers inspected once a year and to make sure that they were stocked with all things needful. The bow strings were there in their coverings of oiled silk, the swords and spears were greased against rust, and the armour was kept bright in its wrappings.
Father Time is not the only anthropomorphic personification traditionally pictured with a scythe and hourglass. Old age ends in death. Death fills The Last Battle from end to end. The narrative uses death-centred expressions casually and often.
But at last, when he was almost tired to death, and bruised all over and numb with cold, he succeeded in gripping the thing with his teeth.

A low moaning and whimpering was heard among the Beasts; and, after that, a dead silence which was more miserable still.

Then she stopped dead still and Tirian saw her gradually sink down into the grass and disappear without a sound.

There was a feeble attempt [to cheer] from a few Dwarfs... which died away all at once...

At a first glance you might have mistaken it for smoke... But the deathly smell was not the smell of smoke.
So do the characters.
“...Very well [said Shift]. I will go in. I’m feeling cold enough already in this cruel wind. But I’ll go in. I shall probably die. Then you’ll be sorry.” And Shift’s voice sounded as if he was just going to burst into tears.

Suddenly the King leaned hard on his friend’s neck and bowed his head.
“Jewel,” he said, “what lies before us? Horrible thoughts arise in my heart. 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.” They stood like that for a minute or two and then went on.

“Ah, that’s bad, isn’t it?” said the second Mouse. “It would have been better if we’d died before all this began...”

“Has The Tisroc fought a great battle, Dwarfs, and conquered your land?” he asked, “that thus you go patiently to die in the salt-pits of Pugrahan?”

“Phew!” gasped Eustace. “It’s like something dead. Is there a dead bird somewhere about?...”
As the plot progresses, the mentions of death become less casual. Here’s one of the book’s longer conversations – and Eustace and Jill are right, this is an interesting world-building issue that hasn’t been raised before.
“Pole,” said Eustace presently.
“What?” said she.
“What’ll happen if we get killed here?”
“Well we’ll be dead, I suppose.”
“But I mean, what will happen in our own world? Shall we wake up and find ourselves back in that train? Or shall we just vanish and never be heard of any more? Or shall we be dead in England?”
“Gosh. I never thought of that.”
“It’ll be rum for Peter and the others if they saw me waving out of the window and then when the train comes in we’re nowhere to be found! Or if they found two – I mean, if we’re dead over there in England.”
“Ugh!” said Jill. “What a horrid idea.”
“It wouldn’t be horrid for us,” said Eustace. “We shouldn’t be there.”
“I almost wish – no I don’t, though,” said Jill.”
“What were you going to say?”
“I was going to say I wished we’d never come. But I don’t, I don’t, I don’t. Even if we are killed. I’d rather be killed fighting for Narnia than grow old and stupid at home and perhaps go about in a bath-chair and then die in the end just the same.”
One of my major complaints about Prince Caspian, you remember, was that it was full of war and yet no good-coded character died. Even on “a night when everything had gone as badly as possible”, all that happened was that some got “hurt” or “wounded”, or “lost blood”. Not so here.
...all three of them turned their heads to listen to a wailing sound that was quickly drawing nearer. The wood was so thick to the West of them that they could not see the newcomer yet. But they could soon hear the words.
“Woe, woe, woe!” called the voice. “Woe for my brothers and sisters! Woe for the holy trees! The woods are laid waste. The axe is loosed against us. We are being felled. Great trees are falling, falling, falling.”
With the last “falling” the speaker came in sight. She was like a woman but so tall that her head was on a level with the Centaur’s yet she was like a tree too... King Tirian and the two Beasts knew at once that she was the nymph of a beech tree.
“Justice, Lord King!” she cried. “Come to our aid. Protect your people. They are felling us in Lantern Waste. Forty great trunks of my brothers and sisters are already on the ground.”
“What, Lady! Felling Lantern Waste? Murdering the talking trees?” cried the King, leaping to his feet and drawing his sword. “How dare they? And who dares it? Now by the Mane of Aslan—”
“A-a-a-h,” gasped the Dryad shuddering as if in pain – shuddering time after time as if under repeated blows. Then all at once she fell sideways as suddenly as if both her feet had been cut from under her. For a second they saw her lying dead on the grass and then she vanished. They knew what had happened. Her tree, miles away, had been cut down.
(Yes. That is the only time a Narnian nymph ever speaks.)
Three dogs were killed and a fourth was hobbling behind the line on three legs and whimpering. The Bear lay on the ground, moving feebly. Then it mumbled in its throaty voice, bewildered to the last, “I – I don’t understand,” laid its big head down on the grass as quietly as a child going to sleep, and never moved again.
Eternal life in Aslan’s Country turns out to be a reversal, almost a denial, of death – but we’ll get to that later. As fantasy conceptions of death go, I think I find Terry Pratchett’s both more honest and, oddly, more optimistic. Not that the atheist Pratchett has a happier vision of the afterlife, but he doesn’t have to pretend death isn’t real in order to make peace with it. (Oh, that Lewis had lived to read Pratchett.)

Bitter Wisdom

Saturn’s influence beneath the Moon was generally turned to evil. Most people touched by it ended up depressive or impossible to please. But if you managed to beat the odds and turn your temperament to good ends, you would become a deep thinker. Saturn was therefore associated with wisdom, especially the wisdom born of misfortune. As a Centaur, an unfallen man, Roonwit is the purest expression of this wisdom. He is the third Centaur given a name in the series. The first was “Glenstorm” in the Martial Prince Caspian, the second a healer named “Cloudbirth” mentioned briefly in the Lunar Silver Chair. “Roonwit” I take to be rune-wit, Knowledge of Secrets.
The flip-side of wisdom, in those who fall short of Centaurean perfection, is an impatience or contempt for folly; you’ll remember that was one of the Saturnine Jadis’s distinguishing personality traits. Up until now this attitude in Narnia has been a sure mark of villainy or, at least, a need for some tough love from Aslan. Good characters have been allowed to do all kinds of impractical things (such as taking off into the unknown Eastern Sea while being Head of State) with the approval of the narrative. In The Last Battle Lewis finally redresses the balance.
I’m not sure what to make of this. It’s not as if Lewis thought practical common sense a bad thing. In Mere Christianity over a decade earlier, he expanded what he had said in his radio broadcast on Christian morals to discuss the cardinal virtue of prudence:
...many Christians have the idea that, provided you are “good”, it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding... Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence; on the contrary. He told us to be not only “as harmless as doves”, but also “as wise as serpents”... It is, of course, quite true that God will not love you any the less, or have less use for you, if you happen to have been born with a very second-rate brain. He has room for people with very little sense, but He wants everyone to use what sense they have. The proper motto is not “Be good, sweet maid, and let who can be clever,” but “Be good, sweet maid, and don’t forget that this involves being as clever as you can.”
Mere Christianity pp. 77–78
Be that as it may, it is not until The Last Battle that evil outcomes follow from imprudent actions in Narnia. It begins with Puzzle’s willingness to obey Shift.
...Shift had one friend and neighbour who was a donkey called Puzzle. At least they both said they were friends, but from the way things went on you might have thought Puzzle was more like Shift’s servant than his friend. He did all the work. When they went together to the river, Shift filled the big skin bottles with water but it was Puzzle who carried them back. When they wanted anything from the towns further down the river it was Puzzle who went down with empty panniers on his back and came back with the panniers full and heavy. And all the nicest things that Puzzle brought back were eaten by Shift... Puzzle never complained, because he knew that Shift was far cleverer than himself and he thought it was very kind of Shift to be friends with him at all. And if ever Puzzle did try to argue about anything, Shift would always say, “Now, Puzzle, I understand what needs to be done better than you. You know you’re not clever, Puzzle.” And Puzzle always said, “No, Shift. It’s quite true. I’m not clever.” Then he would sigh and do whatever Shift had said.
Lewis later tells Puzzle off, via Eustace, in almost the same words he had used in Mere Christianity. (Jill, being Lunar, has a great deal of affection for fools.) But the picture he has painted of Puzzle and Shift is so clearly an abusive relationship that it feels awfully like victim-blaming.
“I see now,” said Puzzle, “that I really have been a very bad donkey. I ought never to have listened to Shift. I never thought things like this [the appearance of Tash] would begin to happen.”
“If you’d spent less time saying you weren’t clever and more time trying to be as clever as you could—” began Eustace but Jill interrupted him.
“Oh leave poor old Puzzle alone,” she said. “It was all a mistake; wasn’t it, Puzzle dear?” And she kissed him on the nose.
Tirian’s haste to settle the Calormenes is three times rebuked – by Roonwit, by the narrative, and in the chapter heading The Rashness of the King.
For a moment the King's grief and anger were so great that he could not speak. Then he said:
“Come, friends. We must go up river and find the villains who have done this, with all the speed we may. I will leave not one of them alive.”
“Sire, with a good will,” said Jewel.
But Roonwit said, “Sire, be wary in your just wrath. There are strange doings on foot. If there should be rebels in arms further up the valley, we three are too few to meet them. If it would please you to wait while—”
“I will not wait the tenth part of a second,” said the King. “But while Jewel and I go forward, do you gallop as hard as you may to Cair Paravel. Here is my ring for your token. Get me a score of men-at-arms, all well mounted, and a score of Talking Dogs, and ten Dwarfs (let them all be fell archers), and a Leopard or so, and Stonefoot the Giant. Bring all these after us as quickly as may be.”
“With a good will, Sire,” said Roonwit. And at once he turned and galloped Eastward down the valley.

