The Last Battle (1956) is a children’s fantasy novel, the seventh and final in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. It won the 1956 Carnegie Medal. Almost single-handedly, Tirian, the last king of Narnia, must deal with the rise of a false Aslan and a surprise Calormene invasion.
The Last Battle is a grim and bleak tale unlike any other in the series, as things start badly and get progressively worse in a hurry. Lewis handles this well, particularly by capturing the feelings of his characters, particularly their despair, and as a result, the book is suspenseful and gripping. The book’s finale, both as part of this story and the series as a whole, is nothing short of magnificent: it is an emotionally and spiritually powerful finish. The book’s final paragraph, which captures the heart of the true hope of Christianity, may bring tears to the eyes.
Lewis’s prominent theme here is the danger of false religion, and he deals with it from the points of view of the unbelieving perpetrators as well as the unwitting victims. The biblical imagery is strong here (for those who have a deep familiarity with the contents of the Bible, it may be the strongest in the series). The false Aslan’s politics and dealings evoke any number of biblical images, ranging from Old Testament prophets to Revelation imagery. Certainly The Last Battle is the most philosophically and theologically interesting book in the series (which is why it’s also the most controversial).
The book is not without a couple of small problems. Lewis’s involved narrator sometimes feels out of place given the direness of the story. Lewis also skips over a little more of the story’s behind-the-scenes developments than he might have – we do go from a lone crafty ape to a full-blown Calormene invasion rather quickly. But these are minor issues that do not detract from the story significantly.
Some readers have complained that in The Last Battle, Lewis “undoes” all his previous stories. This could not be more wrong (do you “undo” a game when you finish it and put the pieces back in the box?). Rather, Lewis brings them all full circle: The Last Battle culminates with the fulfillment and consummation of Narnia and all its stories.
As with The Horse and His Boy, some readers have also alleged racism here. While the dark-skinned, “Arab” Calormen are the villains of the piece, they are never portrayed as inherently evil (as in The Horse and His Boy, some are good and some are bad). Similarly, Lewis has been accused of being anti-Islam in his writing, for no other reason that I can see except that Islam is the religion of many Arabs. Certainly the Calormene religion bears no resemblance to Islam to the very limited extent to which Lewis goes into it; with its bloody god Tash and its human sacrifice, it’s far more reminiscent of the ancient worship of Chemosh or Molech. Anyone seriously maintaining these accusations is inferring quite a bit more than Lewis has put into the text.
The Last Battle is a triumph, a phenomenal story, and a beautiful conclusion to the series.
The audio version of The Last Battle is performed by Patrick Stewart. Anyone familiar with Stewart’s work, whether on Star Trek or elsewhere, knows he has a powerful voice, and so expectations will rightly be high. But while Stewart generally does a good job, he doesn’t quite meet these lofty expectations. Some of his voices are simply off; his sort of Cockney accent for the Calormenes seems flat-out wrong. And from time to time during his performance, his voices run into his narration. On the whole, it’s a good but not great performance.