We meet our hero: Tirian, the last King of Narnia.
This book has a very distinct structure, more akin to modern YA dystopia than fantasy (which makes sense, considering the apocalyptic tone). The first chapter almost serves as a prologue, a scene which gives the reader key information that the characters lack.
“Never in all my days have I seen such terrible things written in the skies as there have been nightly since this year began. The stars say nothing of the coming of Aslan, nor of peace, nor of joy. I know by my art that there have not been such disastrous conjunctions of the planets for five hundred years. It was already in my mind to come and warn your Majesty that some great evil hangs over Narnia. But last night the rumor reached me that Aslan is abroad in Narnia. Sire, do not believe this tale. It cannot be. The stars never lie, but Men and Beasts do. If Aslan were really coming to Narnia the sky would have foretold it. If he were really come, all the most gracious stars would be assembled in his honor. It is all a lie.”
“I wonder,” said Jewel, “whether Aslan might not come though all the stars foretold otherwise. He is not the slave of the stars but their Maker. Is it not said in all the old stories that he is not a tame lion.”
And thus the seeds of mistrust in what has always proven trustworthy are sown! Not that I blame Jewel or Tirian for wanting to both think the best of their people and believe that Aslan, who has evidently been absent for centuries, has finally returned. It’s easier for them to think of Aslan as erratic than to totally disbelieve that he’s returned. But of course, thinking of Aslan as erratic can easily lead to other misconceptions.
Then, in a somewhat disturbing scene, a Dryad informs them that the trees of Lantern Waste are being chopped down and sold for lumber to the Calormenes – and promptly dies when her own tree is cut down. Tirian is enraged, and spurred to the titular rashness.
“Well,” said the King at last, “we must go on and take the adventure that comes to us.”
“It is the only thing left for us to do, Sire,” said the Unicorn. He did not see at the moment how foolish it was for the two of them to go on alone; nor did the King. They were too angry to think clearly. But much evil came of their rashness in the end.
King Tirian could almost be a tragic hero – but of course, that all depends on whether The Last Battle is actually a tragedy or not. It certainly feels like it could be at this point: Narnia has never been in such dire straits, and knowing that Shift is ultimately responsible doesn’t make the outlook any less bleak.
Then they actually reach Lantern Waste.
Up till now Tirian had taken it for granted that the horses which the Calormenes were driving were their own horses; dumb, witless animals like the horses of our own world. And though he hated to see even a dumb horse overdriven, he was of course thinking more about the murder of the Trees. It had never crossed his mind that anyone would dare to harness one of the free Talking Horses of Narnia, much less to use a whip on it. But as the savage blow fell the horse reared up and said, half screaming:
“Fool and tyrant! Do you not see I am doing all I can?”
Please excuse me while I go look for a new heart…