The King and the Unicorn stared at one another and both looked more frightened than they had ever been in any battle.
“Aslan,” said the King at last, in a very low voice. “Aslan. Could it be true? Could he be felling the holy trees and murdering the Dryads?”
“Unless the Dryads have all done something dreadfully wrong—” murmured Jewel.
“But selling them to Calormenes!” said the King. “Is it possible?”
“I don’t know,” said Jewel miserably. “He’s not a tame lion.”
“Well,” said the King at last, “we must go on and take the adventure that comes to us.”
“It is the only thing left for us to do, Sire,” said the Unicorn. He did not see at the moment how foolish it was for two of them to go on alone; nor did the King. They were too angry to think clearly. But much evil came of their rashness in the end.
This is a stumble on Lewis’s part. “Much evil” does indeed follow, but it’s not clear that things would have been much different if Tirian had waited. Roonwit’s errand to Cair Paravel ends in failure and death. If Tirian and Jewel had not done this—
When Tirian knew that the Horse was one of his own Narnians, there came over him and over Jewel such a rage that they did not know what they were doing. The King’s sword went up, the Unicorn’s horn went down. They rushed forward together. Next moment both the Calormenes lay dead, the one beheaded by Tirian’s sword and the other gored through the heart by Jewel’s horn.
—then they would not have given themselves up as murderers, and Tirian would not have been tied to a tree when Jill and Eustace arrived. But the Tisroc’s fleet would still have taken Cair Paravel, Shift and Rishda Tarkaan would still have summoned Tash at the Stable, and the world would still have ended.
It’s hard to blame the characters for their folly, when throughout the Narniad until now it has been possible to discern the truth simply by listening to one’s deep-down feelings. Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tells himself the Witch is a good person, but
It wasn’t a very good excuse... for deep down inside him he really knew that the White Witch was bad and cruel.
Susan in Prince Caspian pretends she doesn’t think Aslan is there, but she confesses afterwards that
“I really believed it was him – he, I mean – yesterday. When he warned us not to go down to the fir wood. And I really believed it was him tonight, when you [Lucy] woke us up. I mean, deep down inside. Or I could have, if I’d let myself. But I just wanted to get out of the woods and – and – oh, I don’t know.”
And then there’s Eustace stealing water in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Bree resting too long in The Horse and His Boy, Jill giving up on the Signs in The Silver Chair, Digory hitting the bell in The Magician’s Nephew. Until now, temptation has always rung an internal alarm. In The Last Battle, for the first time, characters sincerely trying to do good are, through no fault of theirs except credulity, misled into serving evil. Oh, there are external signs, but (as Shift points out) they’re ambiguous.
At that moment there came a great thunderclap right overhead and the ground trembled with a small earthquake. Both the animals lost their balance and were flung on their faces.
“There!” gasped Puzzle, as soon as he had breath to speak. “It’s a sign, a warning. I knew we were doing something dreadfully wicked. Take this wretched skin off me at once.”
“No, no,” said the Ape (whose mind worked very quickly). “It’s a sign the other way. I was just going to say that if the real Aslan, as you call him, meant us to go on with this, he would send us a thunderclap and an earth-tremor. It was just on the tip of my tongue, only the sign itself came before I could get the words out. You’ve got to do it now, Puzzle. And please don’t let us have any more arguing. You know you don’t understand these things. What could a donkey know about signs?”
The Beasts in particular are terribly naïve about the false Aslan.
Half a dozen splendid tree-trunks, all newly cut and newly lopped of their branches, had been lashed together to make a raft, and were gliding swiftly down the river. On the front of the raft there was a water rat with a pole to steer it.
“Hey! Water-Rat! What are you about?” cried the King.
“Taking logs down to sell to the Calormenes, Sire,” said the Rat, touching his ear as he might have touched his cap if he had had one.
“Calormenes!” thundered Tirian. “What do you mean? Who gave order for these trees to be felled?”
The River flows so swiftly at that time of the year that the raft had already glided past the King and Jewel. But the Water-Rat looked back over its shoulder and shouted out:
“The Lion’s orders, Sire. Aslan himself.” He added something more but they couldn’t hear it.

“Master Horse, Master Horse,” said Tirian as he hastily cut its traces, “how came these aliens to enslave you? Is Narnia conquered? Has there been a battle?”
“No, Sire,” panted the horse, “Aslan is here. It is all by his orders. He has commanded—”

“Little friends,” said Tirian, “how can I thank you for all this?”
“You needn’t, you needn’t,” said the little voices. “What else could we do? We don’t want any other King. We’re your people. If it was only the Ape and the Calormenes who were against you we would have fought till we were cut into pieces before we’d let them tie you up. We would, we would indeed. But we can’t go against Aslan.”
“Do you think it really is Aslan?” asked the King.
“Oh yes, yes,” said the Rabbit. “He came out of the stable last night. We all saw him.”
Shift’s basic plan is lifted straight from an Aesop’s Fable.
“...We’ll make this skin into a fine warm winter coat for you.”
“Oh, I don’t think I’d like that,” said the Donkey. “It would look – I mean, the other Beasts might think – that is to say, I shouldn’t feel—”
“What are you talking about?” said Shift, scratching himself the wrong way up as Apes do.
“I don’t think it would be respectful to the Great Lion, to Aslan himself, if an ass like me went about dressed up in a lion-skin,” said Puzzle...
[Shift] saw at once that the body of the lion-skin would be too long for Puzzle and its neck too short. So he cut a good piece out of the body and used it to make a long collar for Puzzle’s long neck. Then he cut off the head and sewed the collar in between the head and the shoulders. He put threads on both sides of the skin so that it would tie up under Puzzle’s chest and stomach. Every now and then a bird would pass overhead and Shift would stop his work, looking anxiously up. He did not want anyone to see what he was doing. But none of the birds he saw were Talking Birds, so it didn’t matter...
The skin was very heavy for him to lift, but in the end, with a lot of pulling and pushing and puffing and blowing, he got it on to the donkey. He tied it underneath Puzzle’s body and he tied the legs to Puzzle’s legs and the tail to Puzzle’s tail. A good deal of Puzzle’s grey nose and face could be seen through the open mouth of the lion’s head. No one who had ever seen a real lion would have been taken in for a moment. But if someone who had never seen a lion looked at Puzzle in his lion-skin he just might mistake him for a lion, if he didn’t come too close, and if the light was not too good, and if Puzzle didn’t let out a bray and didn’t make any noise with his hoofs.
“You look wonderful, wonderful,” said the Ape. “If anyone saw you now, they’d think you were Aslan, the Great Lion, himself.”
“That would be dreadful,” said Puzzle.
“No it wouldn’t,” said Shift. “Everyone would do whatever you told them.”
“But I don’t want to tell them anything.”
“But you think of the good we could do!” said Shift. “You’d have me to advise you, you know. I’d think of sensible orders for you to give. And everyone would have to obey us, even the King himself. We would set everything right in Narnia.”...
“No, no, no,” said Puzzle. “Don’t say such dreadful things. It would be wrong, Shift. I maybe not very clever but I know that much. What would become of us if the real Aslan turned up?”
“I expect he’d be very pleased,” said Shift. “Probably he sent us the lion-skin on purpose, so that we could set things to right. Anyway, he never does turn up, you know. Not nowadays.”
But the moral of that fable is that one’s true nature will always show through disguises – as the Ass’s does the moment he tries to roar. Shift and Puzzle, by contrast, keep up the deception for weeks. It does fail eventually, though not to good effect, as we shall see.
“Look!” said Tirian, pulling Puzzle forward into the light. “It has all been a lie. Aslan has not come to Narnia at all. You have been cheated by the Ape. This is the thing he brought out of the stable to show you. Look at it.”
What the Dwarfs saw, now that they could see it close, was certainly enough to make them wonder how they had ever been taken in. The lion-skin had got pretty untidy already during Puzzle’s imprisonment in the stable and it had been knocked crooked during his journey through the dark wood. Most of it was in a big lump on one shoulder. The head, besides being pushed sideways, had somehow got very far back so that anyone could now see his silly, gentle, donkeyish face gazing out of it. Some grass stuck out of one corner of his mouth, for he’d been doing a little quiet nibbling as they brought him along. And he was muttering, “It wasn’t my fault, I’m not clever. I never said I was.”
Apart from Shift himself only the Lamb and the Cat, of all the Beasts, show the slightest suspicion about the lies he and the Calormenes are telling them, and the Cat’s response is to join the conspiracy immediately. Even Tirian’s scepticism is far less than it should be, given that he has Talking Leopards in his army and surely knows that lions are leopard-like creatures.
From where Tirian was he could not make out very clearly what the thing was; but he could see that it was yellow and hairy. He had never seen the Great Lion. He had never seen a common lion. He couldn’t be sure that what he saw was not the real Aslan. He had not expected Aslan to look like that stiff thing which stood and said nothing. But how could one be sure?
The Calormenes also disguise themselves.
The Calormenes who had been with the Ape almost from the beginning had had no spears; that was because they had come into Narnia by ones and twos, pretending to be peaceful merchants, and of course they had carried no spears for a spear is not a thing you can hide. The new ones must have come in later, after the Ape was already strong and they could march openly.
As do the protagonists.
“Look you!” said Tirian as he drew out a long mail shirt of a curious pattern and flashed it before the children’s eyes.
“That’s funny-looking mail, Sire,” said Eustace.
“Aye, lad,” said Tirian. “No Narnian Dwarf smithied that. ’Tis mail of Calormen, outlandish gear. I have ever kept a few suits of it in readiness, for I never knew when I or my friends might have reason to walk unseen in The Tisroc’s land. And look on this stone bottle. In this there is a juice which, when we have rubbed it on our hands and faces, will make us brown as Calormenes.”
“Oh hurrah!” said Jill. “Disguise! I love disguises.”
Tirian showed them how to pour out a little of the juice into the palms of their hands and then rub it well over their faces and necks, right down to the shoulders, and then on their hands, right up to the elbows. He did the same himself.
“After this has hardened on us,” he said, “we may wash in water and it will not change. Nothing but oil and ashes will make us white Narnians again. And now, sweet Jill, let us go see how this mail shirt becomes you. ’Tis something too long, yet not so much as I feared. Doubtless it belonged to a page in the train of one of their Tarkaans.”
After the mail shirts they put on Calormene helmets, which are little round ones fitting tight to the head and having a spike on top. Then Tirian took long rolls of some white stuff out of the locker and wound them over the helmets till they became turbans; but the little steel spike still stuck up in the middle. He and Eustace took curved Calormene swords and little round shields.
This plan doesn’t come to much. But then, in The Last Battle nobody’s plans come to much.

