Wednesday 5 September 2018
The Last Battle - Narnian litmus test
The Last Battle - Book 7 of the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis - is a real fan base-breaker, and serves as a litmus test of which side someone occupies in the culture wars.
This is the kind of book that gets either five star (top) reviews; or else elicits one star loathing.
I can recall before I was a Christian finding the book utterly intolerable, viscerally detestable - despite a long-term liking for several of the earlier books in the series. This is very common. Such people as I was, and as most Western people currently are, find exactly what is best about the book, to be the most revolting. They are simply revealing their own lost-ness and self-inflicted nihilism; and lashing-out with displaced anger against politically correct pseudo-flaws which are actually the book's deepest and most complex virtues.
It is the anger of the damned who know - deep down - that damnation is their own choice, that they could be saved - the door will open if they knock; but who have instead taken the ultra-selfish, ultra-short-termist, ultra-egotistical choice in Life; have disguised this under a show of fake-virtue - and don't want reminding of the fact.
But now... well... the first part of Last Battle is really hard to read, because it is so sad, and so real (here and now), and so effective at raising then dashing our hopes; but the book as a whole, including its later section especially, is absolutely wonderful! And the marvel of the second part depends on us having gone through the first part; and the resulting reshaping of priorities.
The passage on the dwarfs in the stable, for example, was directly instrumental in the late stages of my conversion, in crossing the line to become a Christian. It simply elicits gratitude. And several other parts of the book have become touchstones for particular problems in these end times, or for the ultimate nature of God, salvation and Heaven.
(This despite my very definitely not being a Platonist, like Lewis - here it doesn't matter.)
So, if you have not yet read The Last Battle, or have not read it recently; then perhaps you should - not least to see how you perform in the test, what colour you turn the litmus paper...
Comment from David Llewellyn Dodds - Listening again to Brahms's Alto Rhapsody the other day, I was struck by the similarity between Goethe's text and the experience of those Dwarfs in the Last Battle - and heartened by the prayer. We know Lewis knew some Goethe, and it got me wondering if this part of 'Harzreise im Winter' might have contributed to Lewis's work, here. (Interesting to compare, in any case, and leaving me wondering about any broader context of both...)