This is a book about death (and yes, that entails exactly what you think it does).
I feel like this is the best-known book in the series besides The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (read: most controversial). Granted, some people might not know The Last Battle by name, but this is the story that sprung The Problem of Susan and a lot of those racism accusations to boot. For the record, I don’t intend to delve too deeply into either of those (especially the racism thing – I’m just woefully unqualified in that area, as I’m sure some people would note in Let’s Read The Horse and His Boy).
Anyhow, being essentially the Ending of the entire series, I’ve had a unique relationship with this book. It’s one of the more traditional, plot-heavy narratives, but it never really tries to be “epic” – in the end, it’s mainly about the individual characters (which naturally leads to a few gutwrenching scenes). At some point, I considered it one of the best because it was sad (I think most people go through a phase like that), and I still consider it one of the best books in the series, but not “because it’s sad”. It’s good because it’s well-written, and also because it’s such a good ending for the series. It’s the sort of thing I didn’t really notice as a child, but while I might make up “sequels” for other stories I enjoyed, I never touched The Chronicles of Narnia, because the ending was just so satisfying and offered all the closure I could wish for.
This book is ruled by Saturn, who is neither the god of Death nor the Underworld (that’s the domain of Pluto). I feel like the most appropriate title for Saturn might be the “god of endings”. Father Time, as I mentioned in The Silver Chair, is basically Saturn’s medieval incarnation. Needless to say, this book borrows a ton from the Book of Revelations and other apocalyptic texts.
Anyhow, on to the story!
“That yellow thing that’s just come down the waterfall. Look! There it is again, it’s floating. We must find out what it is.”
“But – but,” said Puzzle, “wouldn’t it be better if you went in? Because, you see, it’s you who wants to know what it is, and I don’t much. And you’ve got hands, you see. You’re as good as a Man or a Dwarf when it comes to catching hold of things. I’ve only got hoofs.”
“Really, Puzzle,” said Shift, “I didn’t think you’d ever say a thing like that. I didn’t think it of you, really.”
“Why, what have I said wrong?” said the Ass, speaking in rather a humble voice, for he saw that Shift was very deeply offended. “All I meant was –“
“Wanting me to go into the water,” said the Ape. “As if you didn’t know perfectly well what weak chests Apes always have and how easily they catch cold! Very well, I will go in. I’m feeling cold enough already in this cruel wind. But I’ll go in. I shall probably die. Then you’ll be sorry,” And Shift’s voice sounded as if he was just going to burst into tears.
“Please don’t, please don’t, please don’t,” said Puzzle, half braying and half talking. “I never meant anything of the sort, Shift, really I didn’t. You know how stupid I am and how I can’t think of more than one thing at a time. I’d forgotten about your weak chest. Of course I’ll go in. You mustn’t think of doing it yourself. Promise me you won’t, Shift.”
Why must you make me care, Lewis? I just met these two, and already I utterly despise Shift and wish that Puzzle could have literally anybody else for a friend. Shift is such a manipulative, abusive jerk who’s made Puzzle think himself a clueless idiot so that he’ll trust Shift’s judgement on everything. And of course, he’s only going to get more people under his sway once he enacts his wonderfully awful idea: dressing Puzzle up in the lionskin and pretending he’s Aslan.
At that moment there came a great thunderclap right overhead and the ground trembled with a small earthquake. […]
“There!” gasped Puzzle, as soon as he had breath to speak. “It’s a sign, a warning. I knew we were doing something dreadfully wicked. Take this wretched skin off me at once.”
“No, no,” said the Ape (whose mind worked very quickly). “It’s a sign the other way. I was just going to say that if the real Aslan, as you call him, meant us to go on with this, he would send us a thunderclap and an earth-tremor. It was just on the tip of my tongue, only the sign itself came before I could get the words out. You’ve got to do it now, Puzzle. And please don’t let us have any more arguing. You know you don’t understand these things. What could a donkey know about signs?”
I hate that Ape so much. And it’s all downhill from here. I may need an extra heart or two before I’m through with this book.
Next time: The rashness of the King