Stoop’d and Stumbling

In The Silver Chair Puddleglum’s Saturnine pessimism was mostly unwarranted. Here it is optimism that is unwarranted.
“Oh, I do hope we can soon settle the Ape and get back to those good, ordinary times. And then I hope they’ll go on for ever and ever and ever. Our world is going to have an end some day. Perhaps this one won’t. Oh Jewel – wouldn’t it be lovely if Narnia just went on and on – like what you said it has been?”
“Nay, sister,” answered Jewel, “all worlds draw to an end, except Aslan’s own country.”
“Well, at least,” said Jill, “I hope the end of this one is millions of millions of millions of years away—”

Poggin was really quite cheerful about the night’s work they had to do. He was sure that the Boar and the Bear, and probably all the Dogs would come over to their side at once. And he couldn’t believe that all the other Dwarfs would stick to Griffle. And fighting by firelight and in and out among trees would be an advantage to the weaker side. And then, if they could win tonight, need they really throw their lives away by meeting the main Calormene army a few days later?
Why not hide in the woods, or even up in the Western Waste beyond the great waterfall and live like outlaws? And then they might gradually get stronger and stronger, for Talking Beasts and Archenlanders would be joining them every day. And at last they’d come out of hiding and sweep the Calormenes (who would have got careless by then) out of the country and Narnia would be revived. After all, something very like that had happened in the time of King Miraz!
And Tirian heard all this and thought “But what about Tash?” and felt in his bones that none of it was going to happen. But he didn’t say so.
Much of the grimness of The Last Battle is simply due to the fact that the good characters’ plans keep failing. Tirian and Jewel first set forth to help the Dryads, and then to free the Horses. This is all that comes of either goal:
Tirian looked up and saw that Calormenes (mixed with a few Talking Beasts) were beginning to run towards them from every direction. The two dead men had died without a cry and so it had taken a moment before the rest of the crowd knew what had happened. But now they did. Most of them had naked scimitars in their hands.
“Quick. On my back,” said Jewel.
The King flung himself astride of his old friend who turned and galloped away. He changed direction twice or thrice as soon as they were out of sight of their enemies, crossed a stream, and shouted without slackening his pace, “Whither away, Sire? To Cair Paravel?”
“Hold hard, friend,” said Tirian. “Let me off.” He slid off the Unicorn’s back and faced him.
“Jewel,” said the King. “We have done a dreadful deed.”
“We were sorely provoked,” said Jewel.
“But to leap on them unawares – without defying them while they were unarmed – faugh! We are two murderers, Jewel. I am dishonoured forever.”
Jewel drooped his head. He too was ashamed.
Even when Tirian manages to contact beings from another dimension, and both sides urgently want him to communicate, he is mute.
Then Tirian realized that these people could see him; they were staring at him as if they saw a ghost. But he noticed that the king-like one who sat at the old man’s right never moved (though he turned pale) except that he clenched his hand very tight. Then he said:
“Speak, if you’re not a phantom or a dream. You have a Narnian look about you and we are the seven friends of Narnia.”
Tirian was longing to speak, and he tried to cry out aloud that he was Tirian of Narnia, in great need of help. But he found (as I have sometimes found in dreams too) that his voice made no noise at all.
The one who had already spoken to him rose to his feet. “Shadow or spirit or whatever you are,” he said, fixing his eyes full upon Tirian. “If you are from Narnia, I charge you in the name of Aslan, speak to me. I am Peter the High King.”
The room began to swim before Tirian’s eyes. He heard the voices of those seven people all speaking at once, and all getting fainter every second, and they were saying things like, “Look! It’s fading.” “It’s melting away.” “It’s vanishing.” Next moment he was wide awake, still tied to the tree, colder and stiffer than ever.
The Friends of Narnia make their own plans, but they too might as well not have bothered.
The next question was how to get here... at last the Professor said the only way would be by the Magic Rings. It was by those Rings that he and Aunt Polly got here long, long ago... But the Rings had all been buried in the garden of a house in London (that’s our big town, Sire) and the house had been sold. So then the problem was how to get at them... Peter and Edmund... went up to London to get into the garden from the back, early in the morning before people were up. They were dressed like workmen so that if anyone did see them it would look as if they’d come to do something about the drains... next day Peter sent us a wire... to say he’d got the Rings... So we got into the train... And we were just getting to the station where the others were to meet us... and there we were in Narnia and there was your Majesty tied up to the tree.”
“So you never used the Rings?” said Tirian.
“No,” said Eustace. “Never even saw them. Aslan did it all for us in his own way without any Rings.”
“But the High King Peter has them,” said Tirian.
“Yes,” said Jill. “But we don’t think he can use them. When the two other Pevensies – King Edmund and Queen Lucy – were last here, Aslan said they would never come to Narnia again. And he said something of the same sort to the High King, only longer ago. You may be sure he’ll come like a shot if he’s allowed.”
Three times Tirian sets out to undo the villains’ scheme by speaking the truth, and three times he is thwarted.
“Ape,” he cried with a great voice, “you lie damnably. You lie like a Calormene. You lie like an Ape.”
...If he had been allowed to speak, the rule of the Ape might have ended that day; the Beasts might have seen the truth and thrown the Ape down. But before he could say another word two Calormenes struck him in the mouth with all their force, and a third, from behind, kicked his feet from under him. And as he fell, the Ape squealed in rage and terror.
“Take him away. Take him away. Take him where he cannot hear us, nor we hear him. There tie him to a tree. I will – I mean, Aslan will – do justice on him later.”

“Well struck, Eustace!” cried Tirian, clapping him on the back. “Now, Dwarfs, you are free. Tomorrow I will lead you to free all Narnia. Three cheers for Aslan!”
But the result which followed was simply wretched. There was a feeble attempt from a few Dwarfs (about five) which died away all at once: from several others there were sulky growls. Many said nothing at all.
“Don’t they understand?” said Jill impatiently. “What’s wrong with all you Dwarfs? Don’t you hear what the King says? It’s all over. The Ape isn’t going to rule Narnia any longer. Everyone can go back to ordinary life. You can have fun again. Aren’t you glad?”
After a pause of nearly a minute a not-very-nice-looking Dwarf with hair and beard as black as soot said: “And who might you be, Missie?”
“I’m Jill,” she said. “The same Jill who rescued King Rilian from the enchantment and this is Eustace who did it too – and we’ve come back from another world after hundreds of years. Aslan sent us.”
The Dwarfs all looked at one another with grins; sneering grins, not merry ones.

“Now listen, all of you. A terrible thing has happened. A wicked thing. The wickedest thing that ever was done in Narnia...” said the Ape. “At this very moment, when the Terrible One himself is among us – there in the stable just behind me – one wicked Beast has chosen to do what you’d think no one would dare to do even if He were a thousand miles away. It has dressed itself up in a lion-skin and is wandering about in these very woods pretending to be Aslan.”
Jill wondered for a moment if the Ape had gone mad. Was he going to tell the whole truth? A roar of horror and rage went up from the Beasts. “Grrr!” came the growls. “Who is he? Where is he? Just let me get my teeth into him!”
“It was seen last night,” screamed the Ape, “but it got away. It’s a Donkey! A common, miserable Ass! If any of you see that Ass —”
“Grrr!” growled the Beasts. “We will, we will. He’d better keep out of our way.”
Jill looked at the King: his mouth was open and his face was full of horror. And then she understood the devilish cunning of the enemies’ plan. By mixing a little truth with it they had made their lie far stronger. What was the good, now, of telling the Beasts that an ass had been dressed up as a lion to deceive them? The Ape would only say, “That’s just what I’ve said.” What was the good of showing them Puzzle in his lion-skin? They would only tear him in pieces. “That’s taken the wind out of our sails,” whispered Eustace. “The ground is taken from under our feet,” said Tirian. “Cursed, cursed cleverness!” said Poggin. “I’ll be sworn that this new lie is of Ginger’s making.”
The battle goes all right at first, but notice the language used. Whenever I read this passage, I have to look twice before it becomes clear that it’s the Calormene attack, not Tirian’s, that has failed.
Eustace could never remember what happened in the next two minutes. It was all like a dream (the sort you have when your temperature is over 100) until he heard Rishda Tarkaan’s voice calling out from the distance:
“Retire. Back hither and re-form.”
Then Eustace came to his senses and saw the Calormenes scampering back to their friends. But not all of them. Two lay dead, pierced by Jewel’s horn, one by Tirian’s sword. The Fox lay dead at his own feet, and he wondered if it was he who had killed it. The Bull also was down, shot through the eye by an arrow from Jill and gashed in his side by the Boar’s tusk. But our side had its losses too...
In fact, the first attack had failed. Eustace didn’t seem able to be glad about it: he was so terribly thirsty and his arm ached so.
Then comes a turning-point: the arrival of the Horses. This I think is the most intentionally horrifying scene in the Narniad. (The most horrifying for me remains the protagonists beating up children at the end of The Silver Chair.)
“Listen!” said Jewel: and then “Look!” said Farsight. A moment later there was no doubt what it was. With a thunder of hoofs, with tossing heads, widened nostrils, and waving manes, over a score of Talking Horses of Narnia came charging up the hill. The gnawers and nibblers had done their work.
Poggin the Dwarf and the children opened their mouths to cheer but that cheer never came. Suddenly the air was full of the sound of twanging bow-strings and hissing arrows. It was the Dwarfs who were shooting and – for a moment Jill could hardly believe her eyes – they were shooting the Horses. Dwarfs are deadly archers. Horse after Horse rolled over. Not one of those noble Beasts ever reached the King.
From then on, things get steadily worse for Tirian and his dwindling band.
It was going to work! It was victory at last—
With a horrible, cold shock Jill noticed a strange thing. Though Calormenes were falling at each Narnian sword-stroke, they never seemed to get any fewer. In fact, there were actually more of them now than when the fight began. There were more every second. They were running up from every side. They were new Calormenes. These new ones had spears. There was such a crowd of them that she could hardly see her own friends.

Rishda Tarkaan was still talking to his men, doubtless making arrangements for the next attack and probably wishing he had sent his whole force into the first. The drum boomed on. Then, to their horror, Tirian and his friends heard, far fainter as if from a long way off, an answering drum. Another body of Calormenes had heard Rishda’s signal and were coming to support him. You would not have known from Tirian’s face that he had now given up all hope.
“Listen,” he whispered in a matter-of-fact voice, “we must attack now, before yonder miscreants are strengthened by their friends.”

A terrible sight met their eyes.
A Calormene was running towards the stable door carrying something that kicked and struggled. As he came between them and the fire they could see clearly both the shape of the man and the shape of what he carried. It was Eustace.
Tirian and the Unicorn rushed out to rescue him. But the Calormene was now far nearer to the door than they. Before they had covered half the distance he had flung Eustace in and shut the door on him. Half a dozen more Calormenes had run up behind him. They formed a line on the open space before the stable. There was no getting at it now.

