Well, I can hardly believe it, but I’ve stuck to the schedule for Chris’s Narniathon and have made it to the final book in the series – “The Last Battle”, first published in 1956. Alas, as I’ve mentioned before, this is not my original copy from my childhood as that’s currently AWOL (though hopefully somewhere in the house); I have substituted with this cheap and temporary copy with a modern cover and I can’t say I like it much – anyway, onward and inward as they say! ;D

As the book opens, Narnia is in decline; Aslan appears to have deserted his land, and the last King, Tirian, is full of excitement when a rumour reaches them that the lion has returned. However, he soon discovers how wrong things are going when he hears that trees are being felled and sold to Calomen as well as talking beasts enslaved – all apparently on the orders of Aslan. It soon becomes clear that this is no true Aslan, simply an imposter which needs to be dealt with quickly. However the Narnians appear to be outnumbered by the Calormenes, faith in Narnia and its king has fallen by the wayside, and Tirian has no option except to call for help from the children who came from our world in the country’s past. Amazingly, Eustace and Jill appear from nowhere; and the battle is on to save their beloved Narnia from betrayal and colonisation. The Last Battle will indeed be a mighty one…

I must admit to approaching this book with a little trepidation… Although I recall not being over-fond of “The Horse and His Boy“, I also remember finding “The Last Battle” hard to take because it’s so sad at the beginning. Seeing Narnia in decline, the horrors of occupation and the dominance of those with vested interests is very painful (and actually still very resonant nowadays). Although things take a turn for the better when the true Aslan appears, the loss of the world we’ve become used to is very moving (and having Digory there at start and finish a lovely touch). Lewis’s writing is still stellar, though; in the same way as he painted some marvellous word pictures with the creation of Narnia in “The Magician’s Nephew”, he deals with its end equally brilliantly, leaving you quite stunned and emotional. Having almost all the human characters together is wonderful, though I’m sure I’m not alone in regretting Lewis’s dismissal of Susan; presumably she’s being used to reject the idea that religion is something childish you should grow out of, but it does come across as a bit of a betrayal of her, and a tad misogynistic.

Re-reading these books now, I certainly found this one to be the most overtly religious of the series. It’s quite obvious what Aslan’s Country is meant to represent, and here Lewis does conjure a beautiful land containing all the countries you might ever want to see. It’s clever to portray this as the *real* version of all worlds too; but I’m not well-versed enough in theology to know if his shadowlands and real world concepts are original. There are a number of explorations of what I would call faith or lack of it, too; the dwarfs are a case in point, declaring “the Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs” and stubbornly refusing to recognise the reality around them. Then there’s the fearsome god Tash; an evil figure, it’s made clear that only bad actions can be done in his name, and any good actions supposedly taken on behalf of Tash are actually in Aslan’s name.

Getting to the end of any immersive series of books, ones where you’ve lived rather than read them, is always an emotional experience, leaving you feeling a little bereft. I certainly always felt so with these books when I was young – and also with the “Lord of the Rings” series. In both cases, I’ve gone through phases of finishing them and going right back to the start to relive the experience; and having now got to the end of the #Narniathon I can still feel that pull to do so… It’s been quite wonderful revisiting this series of books, which were so important to me in my younger years and still are! Thanks to Chris for setting up the #Narniathon – I most likely wouldn’t have gone back to these right now without it, and it really has been a heck of an experience!