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Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis

The last volume of the Chronicles of Narnia. After so much time spent overlooking the series, I was finally about to the read the last installment. I had some pretty decent hopes considering that I had thoroughly enjoyed the last three books that I had read of it. And the idea that the plot would be sparked by a false Aslan was too intriguing to pass up.

In The Last Battle, Jill and Eustace find themselves summoned again to Narnia to assist King Tirian against a false Aslan who has sold the Talking Animals to the Calormenes as slaves and cut down the Dryad forests. Facing odds never before seen in Narnia's history, they must prepare themselves for a momentous battle in the darkest hour.
I wanted to like this so much, but The Last Battle just manages to fail in two ways that are massive dealbreakers for me.
First, I had kind of hoped that the racism thing might have been more or less contained within The Horse and His Boy, but oh boy was I wrong. Turns out that The Last Battle is the installment that decided that blackface was needed. When Tirian and the children decide to darken their skin to infiltrate the enemy forces at page 60, I knew with a sinking feeling that this would not be one of the Chronicles of Narnia that I would be able to recommend. Just everything involving the Calormenes felt so uncomfortable, because it's the whole "evil dark people" bullshit without any real examination. They embody the worst parts of both heathens and non-believers in one set of characters, and I would be hard-pressed to think of a depiction of PoC characters that is worse than this without being created by the KKK. When the dwarves start insulting them and calling them "Darkies", it was a startling reminder that this story is being told by someone who would be our equivalent of a bigoted older relative that you tolerate out of familial duty.
Second, there was the ending. The Last Battle has an ending that you know is meant to be the happiest of happy endings, but it just comes across as weird and wrong and utterly terrifying instead. So Narnia has its end of days after King Tirian makes a final doomed stand. While I will give kudos to Lewis for actually depicting Narnia's apocalypse, it feels really wrong to read about a world that you've spent seven books in just get washed away. Then they travel to Aslan's home, where they find that he has the best of all possible worlds all packed into one presumably non-euclidean space. And all but one of the children who had adventured in Narnia can now stay with Aslan forever because they died in a train accident. Yeah. Lewis just sort of jams that bombshell in on the last page, and the reaction is surprisingly calm. They all just sort of accept this right off the bat, none of them wondering how their surviving relatives are coping with this tragedy. I mean, they insult Susan to no end, but for her this is the day when all three of her siblings, both her parents, one of her cousins and the old man who looked after her during evacuation die in a tragic train accident. No-one asks after her. Apparently liking lipstick is enough to get you barred from heaven. And another thing. That's a great lesson to teach kids: no matter how good life gets, once you get a glimpse of God's graces you will never be truly satisfied until you're dead. If that doesn't creep you out, then you are obviously the audience that C. S. Lewis was aiming at.

A really disappointing end to the series. Unremittingly racist in tone and with a creepy bombshell ending, I can't really find anything to recommend here. End the series with The Silver Chair, it only goes downhill from there. 1/5

Next review: A Method Actor's Guide to Jekyll and Hyde by Kevin MacNeil

Signing off,

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