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Not much fun
on 2 June 2013
The most aggressively evangelical instalment in the series, and probably the least enjoyable. It's nearly fifteen years since I last read it, so while my memory of the specifics has faded somewhat, my general impressions of the book haven't.
The opening act - Shift's great plot - is agreeably ominous. The second half (approximately) of the book feels like a copy-and-paste of the apocalyptic books of the New Testament with some Narnian names sprinkled onto the text. All the preceding Narnia novels had had a strong Christian theme, it is true, but it had always coexisted reasonably comfortably with children's adventure, fairy tales and pagan mythology. In "The Last Battle", millenarian Christian allegory blows all of these away, and they are sadly missed. This is full-on Christian propaganda, and it is heavy going.
There is of course no proving that Lewis was unsatisfied (artistically if not spiritually) with the bleak, violent eschatology of this book, but the fact that his next (and final) Narnia novel was a joyous return to the themes of childhood discovery and adventure, and was heavy on original storytelling rather than Biblical blood and thunder, makes me think so. The late Victorian/Edwardian setting, and the age and characteristics of the protagonist, meanwhile, give it an autobiographical flavour. The gap between 'The Last Battle' and 'The Magician's Nephew' coincides, so far as I can tell, with Joy Gresham and her young sons becoming a fixture in Lewis's life. Perhaps this influenced the direction the final book in the series would take.