Tirian knew he could do nothing for the others now; they were all doomed together. He vaguely saw the Boar go down on one side of him, and Jewel fighting furiously on the other. Out of the corner of one eye he saw, but only just saw, a big Calormene pulling Jill away somewhere by her hair. But he hardly thought about any of these things. His only thought now was to sell his life as dearly as he could. The worst of it was that he couldn’t keep to the position in which he had started, under the white rock. A man who is fighting a dozen enemies at once must take his chances wherever he can; must dart in wherever he sees an enemy’s breast or neck unguarded. In a very few strokes this may get you quite a distance from the spot where you began. Tirian soon found that he was getting further and further to the right, nearer to the stable. He had a vague idea in his mind that there was some good reason for keeping away from it. But he couldn’t now remember what the reason was. And anyway, he couldn’t help it.
But this isn’t to say that Shift and the Calormenes succeed. Their plans fall apart too. The protagonists’ rescue of Puzzle doesn’t rally the Narnians to Aslan’s cause, but it does deprive the villains of their chief propaganda tool and turns the Dwarfs against them.
The Ape was speaking again.
“And after a horrid thing like that, Aslan – Tashlan – is angrier than ever. He says he’s been a great deal too good to you, coming out every night to be looked at, see! Well, he’s not coming out any more.”
Howls and mewings and squeals and grunts were the Animals’ answer to this, but suddenly a quite different voice broke in with a loud laugh.
“Hark what the monkey says,” it shouted. “We know why he isn’t going to bring his precious Aslan out. I’ll tell you why: because he hasn’t got him. He never had anything except an old donkey with a lion-skin on its back. Now he’s lost that and he doesn’t know what to do.”
Tirian could not see the faces on the other side of the fire very well but he guessed this was Griffle the Chief Dwarf. And he was quite certain of it when, a second later, all the Dwarfs’ voices joined in, singing: “Don’t know what to do! Don’t know what to do! Don’t know what to do-o-o!”

“’Ware arrows,” said Poggin suddenly.
Everyone ducked and pulled his helmet well over his nose. The Dogs crouched behind. But though a few arrows came their way it soon became clear that they were not being shot at. Griffle and his Dwarfs were at their archery again. This time they were coolly shooting at the Calormenes.
“Keep it up, boys!” came Griffle’s voice. “All together. Carefully. We don’t want Darkies any more than we want Monkeys – or Lions – or Kings. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.”
Whatever else you may say about Dwarfs, no one can say they aren’t brave. They could easily have got away to some safe place. They preferred to stay and kill as many of both sides as they could, except when both sides were kind enough to save them trouble by killing one another. They wanted Narnia for their own.
The Dwarfs’ behaviour at this point strains my suspension of disbelief a little. This isn’t how three-sided quarrels usually go, and there’s a reason why not. Consider the West’s alliance with the Soviets against the Nazis. If all three parties are of equal strength, each has a 33% chance of success if they’re hostile to both of the others, but a 67% chance of success if they buddy up with one. And if they aren’t of equal strength, then that just makes compromise even more tempting.
However, the Dwarfs are a minor thorn in the villains’ side. Tash, to their much greater inconvenience, turns out to exist. He throws their schemes right out of whack, silencing first Ginger—
The Ape was knocked head over heels by Ginger coming back out of the stable at top speed. If you had not known he was a cat, you might have thought he was a ginger-coloured streak of lightning. He shot across the open grass, back into the crowd. No one wants to meet a cat in that state. You could see animals getting out of his way to left and right. He dashed up a tree, whisked around, and hung head downwards. His tail was bristled out till it was nearly as thick as his whole body: his eyes were like saucers of green fire: along his back every single hair stood on end.
“I’d give my beard,” whispered Poggin, “to know whether that brute is only acting or whether it has really found something in there that frightened it!”
“Peace, friend,” said Tirian, for the Captain and the Ape were also whispering and he wanted to hear what they said. He did not succeed, except that he heard the Ape once more whimpering “My head, my head,” but he got the idea that those two were almost as puzzled by the cat’s behaviour as himself.
—and then Shift.
Then Tirian rushed upon the wretched creature, picked it up by the scruff of the neck, and dashed back to the stable shouting, “Open the door!” Poggin opened it. “Go and drink your own medicine, Shift!” said Tirian and hurled the Ape through into the darkness. But as the Dwarf banged the door shut again, a blinding greenish-blue light shone out from the inside of the stable, the earth shook, and there was a strange noise – a clucking and screaming as if it was the hoarse voice of some monstrous bird. The Beasts moaned and howled and called out “Tashlan! Hide us from him!” and many fell down, and many hid their faces in their wings or paws. No one except Farsight the Eagle, who has the best eyes of all living things, noticed the face of Rishda Tarkaan at that moment. And from what Farsight saw there he knew at once that Rishda was just as surprised, and nearly frightened, as everyone else. “There goes one,” thought Farsight, “who has called on gods he does not believe in. How will it be with him if they have really come?”
Just as they are about to win, Tirian drags their captain to his death.
A new idea came into Tirian’s head. He dropped his sword, darted forward, in under the sweep of the Tarkaan’s scimitar, seized his enemy by the belt with both hands, and jumped back into the stable, shouting:
“Come in and meet Tash yourself!”
There was a deafening noise. As when the Ape had been flung in, the earth shook and there was a blinding light.
The Calormene soldiers outside screamed. “Tash, Tash!” and banged the door. If Tash wanted their own Captain, Tash must have him. They, at any rate, did not want to meet Tash.
Even Tash does not come out the victor, but is banished by a celestial voice. Heaven effects in a breath what all earthly struggle has failed to accomplish.
But immediately, from behind Tash, strong and calm as the summer sea, a voice said:
“Begone, Monster, and take your lawful prey to your own place: in the name of Aslan and Aslan’s great Father the Emperor-over-the-Sea.”
The hideous creature vanished, with the Tarkaan still under its arm.
You might think, if you weren’t keeping the planetary schema in mind, that the grittiness of The Last Battle was intended as a corrective to all the cotton-wool packed around the good-coded characters in the other books. I think it’s quite intentional that this all happens only in the shadow of Saturn. Lewis was not a fan of the grim and the gritty, especially in works about war. He believed an undue focus on negative realities was a bad spiritual symptom.
The general rule which we [devils] have now pretty well established among them [humans] is that in all experiences which can make them happier or better only the physical facts are “Real” while the spiritual elements are “subjective”; in all experiences which can discourage or corrupt them the spiritual elements are the main reality and to ignore them is to be an escapist... Wars and poverty are “really” horrible; peace and plenty are mere physical facts about which men happen to have certain sentiments... Your patient, properly handled, will have no difficulty in regarding his emotion at the sight of human entrails [in war] as a revelation of Reality and his emotion at the sight of happy children or fair weather as mere sentiment.
The Screwtape Letters pp. 154–155
Notice Screwtape’s use of the word “escapist”. Lewis rejected the whole mindset that gave rise to that epithet. He liked to quote Tolkien’s remark that the people most concerned with preventing “escape” are jailers. A simple thought experiment makes me wonder whether Screwtape’s ruse here is really so deceptive. Put the human entrails and the fair weather in the same picture. Which emotion wins?
I think Lewis has misdiagnosed the problem. There’s several reasons why we moderns like our fiction dark and gritty, and war stories doubly so. Not least, we’ve got all the media we can eat these days, and the sated palate craves bitter. Also, we’ve seen enough glimpses of the reality of war on our TV screens not to be fooled by the romantic propaganda of Lewis’s youth. He feared that if civilization lost its stomach for fighting, barbarism would overwhelm it; and given the period he lived in, he has some excuse. But the incidence and the severity of war has been falling ever since his time (the Iraq War killed less than a tenth as many people as the Vietnam War), largely because we’re increasingly horrified by it. Saturn’s bitter wisdom has turned out to be for blessing.

Daunted with Darkness

In The Last Battle Narnia begins to modernize, and in the process speaks volumes about what Lewis thought of modernity. Lewis’s tastes in art, literature, and architecture were even more conservative than his politics, and there, at least, I can sympathize. He found modern clothing singularly unattractive. In Tirian’s vision,
He seemed to be standing in a lighted room where seven people sat round a table... They were all dressed in what seemed to Tirian the oddest kind of clothes.
When Eustace and Jill appear in Narnia, the first thing he notices about them is
He saw at a glance that they were wearing the same queer, dingy sort of clothes as the people in his dream; and he saw, at a second glance, that they were the youngest boy and girl out of that party of seven.
I can certainly see the wisdom in Lewis’s critique of the naïve concept of progress. We have here an inkling of why he felt the twentieth century was especially under the thumb of Old Father Time:
The Enemy [God] loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions: is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we [devils] can keep men asking “Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?” they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them make... For the descriptive adjective “unchanged” we have substituted the emotional word “stagnant”. We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain – not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.
The Screwtape Letters pp. 129–130
There is such a thing as progress, but it comes about precisely when someone stops worrying about whether their new idea is trendy or timely, and instead concentrates on whether it works and is of use. Good ideas tend to accumulate because most people, most of the time, have the sense not to throw them away – in ethics as in technology. Sometimes conserving the old is the best idea, especially when we’re talking about ecology. As I’ve had occasion to mention before, in Lewis’s time the environment was a conservative cause, and one Lewis embraced enthusiastically. In this story the modernizing Calormenes destroy forests for commercial gain.
Right through the middle of that ancient forest... a broad lane had already been opened. It was a hideous lane like a raw gash in the land, full of muddy ruts where felled trees had been dragged down to the river.
Shift admires Calormene technological conveniences. See if you can spot a common theme in his listing of them. I’ll admit it, I feel Lewis here.
“...We’ll be able [said Shift], with the money you earn, to make Narnia a country worth living in. There’ll be oranges and bananas pouring in – and roads and big cities and schools and offices and whips and muzzles and saddles and cages and kennels and prisons – Oh, everything.”
However, the main aspects of modernity Lewis attacks in The Last Battle are religious ideas. As I’ve already argued, I think part of his reason for choosing to make the villain a Talking Ape is that apes are to humanity as Titans like Saturn are to the gods. But a still more important part is that apes irresistibly remind us nowadays of evolution, which in turn brings up thoughts both of progress and of atheism. Shift is presumably an atheist, as Ginger and Rishda Tarkaan certainly are.
“Excuse me,” said the Cat very politely, “but this interests me. Does your friend from Calormen say the same?”
“Assuredly,” said the Calormene. “The enlightened Ape – Man, I mean – is in the right. Aslan means neither less nor more than Tash.”
“Especially, Aslan means no more than Tash?” suggested the Cat.
“No more at all,” said the Calormene, looking the Cat straight in the face.
“Is that good enough for you, Ginger?” said the Ape.
“Oh certainly,” said Ginger coolly. “Thank you very much. I only wanted to be quite clear. I think I am beginning to understand.”

