Volume 15, Issue 6: Eschaton
Rethinking Narnia's Tragic Demise
Jack Van Deventer
Rethinking Narnia's Tragic Demise
Jack Van Deventer
C.S. Lewis' ability to illustrate profound truths of Christianity and Christian experience is unparalleled. He was
an exceptional man who did much to broaden and strengthen the kingdom of God. I am one of his biggest fans and he
is easily my favorite author.
I must confess however, in acknowledging my reverence for C.S. Lewis, that I cannot embrace everything this
dear Christian man wrote. I am compelled to question Lewis' gloomy perspective on future history if indeed
The Last Battle, the concluding book in the
Chronicles of Narnia, was representative of Lewis' worldview, as I believe it was. A story
of apostasy and defeat read by millions of impressionable children,
The Last Battle details the bloody annihilation of Narnia.
I have read all seven volumes of the
Chronicles three times to my children. They delight in hearing them as much as
I delight in reading them. So why does it bother me to read of Narnia's catastrophic defeat? Why am I disturbed
that Aslan seems to abandon his faithful followers at their time of greatest need, ignoring their pleas for help? It is
because this grim worldview is not one I see in the Scriptures. Rather,
The Last Battle paints a picture of amillennial
pessimism, not one of biblical optimism.
Some might be inclined to discount the final battle as "not that bad," and, to be sure, as a children's book
Lewis was careful to soften the gory details of Narnia's destruction. Nevertheless, Narnia was defeated through treachery
and deception by the Calormenes, dark, cruel, bearded men who wore turbans and carried scimitars and who
"cared nothing for Aslan." But Lewis detailed the slaughter sufficiently to make his point.
Lewis' account of Narnian eschatology includes the apostasy of Narnian talking animals and even of Queen
Susan. So severe is the Narnian Armageddon that Jewel the Unicorn exclaims, "The worst thing in the world has come
upon us." A faithful mouse laments, "It would have been better if we'd died before all this began." Poggin the
devoted Dwarf declares, "I can think of a hundred deaths I would rather have died." We read of the desperate Dryad
pleading in vain for the "holy trees" as her feet are cut from under her and she falls down and dies. The tragedy is
compounded with the death of the loyal Talking Dogs who ran to Tirian's aid, the Talking Horses slaughtered with arrows
from renegade Dwarves, and the courageous bear mortally wounded who put his "big head down on the grass as quietly as
a child going to sleep, and never moved again."
None of the faithful are spared this hour of Narnian terror. We read of the great city of Cair Paravel "filled
with dead Narnians" and of the noble Centaur, Roonwit, "lying dead with a Calormene arrow in his side." In the end, all
the faithful pass through the "hard door" of death. The Narnians, with Eustace and Jill, are massacred by Calormenes
and those remaining on earth (Digory, Polly, Peter, Edmund, and Lucy) are killed in a devastating train wreck.
In Lewis' Narnia, the good do not win the battle. Aslan does not defeat his enemies nor does he rescue his
followers. His influence fades as Narnian history comes to a close.
What was behind Lewis' deep pessimism in writing this grim account of Narnian "last days"? What influenced
his thinking? Was it the "unskilled butchery of the first German War," the description used by Lewis in
Surprised by Joy of his own battlefield experiences in which he was wounded? Was it the devastation of England during World War II
by the Nazis? Did Lewis embrace the pessimistic doctrine of amillennialism, formulated earlier that century,
which anticipated evil prevailing in human history? One can only speculate, I suppose, but I must at least say this in
Lewis' defense: he paints a beautiful picture of heaven. The picture of heaven in
The Last Battle and especially in The Great
Divorce (my favorite C.S. Lewis book) is both delightful and profound.
Still, I can't help but wonder how the Chronicles of
Narnia might have ended had Lewis embraced the
historic Christian doctrine of gospel victory. Imagine Aslan reigning until he put all enemies under his feet, with the last
enemy destroyed being death itself. Or, imagine Cair Paravel as a great, shining city on a hill. Suppose the blessed gospel
of Aslan extended beyond Narnia, to Archenland, Calormen, beyond the Lone Islands to the uttermost parts of the
earth? Can you picture Aslan being revered as Kings of kings such that Tarkaans and Tisrocs, bow down and serve him?
Given the blessedness of a victorious gospel, Narnians of all people should have "lived happily ever after."
In the end my concern for my children, impressionable as they are, is that they not fall into the trap of a
pessimistic, cynical worldview. That said, my advice is don't discourage your children from reading
The Last Battle. Lewis' word pictures of courage and valor in the face of great tribulation are too wonderful to miss. Just assure your kids
and grandkids that in the real Narnia the good guys win and Aslan's will shall be done in Narnia as it is in heaven.