Friday, July 21, 2006

The Last Battle

Warning: There are spoilers here if you haven't read The Last Battle...

The Last Battle.

This evening, my older daughter and I finished the last book of C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Last Battle, which I had been reading aloud to her before bedtime. The book was darker, better written, and more striking than the others. Though it was problematic in some senses---was Queen Susan fairly criticized as "no longer a friend of Narnia" because of an interest "in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations" and other such things young women inevitably turn to as they mature sexually, or is that simple sexism on Lewis's part?---it was also dramatic, powerful, and an emotional closing. Both my daughter and I cried, though in objective and reality, it is a happy---you might say the ultimate happy---ending. Which, as the book concludes, is not an ending at all, but rather, "only the beginning of the real story," the chapters of "which no one on earth has read."

Of course, Narnia cannot be mentioned without references of the Christian allegory (though it is not quite allegory at all, not technically), and The Last Battle---like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (the death and resurrection of Christ) and The Magician's Nephew (Genesis)---makes that allusion strongly: Revelations and the end of the world, judgement and all; not to mention the Calormen god Tash as the anti-Christ.

What it triggered for me, and surprisingly strongly, is both the insignificance, the utter ephemeral nature, of our life on earth and at the same time the pure interconnectedness and therefore importance of our life on earth. That's an age-old discussion, perhaps the age-old discussion.

But the book's ending brought it home in a way I wasn't anticipating, precisely I think because I was reading it with my daughter. And at the end, with the emotional realization that the Penvensies and their other English/Narnian cohorts were in fact in a fatal train wreck and so were brought to the "real" Narnia, their Heaven, and face-to-face with all their old Narnian friends, and then their own parents; well, it opened the gates as I thought of my own mother, who passed away nearly two years ago. And so I'm tearing up thinking about my mother, and meeting her again one day, and my daughter is tearing up because her beloved characters have died (though are beyond happy at returning to the "real" Narnia again, and for good), and she's tearing up moreso because her dad is crying, something she's never seen before, and then I'm all a-blubber thinking about loss as it relates to family, and loving my daughter in my lap so much any parent knows you cannot ever define or describe it, and then thinking about the afterlife and all the pain and hatred and suffering in this world, today and seemingly always.

And now I'm thinking about Ghandi's singularly powerful quote, "You must be the change you want to see in the world." And thinking, too, about J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, which also has seven books and clearly draws in some ways from the Narnia series, but for which the finale has not yet been published. In the Potter series, the change you want to see in the world is what the uber-villian Voldemort so clearly does not have, what Harry and his friends have, what those of us with children have, what those of us without children have, what I was always taught not to write in a poem, what can never be defined through recipe, what it seems we always aspire to, for, and after: love.

"All you need is love," John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote back in 1966 or so. I'll take another dose, please. And pass it along.


jd said...

Beautiful post. We'll see if J.K. Rowling can pull off a finale that is as satisfying as the Narnia series. My kids keep asking when is it coming out, as if these things are written by a team and can be spit out in a month. Great stories, as you know, take time to gel.

Simmons B. Buntin said...

We shall see indeed, though I think she will. There's speculation it will publish on 7/7/07, but now that the fifth movie date has been set for only a week later, that seems less likely.

mattintraining said...

My father read me the Narnia books before bed when i was little, and it will be a tradition that i will carry on should i be so fortunate enough to get married and have kids. Overall, i would not characterize myself as an emotional guy, but there are a few things that can choke me up: "The Last Battle" "The Deathly Hallows" "The Land Before Time." I don't know what it is about "children's" stories, but they really get to me.