“I heard a cat’s voice say Mew [said Poggin] and a Calormene voice say ‘here ... speak softly,’ so I just stood as still as if I was frozen. And these two were Ginger and Rishda Tarkaan as they call him. ‘Noble Tarkaan,’ said the Cat in that silky voice of his, ‘I just wanted to know exactly what we both meant today about Aslan meaning no more than Tash.’ ‘Doubtless, most sagacious of cats,’ says the other, ‘you have perceived my meaning.’ ‘You mean,’ says Ginger, ‘that there’s no such person as either.’ ‘All who are enlightened know that,’ said the Tarkaan. ‘Then we can understand one another,’ purrs the Cat...”
Once again Lewis’s “argument” consists solely of placing the proposition he disagrees with in the mouth of a villain. You know what? I’m not going to argue the point here. If I were to start laying out my reasons for disbelieving in God we’d never get back to the book. Where Lewis goes with it, however, reveals either a major shift in the theological landscape between his time and ours, or (this is my bet) a highly idiosyncratic association, on his part, of three religious positions which in reality could scarcely be more at variance – save that he was suspicious of them all. Atheism is one. The second might startle his many Evangelical fans: fire-and-brimstone fundamentalism and its brutal, angry God.
“But why can’t we see Aslan properly and talk to him?” it [the Boar] said. “When he used to appear in Narnia in the old days everyone could talk to him face to face.”
“Don’t you believe it,” said the Ape. “And even if it was true, times have changed. Aslan says he’s been far too soft with you before, do you see? Well, he isn’t going to be soft any more. He’s going to lick you into shape this time. He’ll teach you to think he’s a tame lion!”

“He seems to have come back very angry this time,” said the first Mouse. “We must all have done something dreadfully wrong without knowing it. He must be punishing us for something. But I do think we might be told what it was!”
This isn’t a one-off, either. One of That Hideous Strength’s minor villains is a Reverend Straik, introduced as “the Mad Parson”, who rants like an End-Times preacher while knowingly serving demonic beings. You’ll search Lewis’s non-fiction works in vain to figure out what real-life groups or individuals had inspired this concern. There’s nothing even in his letters, that I can find. He did repeatedly write about the spiritual and political dangers of theocracy, though, and in The Last Battle he illustrates his fears.
“Now attend to me [said Shift]. I want – I mean, Aslan wants – some more nuts. These you’ve brought aren’t anything like enough. You must bring some more, do you hear? Twice as many. And they’ve got to be here by sunset tomorrow, and there mustn’t be any bad ones or any small ones among them.”
A murmur of dismay ran through the other squirrels, and the Head Squirrel plucked up courage to say:
“Please, would Aslan himself speak to us about it? If we might be allowed to see him—”
“Well you won’t,” said the Ape. “...he will not have you all crowding round him and pestering him with questions. Anything you want to say to him will be passed on through me: if I think it’s worth bothering him about. In the meantime all you squirrels had better go and see about the nuts. And make sure they are here by tomorrow evening or, my word! you’ll catch it.”
The poor squirrels all scampered away as if a dog were after them. This new order was terrible news for them. The nuts they had carefully hoarded for the winter had nearly all been eaten by now; and of the few that were left they had already given the Ape far more than they could spare.
But his strongest attacks are reserved for the idea that all religions worship the same God. And he combines it with some very problematic views about cultural diversity. Lewis was not racist exactly, at least not for his time. He believed all cultures had both divine and diabolical elements. His suspicion of immigration knew no colour bar; in That Hideous Strength the small (fictional) English town of Edgestow is torn apart by white, English-speaking immigrants from Ireland and Wales. But here his picture of the Calormenes is even more troubling than the one he drew in The Horse and His Boy.
The first thing that struck the King and the Unicorn was that about half the people in the crowd were not Talking Beasts but Men. The next thing was that these men were not the fair-haired men of Narnia: they were dark, bearded men from Calormen, that great and cruel country that lies beyond Archenland across the desert to the south.

Then the dark men came round them in a thick crowd, smelling of garlic and onions, their white eyes flashing dreadfully in their brown faces.
Now, despite all the other bad things the Calormenes have done – despite the enslavement of the Horses and the murder of the Dryads, despite the occupation of Cair Paravel and the tyranny of the Ape – apparently the worst thing about them is that they worship a different god.
“Please, please,” said the high voice of a woolly lamb, who was so young that everyone was surprised he dared to speak at all.
“What is it now?” said the Ape. “Be quick.”
“Please,” said the Lamb, “I can’t understand. What have we to do with the Calormenes? We belong to Aslan. They belong to Tash. They have a god called Tash. They say he has four arms and the head of a vulture. They kill Men on his altar. I don’t believe there’s any such person as Tash. But if there was, how could Aslan be friends with him?”
All the animals cocked their heads sideways and all their bright eyes flashed towards the Ape. They knew it was the best question anyone had asked yet.
The best question anyone had asked yet. Shift’s response ushers in the syncretic “Tashlan” religion.
The Ape jumped up and spat at the Lamb.
“Baby!” he hissed. “Silly little bleater! Go home to your mother and drink milk. What do you understand of such things? But the others, listen. Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That’s why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.”
Even after all that’s happened, it is religious pluralism that really makes the Beasts unhappy.
You know how sad your own dog’s face can look sometimes. Think of that and then think of all the faces of those Talking Beasts – all those honest, humble, bewildered Birds, Bears, Badgers, Rabbits, Moles, and Mice – all far sadder than that. Every tail was down, every whisker drooped. It would have broken your heart with very pity to see their faces.
And it is religious pluralism that provokes the outburst from Tirian that we saw above.
Up till now the King and Jewel had said nothing: they were waiting until the Ape should bid them speak, for they thought it was no use interrupting. But now, as Tirian looked round on the miserable faces of the Narnians, and saw how they would all believe that Aslan and Tash were one and the same, he could bear it no longer.
When he sees Puzzle dressed as Aslan from a distance, tied to the tree, it is the unacceptability of religious pluralism that convinces him he is being deceived.
For a moment horrible thoughts went through his mind: then he remembered the nonsense about Tash and Aslan being the same and knew that the whole thing must be a cheat.
Tash shows up in person the following day, apparently summoned by the Calormenes’ prayers.
In the shadow of the trees on the far side of the clearing something was moving. It was gliding very slowly Northward. At a first glance you might have mistaken it for smoke, for it was grey and you could see things through it. But... this thing kept its shape instead of billowing and curling as smoke would have done. It was roughly the shape of a man but it had the head of a bird; some bird of prey with a cruel, curved beak. It had four arms which it held high above its head, stretching them out Northward as if it wanted to snatch all Narnia in its grip; and its fingers – all twenty of them – were curved like its beak and had long, pointed, bird-like claws instead of nails. It floated on the grass instead of walking, and the grass seemed to wither beneath it.
After one look at it Puzzle gave a screaming bray and darted into the Tower. And Jill (who was no coward, as you know) hid her face in her hands to shut out the sight of it...
“What was it?” said Eustace in a whisper.
“I have seen it once before,” said Tirian. “But that time it was carved in stone and overlaid with gold and had solid diamonds for eyes. It was when I was no older than thou, and had gone as a guest to The Tisroc’s court in Tashbaan.
He took me into the great temple of Tash. There I saw it, carved above the altar.”
“Then that – that thing – was Tash?” said Eustace.

Rishda gave a great wail and pointed; then he put his hands before his face and fell flat, face downwards, on the ground. Tirian looked in the direction where the Tarkaan had pointed. And then he understood.
A terrible figure was coming towards them. It was far smaller than the shape they had seen from the Tower, though still much bigger than a man, and it was the same. It had a vulture’s head and four arms. Its beak was open and its eyes blazed. A croaking voice came from its beak.
“Thou hast called me into Narnia, Rishda Tarkaan. Here I am. What hast thou to say?”...
With a sudden jerk – like a hen stooping to pick up a worm – Tash pounced on the miserable Rishda and tucked him under the upper of his two right arms. Then Tash turned his head sidewise to fix Tirian with one of his terrible eyes: for of course, having a bird’s head, he couldn’t look at you straight.
All this, except for Tash’s name, is quite new. In The Horse and His Boy Aslan was quite happy to delegate authority to Tash, sending Rabadash to his temple for healing. There was no mention of human sacrifice. The only other Calormene deity that that book told us anything about, Zardeenah Lady of the Night, was clearly a manifestation of Luna. In the same vein, Tash might have been Mars, since he was a war god, or Jove, since “The bolt of Tash falls from above!” (The Horse and His Boy also once mentioned a god called “Azaroth”, but gave us no further information.) Aslan said nothing to Rabadash or Aravis, or Shasta for that matter, about giving up the Calormene gods.
And that was in keeping with the general treatment of gods throughout the Narniad. Bacchus and Silenus and the river-god in Prince Caspian were benevolent figures. Father Time in this book and The Silver Chair, who we know was “the god Saturn” in manuscript, is a servant of Aslan. I would also include the sentient stars of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and arguably Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, on the list of Narnian gods. All of them good-coded beings. Lewis was extremely sympathetic to paganism, so much so that he was tempted, on his visit to Greece late in life, to pray to Apollo at Delphi. Why, then, is Tash a demon? I sadly fear the answer is: because Tash is a non-European god.
Even without the racism this is shocking to modern people, raised to consider religious discrimination itself a fundamental injustice. To me as a child in an Evangelical-Pentecostal church subculture, The Last Battle was shocking for just the opposite reason. Aslan accepts one Calormene’s lifelong service to Tash as service to himself. We were taught in Sunday School that it didn’t matter how sincere or “good” you were – unless you accepted Jesus into your heart as your Lord and Saviour, you were lost. But Aslan rejects any suggestion of syncretism.
“Then I fell at [Aslan’s] feet [said Emeth] and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him... But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, 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... For all find what they truly seek...”
I have to point out that, if any god were actually real, this is how it would have to be. Some statements about that god would have to be true, and others would have to be false. There is no escaping logic. One religion, at most, could be completely right. We in my childhood church used to tut-tut over Liberal Theologians who said God was a concept, or a philosophical principle, or existed as a result of believers’ belief. All these were ways of saying that God wasn’t really God. As the philosopher A. C. Grayling explains,
...the world’s major religions – especially Christianity, Islam, and Judaism – are not merely incompatible with one another, but mutually antithetical. All religions are such that if they are pushed to their logical conclusions, or if their founding literatures and early traditions are accepted literally, they will take the form of their respective fundamentalisms...
It is a woolly and optimistic liberal hope that all religions can be viewed as worshipping the same god, only in different ways; but this is a nonsense, as shown by the most cursory comparison of teachings, interpretations, moral requirements, creation myths and eschatologies, in all of which the major religions differ and frequently contradict each other. History shows how clearly the religions themselves grasped this; the motivation for Christianity’s hundreds of years of crusades against Islam, pogroms against Jews, and inquisitions against heretics, was the desire to expunge heterodoxy and “infidelity” or at least to effect forcible compliance with prevailing orthodoxy. Islam’s various jihads had the same aim, and it spread halfway around the world by conquest and the sword.
Ginger and Rishda have grasped the sorry truth. The only way it could be that “all religions are equally true” is if all religions are false. If all religions worship the same god, then they are all (or all but one) wrong about what that god is like. This is of course no rational basis for discrimination. Most scientific hypotheses, presumably including many currently accepted, are wrong as well. We should not punish people for believing things that are wrong, because in practice that would simply mean punishing them for disagreeing with us; and not doing that is the whole point of secularism. Which is why it is so false-to-life for Lewis to make the secularists also theocrats.

