- Book: A severely used copy of the 2001 The Chronicles of Narnia omnibus by HarperCollins. The plastic on the cover is peeling. I say this appreciatively.
- Books Read: 6/7
- Pages Read: 662/767
Whoa. I finished The Silver Chair yesterday morning and The Last Battle last night, and I am so glad I saved The Horse and His Boy for last–that was heavier and darker than I’d expected. I’m going to need something happy (and then, of course, a little breather from fantasy, because my brain feels like it’s developing some sort of mana burn). Spoilers abound, folks!
The Silver Chair introduces us to Jill Pole, the last of the eight English people who come to Narnia in times of great trouble. She goes to school (of course, a very strange, “modern” school that even serves soya bean sausages–seriously, what is it with Lewis and vegetarians? All the other stuff I can basically understand) with Eustace Scrubb, introduced to us in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Jill’s adventure in Narnia occurs in the wild lands to the North, and it reminded me more of traditional English folktales than Narnia. While there’s that definite flavor of Narnia (Eustace gets a fantastically heartsick moment when he encounters Caspian as a doddering man on the edge of death) at the beginning, the north is full of man-eating giants and an elegant evil woman known only as the Woman of the Green Kirtle. It’s all very Arthurian, save for the actually delightful Puddleglum–a Marsh-wiggle whose pessimism makes him the most cheerful of his people. I thought I’d grow sick of him, but his harsh (if cheerful) view of reality can be downright charming, and certainly saves the children. Like Prince Caspian, it’s quite slim–but I think it’s an equally interesting way to enter Narnia as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, especially since the world is a little firmer here than in that one.
As you may have guessed, I’ve raced through The Silver Chair to get to The Last Battle. Prior to this challenge, all I knew about The Last Battle was this–Susan gets ripped off, a unicorn with a bloody horn appears, and something bad happens. But I wasn’t prepared for how dark it is.
As Lewis himself put in one of his last letters, The Last Battle is the end and Last Judgment of Narnia–the Antichrist is a very selfish Ape, who forces his donkey friend to pose as Aslan for his own ends; which, it turns out, are the same ends as the invading Calormen (and I will get to them in a second). Religion and death plays a large part in The Last Battle–there’s a small scene with several dwarves, now intending to take Narnia for themselves, that shows how their lack of belief in Aslan harms them. The Pevensies (save a lipsticked Susan who denies the existence of Narnia) and all of Narnia find themselves in heaven, imagined as the purest form of Narnia possible; for they’ve died in a train crash and the end of the world, respectively. The novel starts off with a unicorn goring someone–but never once does it abandon the tone aimed at children fond throughout the novels. I’m oddly pleased by this. I was not raised religiously, which, like anything else, has its benefits and drawbacks–one of the drawbacks being that I didn’t have a framework to hash out my own mortality with as a young girl. To see it dealt frankly but kindly in The Last Battle is refreshing and, I think, useful to young children pondering their mortality.
But this is all in a context that considers other religions and even other races bosh. The Calormen are cruel, haughty, and dark-skinned, turban-wearing invaders–Pauline Baynes’ illustrations tends to depict them as Turks. They believe in a cruel god named Tash, who turns out to be a sort of Satan figure opposed to Aslan. When Emeth, a good-hearted and devout Calormene, finds himself in paradise, Aslan explains that because he did good deeds, he was always doing them in the name of Aslan. Naturally, I find this problematic–as Aslan is the incarnation of Jesus in Narnia, any religion that doesn’t include Aslan is the wrong one, particularly the religion of the racial Other. (But, of course, exceptions can be made for the “good” ones.) The Horse and His Boy stars a Calormene girl, but I don’t hold out much hope.
And, then, of course, there’s the infamous problem of Susan, mentioned by J. K. Rowling and Philip Pullman and addressed by Neil Gaiman in the short story, “The Problem of Susan”. As a friend of mine put it, “Susan gets to live!” I like Susan, particularly the latest film adaptations’ version of Susan. I’m quite glad Susan survived her siblings and other English-Narnian ambassadors, though I’m sure it will tear her up inside until it’s her time to go–but I was a bit perturbed by how she was written off. Lucy and Polly despair of her for being interested in traditional trappings of femininity (lipsticks and nylons) and boys (invitations), which is the most commonly cited fact, but also because she no longer believes in Narnia–which I can easily read as a grown Susan questioning her faith as she explores her sexuality. Since this falls out of the Aslan-required faith, Susan is excluded from Narnian paradise. I need to read The Horse and His Boy to get the entire picture (Susan plays a part as a desirable possible bride in that book) of how Lewis treats Susan, but, just like the Calormen, I don’t hold out much hope for something different. (Incidentally, I cannot wait to read “The Problem of Susan”.)
Well, I’ll try and get through The Horse and His Boy today to round out the series–I think I definitely need some cheering up!
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