The final in the series of "Narnia" stories, The Last Battle works on the same two levels as the other stories. On the one hand, we have a an adventure story about children in a strange and magical world, and on the other we have a treatise on ethics and religion.
Lewis' world of adventure and magic is charming, vividly described and exhilarating. As with the other books in the series, this is fundamentally a human story of drama and pathos, where children are finding adventure and heroism. As a child, I was as enthalled with this story as with any of his others - real favourites. Even so, I found this to be the darkest and in many ways the most challenging of his works. Now, as an adult, I see this very much as a work to be a passionate statement of religious belief, which is skillfully articulated though uncompromising in the position it takes.
The work is really in two parts. The longer, first part, has an interesting opening in which a rather selfish and thoughtless creature sets in motion a chain of events that culminates in the destruction of a sacred forest and ultimately in a breakdown of social order. There follows revolt and warfare wrapped up with fragmentation and subversion of the previously unassailable cult of Aslan. The second part involves the transportation of the children and their friends to the land of Aslan and much discussion of their love of Aslan and much discussion of the wonder and beauty of Aslan's kingdom.
Clearly, Aslan represents God. The narrative part of the story has much to do with the nature of good and evil, and the difference between doing wrong innocently and doing wrong maliciously. Interestingly, it follows a strong thread through the nature of propaganda, the subversion of a worthy cause, and the uncontrollable chaos of politics. Slightly worrying are the casting of an apparently Middle-Eastern kingdom as devil-worshippers, the general feeling that the British class system is alive and well in Narnia, and the slightly mysogenistic criticism of Susan who as a young woman "has reached the silliest time of her life and wants to stay there for as long as possible". I think we can forgive this slight transgressions of political correctness in view of the time in which the novel were written; the "green" views concerning the cutting down of woodland and (horrors!) the march of civilisation would find, though, some resonance today.
The Christian element of the book is very firmly stated, especially in the second part, which is more or less a description of the Second Coming and the End of the World! Heavy stuff for a children's book! However, it works surprisingly well and a child will enjoy the story and probably find the sub-text at least posing some questions for them.
Technically the production is excellent, as might be expected from the BBC. It is the right length, seems to be unabridged (though I have not checked) and the voices and sound effects fit together nicely without being overdone.
I would recommend this, but not before you have read (or listened to) The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe plus a couple of the other works in the series.