Scant Grows the Light

Well, not all of the secularists in The Last Battle are theocrats. A large faction of them disbelieve in Aslan because of the deceptions of the theocrats. I refer, of course, to the Dwarfs.
“Well,” said the Black Dwarf (whose name was Griffle), “I don’t know how all you chaps feel, but I feel I’ve heard as much about Aslan as I want to for the rest of my life.”
“That’s right, that’s right,” growled the other Dwarfs. “It’s all a plant, all a blooming plant.”
“What do you mean?” said Tirian...
“You must think we’re blooming soft in the head, that you must,” said Griffle. “We’ve been taken in once and now you expect us to be taken in again the next minute. We’ve no more use for stories about Aslan, see! Look at him! An old moke with long ears!”
“By heaven, you make me mad,” said Tirian. “Which of us said that was Aslan? That is the Ape’s imitation of the real Aslan. Can’t you understand?”
“And you’ve got a better imitation, I suppose!” said Griffle. “No thanks. We’ve been fooled once and we’re not going to be fooled again.”
When Rishda comes to realize that there really is a Tash, he throws the Dwarfs into the Stable alive as sacrifices. So what follows happens, strictly speaking, in Aslan’s Country rather than in Narnia, after the protagonists have escaped Saturn’s dominion. But the Dwarfs have not escaped Saturn’s dominion.
They were sitting very close together in a little circle facing one another. They never looked round or took any notice of the humans till Lucy and Tirian were almost near enough to touch them. Then the Dwarfs all cocked their heads as if they couldn’t see anyone but were listening hard and trying to guess by the sound what was happening.
“Look out!” said one of them in a surly voice. “Mind where you’re going. Don’t walk into our faces!”
“All right!” said Eustace indignantly. “We’re not blind. We’ve got eyes in our heads.”
“They must be darn good ones if you can see in here,” said the same Dwarf whose name was Diggle.
“In where?” asked Edmund.
“Why you bone-head, in here of course,” said Diggle. “In this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.”
“Are you blind?” said Tirian.
“Ain’t we all blind in the dark!” said Diggle.
“But it isn’t dark, you poor stupid Dwarfs,” said Lucy. “Can’t you see? Look up! Look round! Can’t you see the sky and the trees and the flowers? Can’t you see me?”
“How in the name of all Humbug can I see what ain’t there? And how can I see you any more than you can see me in this pitch darkness?... Your wonderful Lion didn’t come and help you, did he? Thought not. And now – even now – when you’ve been beaten and shoved into this black hole, just the same as the rest of us, you’re still at your old game. Starting a new lie! Trying to make us believe we’re none of us shut up, and it ain’t dark, and heaven knows what.”
Even Aslan cannot break them out of their Saturnine bondage, because it is self-imposed.
He came close to the Dwarfs and gave a low growl: low, but it set all the air shaking. But the Dwarfs said to one another, “Hear that? That’s the gang at the other end of the stable. Trying to frighten us. They do it with a machine of some kind. Don’t take any notice. They won’t take us in again!”
Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said “Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.” But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarrelling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said:
“Well, at any rate there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.”
“You see, “ said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out...”
Now, this isn’t the first time this has happened in Narnia. In the previous Narnia article I promised I would get back to Uncle Andrew’s experiences with the Talking Beasts. Here he is.
When the great moment came and the Beasts spoke, [Uncle Andrew] missed the whole point; for a rather interesting reason. When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, he had realized that the noise was a song. And he had disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel. Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion (“only a lion,” as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing – only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world. “Of course it can’t really have been singing,” he thought, “I must have imagined it. I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order. Whoever heard of a lion singing?” And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to. And when at last the Lion spoke and said, “Narnia awake,” he didn’t hear any words; he heard only a snarl. And when the Beasts spoke in answer, he heard only barkings, growlings, bayings and howlings. And when they laughed – well, you can imagine. That was worse for Uncle Andrew than anything that had happened yet. Such a horrid, bloodthirsty din of hungry and angry brutes he had never heard in his life.
Do I need to point out how insulting, stupid, and childish this is? Really? The theory Lewis is advancing here is that we unbelievers don’t see the evidence for God and the supernatural, not because it’s hidden, not because it takes some effort to understand, not because we are looking in the wrong places, not because Satan is telling us lies, but because we are closing our minds to it. On purpose. Because we just don’t want to know. And the trouble with accusations like that is that you can’t tell a believer that this isn’t how it is. If you stopped believing in God because you re-examined the evidence and it turned out to be faulty, that implies that there’s something incorrect about believing in God. They will accuse you of all manner of intellectual sins before they consider that possibility. Faith, after all, is supposed to be a virtue.
The Dwarfs’ cynicism stands in contrast to Tirian’s faith. Alone, tied to the tree, he believes that Aslan has abandoned him, but he doesn’t give up.
“Aslan – and children from another world,” thought Tirian. “They have always come in when things were at their worst. Oh, if only they could now.”
And he called out “Aslan! Aslan! Aslan! Come and help us now.”
But the darkness and the cold and the quietness went on just the same.
“Let me be killed,” cried the King. “I ask nothing for myself. But come and save all Narnia.”
And still there was no change in the night or the wood, but there began to be a kind of change inside Tirian. Without knowing why, he began to feel a faint hope. And he felt somehow stronger. “Oh Aslan, Aslan,” he whispered. “If you will not come yourself, at least send me the helpers from beyond the world. Or let me call them. Let my voice carry beyond the world.” Then, hardly knowing that he was doing it, he suddenly cried out in a great voice:
“Children! Children! Friends of Narnia! Quick. Come to me. Across the worlds I call you; I Tirian, King of Narnia, Lord of Cair Paravel, and Emperor of the Lone Islands!”
And immediately he was plunged into a dream (if it was a dream) more vivid than any he had had in his life.
As Screwtape had warned his nephew,
Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
The Screwtape Letters p. 47
Emeth the Calormene displays the virtue of faith also; he goes seeking Tash though it should mean his death.
“My Father,” [Emeth] said to the Captain, “I also desire to go in.”
“Peace, Emeth,” said the Captain, “Who called thee to counsel? Does it become a boy to speak?”
“My Father,” said Emeth. “Truly I am younger than thou, yet I also am of the blood of the Tarkaans even as thou art, and I also am the servant of Tash. Therefore ...”
“Silence,” said Rishda Tarkaan. “Am not I thy Captain? Thou hast nothing to do with this stable. It is for the Narnians.”
“Nay, my Father,” answered Emeth. “Thou hast said that their Aslan and our Tash are all one. And if that is the truth, then Tash himself is in yonder. And how then sayest thou that I have nothing to do with him? For gladly would I die a thousand deaths if I might look once on the face of Tash... I am utterly determined to go in.”
“Fool,” began Rishda Tarkaan, but at once the Dwarfs began shouting: “Come along, Darkie. Why don’t you let him in? Why do you let Narnians in and keep your own people out? What have you got in there that you don’t want your own men to meet?”
Tirian and his friends could only see the back of Rishda Tarkaan, so they never knew what his face looked like as he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Bear witness all that I am guiltless of this young fool’s blood. Get thee in, rash boy, and make haste.”
...Emeth opened the door and went in, into the black mouth of the stable. He closed the door behind him. Only a few moments passed – but it seemed longer before the door opened again. A figure in Calormene armour reeled out, fell on its back, and lay still: the door closed behind it. The Captain leaped towards it and bent down to stare at its face. He gave a start of surprise. Then he recovered himself and turned to the crowd, crying out:
“The rash boy has had his will. He has looked on Tash and is dead. Take warning, all of you.”
“We will, we will,” said the poor Beasts. But Tirian and his friends stared at the dead Calormene and then at one another. For they, being so close, could see what the crowd, being further off and beyond the fire, could not see: this dead man was not Emeth...

“...But when I watched the Tarkaan’s face [said Emeth], and marked every word that he said to the Monkey, then I changed my mind: for I saw that the Tarkaan did not believe in it himself. And then I understood that he did not believe in Tash at all; for if he had, how could he dare to mock him?
“When I understood this, a great rage fell upon me and I wondered that the true Tash did not strike down both the Monkey and the Tarkaan with fire from heaven. Nevertheless I hid my anger and held my tongue and waited to see how it would end. But last night, as some of you know, the Monkey brought not forth the yellow thing but said that all who desired to look upon Tashlan – for so they mixed the two words to pretend that they were all one – must pass one by one into the hovel. And I said to myself, Doubtless this is some other deception. But when the Cat had followed in and had come out again in a madness of terror, then I said to myself, Surely the true Tash, whom they called on without knowledge or belief, has now come among us, and will avenge himself. And though my heart was turned into water inside me because of the greatness and terror of Tash, yet my desire was stronger than my fear, and I put force upon my knees to stay them from trembling, and on my teeth that they should not chatter, and resolved to look upon the face of Tash though he should slay me...”
For the record, I know what Lewis is talking about. I have experienced spiritual ecstasy. I thought, at the time, that I was in direct contact with God. But the feelings I had, though intense, were not information-rich – unlike the words of a Talking Beast, unlike the sights and sounds and smells of being in Aslan’s Country instead of a stable. If Uncle Andrew had cared to ask Polly or Digory or the Cabby, they would not just have reported that the Beasts were talking; they would have agreed word for word on what the Beasts had said. If the Dwarfs had interviewed the Friends of Narnia separately, they would have got seven independent, detailed descriptions of the surroundings which would have matched each other, tree for tree, hill for hill, rock for rock. Try a similar experiment with people who have all known spiritual ecstasy, making sure they’re from a variety of different religious traditions. What results do you think you’ll get?

Pain of Envy

Of course there is one more character, besides Uncle Andrew and the Dwarfs, who discards her faith and implausibly disbelieves the evidence of her own wits. All we get is this short exchange, and after that she’s forgotten forever. But it has so perplexed readers ever since it was written that it has been granted a capital-letter title: the Problem of Susan.
“Sir,” said Tirian, when he had greeted all these. “If I have read the chronicle aright, there should be another. Has not your Majesty two sisters? Where is Queen Susan?”
“My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.”
“Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says, ‘What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.’”
“Oh Susan!” said Jill. “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”
“Grown-up, indeed,” said the Lady Polly. “I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”
“Well, don’t let’s talk about that now,” said Peter. “Look! Here are lovely fruit-trees. Let us taste them.”
My theory when I was a child was that Lewis wanted seven Kings and Queens because seven was the holy number, but he realized to his chagrin that he had brought eight children from Our World to Narnia, so he chose one at random to drop. I thought he should have planned it a bit better from the beginning, and that if I were writing such a series I would make sure there were exactly seven heroes. As a matter of fact I don’t think he planned some things very far ahead. When he created the Professor for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe he specified that “He had no wife,” which makes Polly something of an anomaly. Why should they not fall in love and marry when they were grown up, like Cor and Aravis? The problem becomes even more acute when you remember they visited Narnia under the warm light of Venus.
I could have come up with a tidier solution, if that were the issue. Why not make it that Polly and Digory were married, but Polly had died before the Pevensies came to stay, so that the Professor was a widower? Then Polly could come and meet them at the very end of The Last Battle and, by her mere presence, neatly reveal that the whole thing was happening in Heaven. And you could have Susan among the Seven Friends of Narnia with no need for a mood-jarring explanation of why she wasn’t there.
Commenting on the passage, J. K. Rowling remarked that
There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.
J. K. Rowling, “J.K. Rowling Hogwarts And All”, Time, 17 July 2005
(link goes to a paywall)
Which is a reasonable interpretation given Lewis’s religion, conservative politics, and patriarchal sympathies. But it conflicts with what Lewis actually wrote about sexuality. You may remember this disgusting passage from his short story The Shoddy Lands from last time:
Had she no idea how it would affect ordinary male eyes? A very disagreeable conviction grew in me that this was a subject of no interest to her; that all her clothes and bath salts and two-piece swimsuits, and indeed the voluptuousness of her every look and gesture, had not, and never had had, the meaning which every man would read, and was intended to read, into them. They were a huge overture to an opera in which she had no interest at all; a coronation procession with no queen at the centre of it; gestures, gestures about nothing.
“The Shoddy Lands”, The Dark Tower pp. 109–110
Young women, in Lewis’s book, ought to be sexual, obviously in proper subservience to men and to God. But he did share (or perhaps inaugurate?) the curious supposition, now common among evangelicals, that young people’s experiments with sex and drugs are motivated not by natural desire – which would, after all, implicate their Creator – but by peer pressure.
Freud would say, no doubt, that the whole thing [status-seeking within one’s peer group] is a subterfuge of the sexual impulse. I wonder whether the shoe is not sometimes on the other foot, I wonder whether, in ages of promiscuity, many a virginity has not been lost less in obedience to Venus than in obedience to the lure of the caucus. For of course, when promiscuity is the fashion, the chaste are outsiders. They are ignorant of something other people know. They are uninitiated. And as for lighter matters, the number who first smoked or first got drunk for a similar reason is probably very large.
“The Inner Ring”, They Asked for a Paper p. 143
That gets us closer to understanding what’s happened to Susan, I think, than the idea that she’s been led astray by her sexuality. Closer, but not quite there. Let’s return to the text. Eustace tells us she now thinks Narnia was a children’s game. Jill says she was a “jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”. Polly deprecates her efforts to become, and stay, a débutante. There’s a theme emerging here, and it began long before The Last Battle. Here is Susan’s first dialogue in the Narniad, right at the turn of the very first page of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:
“I think [the Professor]’s an old dear,” said Susan.
“Oh, come off it!” said Edmund... “Don’t go on talking like that.”
“Like what?” said Susan; “and anyway, it’s time you were in bed.”
“Trying to talk like Mother,” said Edmund...
Actually, no. When you open The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the very first thing you see, before the story even starts, is this.
My dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand, a word you say, but I shall still be
your affectionate Godfather,
C. S. Lewis
As you can see, it makes the same point. Susan has been set up for this fall right from the beginning. This is why Lewis made it so clear in Prince Caspian that she had no Martial virtue. Her fault is not her sexuality but her desire to be an adult. She has succumbed not to Venus but to Saturn. Aslan gives us no assurance that she will see redemption – honestly, Lewis, it would have taken one sentence! – but then, no-one seeks any assurance that she will see redemption.

We leave all things

To reach the rim
of the round welkin,

Heaven’s hermitage,
high and lonely.

The Rim of the Round Welkin

Judgement Day falls on Narnia. Aslan separates the saved from the damned (compare Matthew 25:31–46) and abandons the latter to the darkness.
...the crowd of stars behind them cast a fierce, white light over their shoulders. They could see mile upon mile of Narnian woods spread out before them, looking as if they were floodlit... But the great thing was Aslan’s shadow. It streamed away to their left, enormous and very terrible...
The light from behind them (and a little to their right) was so strong that it lit up even the slopes of the Northern Moors. Something was moving there. Enormous animals were crawling and sliding down into Narnia: great dragons and giant lizards and featherless birds with wings like bats’ wings. They disappeared into the woods and for a few minutes there was silence... out of the shadow of the trees, racing up the hill for dear life, by thousands and by millions, came all kinds of creatures – Talking Beasts, Dwarfs, Satyrs, Fauns, Giants, Calormenes, men from Archenland, Monopods, and strange unearthly things from the remote islands of the unknown Western lands. And all these ran up to the doorway where Aslan stood...
The creatures came rushing on, their eyes brighter and brighter as they drew nearer and nearer to the standing Stars. But as they came right up to Aslan one or other of two things happened to each of them. They all looked straight in his face, I don’t think they had any choice about that. And when some looked, the expression of their faces changed terribly – it was fear and hatred: except that, on the faces of Talking Bears, the fear and hatred lasted only for a fraction of a second. You could see that they suddenly ceased to be Talking Beasts. They were just ordinary animals. And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow, which (as you have heard) streamed away to the left of the doorway. The children never saw them again. I don’t know what became of them. But the others looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, though some of them were very frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the Door, in on Aslan’s right.
When it is all over, Peter is tasked with keeping the gate (compare Matthew 16:18–19).
“Peter, High King of Narnia,” said Aslan. “Shut the Door.”
Peter, shivering with cold, leaned out into the darkness and pulled the Door to. It scraped over ice as he pulled it. Then, rather clumsily (for even in that moment his hands had gone numb and blue) he took out a golden key and locked it.
Aslan then leads them away from the Door and the last vestiges of Saturnine mourning. They leave the Dwarfs behind and forget about them. Susan has already been dismissed. Like Tumnus and the Beavers before her, she’s out of sight, out of mind. We can’t have such messy human feelings spoiling Heaven, can we? Lewis apparently felt that this was the best solution to the problem that some of the damned will be our loved ones.
“What some people say on Earth [said Lewis, the narrator and protagonist] is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved.”
“Ye see it does not.” [said George MacDonald, his guide to the afterlife.]
“I feel in a way that it ought to.”
“That sounds very merciful; but see what lurks behind it.”
“The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe; that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy; that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”
“I don’t know what I want, Sir.”
“Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it; or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject in themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye’ll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye’ll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe.”
The Great Divorce p. 136
Well, unless, you know, they change their mind about not wanting to share in the joy. Granted, that might take a long time, but you’ve got all eternity to wait, haven’t you? But don’t fret. It turns out that everything good from the old world is still there. No clarification on whether that means any trace of the people who went to Aslan’s left will be there too.
Suddenly Farsight the Eagle spread his wings, soared thirty or forty feet up into the air, circled round and then alighted on the ground.
“Kings and Queens,” he cried, “we have all been blind. We are only beginning to see where we are. From up there I have seen it all – Ettinsmuir, Beaversdam, the Great River, and Cair Paravel still shining on the edge of the Eastern Sea. Narnia is not dead. This is Narnia.”...
“The Eagle is right,” said the Lord Digory. “Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.” His voice stirred everyone like a trumpet as he spoke these words: but when he added under his breath “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools!” the older ones laughed. It was so exactly like the sort of thing they had heard him say long ago in that other world where his beard was grey instead of golden. He knew why they were laughing and joined in the laugh himself. But very quickly they all became grave again: for, as you know, there is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes.
...Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different – deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more...
It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried:
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee!...”
I’ve argued against Platonic essentialism so many times, I’m not going to run through it all now. If I were there I would ask the Lord Digory: “What’s ‘real’ about it?” That un-forbidden fruit, now—
All I can say is that, compared with those fruits, the freshest grapefruit you’ve ever eaten was dull, and the juiciest orange was dry, and the most melting pear was hard and woody, and the sweetest wild strawberry was sour. And there were no seeds or stones, and no wasps.
No seeds or stones. So these fruits aren’t there to serve any function for the trees they grow on. And no wasps, so no other living thing is benefiting from them either. They’re there solely to make things nice for the VIP customers. That doesn’t feel very “real” to me.
And so they all escape the Saturnine mortal world and emerge into the light. But whose light? What planet are they under now? Only now, now that Saturn is gone, does anyone invoke Jove.
“This is absolutely crazy,” said Eustace to Edmund.
“I know. And yet—” said Edmund.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” said Lucy. “Have you noticed one can’t feel afraid, even if one wants to? Try it.”
“By Jove, neither one can,” said Eustace after he had tried.
Michael Ward argues, therefore, that we have returned to the Jovial atmosphere of the first Narnia book.
This is the first mention in The Last Battle of Fortuna Major and we are back, in a sense, to where the Narniad started in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, six books earlier. But only in a sense. This second coming of Jove is just that, a second coming, not merely a return to the first advent. We do not find ourselves back in the Narnia of the four thrones, but have to advance to the “Narnia within Narnia”. That this journey passes through and beyond Saturn means that the new Joviality is even more joyful than before, more meaningful and poignant, more completely diffused with “tragic splendour”.
Michael Ward, Planet Narnia pp. 208–209
This is one of the details on which I disagree with Ward. Jove is named here, once, but he’s named in most of the other books too. One could equally argue that the new ruling planet is Luna.
Jill was last, so she could see the whole thing better than the others. She saw something white moving steadily up the face of the Waterfall. That white thing was the Unicorn. You couldn’t tell whether he was swimming or climbing, but he moved on, higher and higher. The point of his horn divided the water just above his head, and it cascaded out in two rainbow-coloured streams all round his shoulders.
Or Mercury.
They were out of Narnia now and up into the Western Wild which neither Tirian nor Peter nor even the Eagle had ever seen before. But the Lord Digory and the Lady Polly had. “Do you remember? Do you remember?” they said – and said it in steady voices too, without panting, though the whole party was now running faster than an arrow flies.
Or Venus.
...till at last at the far end of one long lake which looked as blue as a turquoise, they saw a smooth green hill. Its sides were as steep as the sides of a pyramid and round the very top of it ran a green wall: but above the wall rose the branches of trees whose leaves looked like silver and their fruit like gold.
Or Sol.
And Lucy looked this way and that and soon found that a new and beautiful thing had happened to her. Whatever she looked at, however far away it might be, once she had fixed her eyes steadily on it, became quite clear and close as if she were looking through a telescope. She could see the whole Southern desert and beyond it the great city of Tashbaan: to Eastward she could see Cair Paravel on the edge of the sea and the very window of the room that had once been her own. And far out to sea she could discover the islands, islands after islands to the end of the world, and, beyond the end, the huge mountain which they had called Aslan’s country. But now she saw that it was part of a great chain of mountains which ringed round the whole world.
Mars is harder to find, but do you remember how Reepicheep, that Martial mouse, left his rapier behind at the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? Well, he’s got a new one.
But while they were standing thus a great horn, wonderfully loud and sweet, blew from somewhere inside that walled garden and the gates swung open.
Tirian stood holding his breath and wondering who would come out. And what came was the last thing he had expected: a little, sleek, bright-eyed Talking Mouse with a red feather stuck in a circlet on its head and its left paw resting on a long sword. It bowed, a most beautiful bow, and said in its shrill voice:
“Welcome, in the Lion’s name. Come further up and further in.”
Then Tirian saw King Peter and King Edmund and Queen Lucy rush forward to kneel down and greet the Mouse and they all cried out “Reepicheep!” And Tirian breathed fast with the sheer wonder of it, for now he knew that he was looking at one of the great heroes of Narnia, Reepicheep the Mouse who had fought at the great Battle of Beruna and afterwards sailed to the World’s end with King Caspian the Seafarer.
(Oh, and the male Friends of Narnia are all in armour. And they were holding drawn swords when Tirian first met them. I do hope they had somewhere safe to stow them when they started running in a big crowd of people.)
But Saturn is definitively gone. Everyone is ageless.
Tirian bowed courteously and was about to speak when the youngest of the Queens laughed... It was Jill... And at first he thought she looked older, but then didn’t, and he could never make up his mind on that point.

“It was much the same for us in the railway carriage,” said the Lord Digory, wiping the last traces of the fruit from his golden beard. “Only I think you and I, Polly, chiefly felt that we’d been unstiffened. You youngsters won’t understand. But we stopped feeling old.”
“Youngsters, indeed!” said Jill. “I don’t believe you two really are much older than we are here.”
Which planet dominates? None. There are a couple of important clues we’ve missed, and we’ll find them if we look in the details that seem a little off-kilter. What is the running part all about? Generally depictions of Heaven in our culture have you arriving at the Pearly Gates the moment you die. Or else you have to step through some kind of veil, towards some kind of light. Not here. And why do they keep saying—
“Further in and higher up!” cried Roonwit and thundered away in a gallop to the West.

[Aslan] turned swiftly round, crouched lower, lashed himself with his tail and shot away like a golden arrow.
“Come further in! Come further up!” he shouted over his shoulder.

“And after that [said Emeth], he said not much, but that we should meet again, and I must go further up and further in. Then he turned him about in a storm and flurry of gold and was gone suddenly.”

“...Bree-hee-hee! [cried the Unicorn.] Come further up, come further in!”

“Don’t stop! Further up and further in,” called Farsight, tilting his flight a little upwards.
“It’s all very well for him,” said Eustace, but Jewel also cried out:
“Don’t stop. Further up and further in! Take it in your stride.”

“Further up and further in,” cried Jewel and instantly they were off again.

“Further up and further in!” roared the Unicorn, and no one held back. They charged straight at the foot of the hill and then found themselves running up it almost as water from a broken wave runs up a rock out at the point of some bay.

“Welcome, in the Lion’s name. Come further up and further in.”
Actually the first clue comes when the Door is still open.
Stars began falling all round them. But stars in that world are not the great flaming globes they are in ours. They are people (Edmund and Lucy had once met one). So now they found showers of glittering people, all with long hair like burning silver and spears like white-hot metal, rushing down to them out of the black air, swifter than falling stones. They made a hissing noise as they landed and burnt the grass.
Saturn was the highest planet, but his was not the highest sphere. Above him were the Fixed Stars, the Stellatum. When we go beyond Saturn we might expect to find ourselves amongst stars, and so we do. And beyond them in turn is the great force that makes everything in the Heavens run westward, the sphere called Primum Mobile, “First Mover”. Why do the characters run? For love of Aslan. Why does the Primum Mobile move? For love of God.
God, we have said, causes the Primum Mobile to rotate. A modern Theist would hardly raise the question “How?” But the question had been both raised and answered long before the Middle Ages, and the answer was incorporated in the Mediaeval Model [of the cosmos]. It was obvious to Aristotle that most things which move do so because some other moving object impels them. A hand, itself in motion, moves a sword; a wind, itself in motion, moves a ship. But it was also fundamental to his thought that no infinite series can be actual. We cannot therefore go on explaining one movement by another ad infinitum. There must in the last resort be something which, motionless itself, initiates the motion of all other things. Such a Prime Mover he finds in the wholly transcendent and immaterial God who “occupies no place and is not affected by time”. But we must not imagine Him moving things by any positive action, for that would be to attribute some kind of motion to Himself and we should then not have reached an utterly unmoving Mover. How then does He move things? Aristotle answers, κινεῖ ὡς ἐρώμενον, “He moves as beloved”. He moves other things, that is, as an object of desire moves those who desire it. The Primum Mobile is moved by its love for God, and, being moved, communicates motion to the rest of the universe.
The Discarded Image p. 113
We are no longer among the planets at all. We have pierced the mortal veil and are ascending through the highest and broadest layers of the cosmos.
About half an hour later – or it might have been half a hundred years later, for time there is not like time here – Lucy stood with her dear friend, her oldest Narnian friend, the Faun Tumnus, looking down over the wall of that garden, and seeing all Narnia spread out below. But when you looked down you found that this hill was much higher than you had thought: it sank down with shining cliffs, thousands of feet below them and trees in that lower world looked no bigger than grains of green salt. Then she turned inward again and stood with her back to the wall and looked at the garden.
“I see,” she said at last, thoughtfully. “I see now. This garden is like the stable. It is far bigger inside than it was outside.”
“Of course, Daughter of Eve,” said the Faun. “The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.”
Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them all.
“I see,” she said. “This is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful then the Narnia down below, just as it was more real and more beautiful than the Narnia outside the stable door! I see ... world within world, Narnia within Narnia ...”
“Yes,” said Mr Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.”
So why “further in”? If we’ve passed beyond Saturn, aren’t we going outward? Well, physically, yes. But spiritually, we’re approaching the centre, that of course being God Himself.
Nor was it generally felt that earth, or Man, would lose dignity by being shifted from the cosmic centre. The central position had not implied pre-eminence. On the contrary, it had implied... “the worst and deadest part of the universe”, “the lowest story of the house”, the point at which all the light, heat, and movement descending from the nobler spheres finally died out into darkness, coldness, and passivity. The position which was locally central was dynamically marginal: the rim of being, farthest from the hub.
English Literature in the Sixteenth Century p. 3
However, Lewis won’t take us very far in. He always ends his fiction with the characters on the threshold of Heaven. Exactly what is going to be so pleasant about meeting God, he never says. Here as ever, he bows out with the excuse that it’s too wonderful for words.
And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that 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.
In a similar vein, he regretted that he could not have balanced The Screwtape Letters with advice from an archangel to the “patient”’s guardian angel, because no-one could write from the viewpoint of a sinless character. Now, I think he’s put his finger on something real here. It’s easy enough to imagine a setting that’s moderately more pleasant than the real world – Lothlórien, Perelandra, Pandora, Fiddler’s Green, the Big Rock-Candy Mountain, whatever. And it’s easy enough to imagine a setting that’s vastly more horrible than the real world. But it’s well-nigh impossible to imagine a setting that’s vastly more pleasant than the real world. Why?
Lewis’s answer is: we limited and sinful creatures just don’t have the capacity for that kind of perfection, until God makes us greater than we are. I don’t buy it. What we can’t do with our imaginations, like picture a fourth dimension of space, we can still do with our reason. The notion of a higher mode of existence so perfect that we can’t even grasp the concept of it is simply incoherent. I have an alternative hypothesis. Of all the mind-bogglingly huge number of possible conditions that could exist, only a tiny minority would be survivable; of those, only a tiny minority would be comfortable. It is not coincidental that we happen to find ourselves in such fortunate circumstances, because had things been otherwise we wouldn’t have come into existence in the first place. One important inference from this has been drawn by greater thinkers than I. Whereas in Lewis’s view we should be going about shaking our heads over our sad imperfection, in mine we should spend every day in grateful astonishment that we even exist.
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow p. 1
A little further thought reveals the relevance of this insight to the question just posed. Simply by allowing us to survive at all, the universe, or at least our local speck of it, is already very much closer to the best it could possibly be than to the worst it could possibly be. There is room for improvement, but nowhere near – not even in the same ballpark – as much room as there is for loss.
More problems with the concept of Heaven become evident as you ponder them. Heaven is infinite, at least in duration, and possibly in other ways that Lewis vaguely enthuses about in various places. And the traditional get-out clause for how a perfect God could allow the existence of evil is that his greatest gift to us is free will, and with free will sin is always possible. Well, the definition of “possible” is that it will happen given sufficient scope. If it never happens in all eternity, it wasn’t “possible” in any meaningful sense. Ergo, if there is eternal life in heaven, and if God does not take back his gift of free will, then the whole sorry business of the Fall is doomed to happen again some time. And again. And again. And again, for ever and ever, et nunc et semper et in saecula saeculorum, amen.
There’s something fascinating about the Seven Planets, I’ll admit; a variety-in-unity which somehow feels like it would be great fun to explore, and indeed makes me wish that Lewis had done so a little more explicitly instead of hiding the symbols under his single fantasy world. (I even started inventing a superhero team comic in my head with one character per planet, until I realized I was basically remaking The Avengers.) But as for the universe that holds them, that cosmic fishbowl – I’ve already compared it to The Truman Show, but that doesn’t quite capture the full horror, and silliness, of it. It’s like The Truman Show if Truman lived in a rubbish-bin, “the worst and deadest part of the universe”, like Oscar the Grouch.
I am truly sorry if this series has spoiled your childhood memories. Truly, because I’m sorry it’s spoiled mine. I do still respect Lewis as a literary critic. And his philosophical/theological writings play a tremendously useful role in my thought: that of the articulate opposition. But the greatest thing re-examining Narnia has done for me is to clear away any shreds of regret that I no longer believe what it’s all based on. Because I don’t think a world run on Lewis’s value system would be a very nice place to live at all.

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