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Making sense of "The Last Battle".

PostPosted: Oct 21, 2016 4:55 pm
by NotRoyalStuart
"The Last Battle" is an enigmatic book. Lewis wrote it following The Magician's Nephew. Lewis married Joy Davidman Gresham who died of cancer in 1960. (Watch the film "Shadowlands" starring Anthony Hopkins as Lewis I you want to get a better understanding of the story.). Lewis' own mother died when he was a child. The Magician's Nephew is an expression of a wish that there was a magic place that could heal his wife and could have healed his mother. Joy died in 1960. Eight years earlier there was also a horrific train wreck at Harrow and Wealdstone that killed 112 and injured 340. ... rail_crash I think that it is safe assume that this is the crash that kills the Pevensie family in The Last Battle. The wreck is heartbreaking to read about. One passenger train rear-ended another passenger at a station at full speed in foggy conditions and a third passenger train coming in the other direction on the parallel track plowed into the wreckage and damaged cars and derailed. To Lewis this must have begged the question what kind of just God would let it such misery? Lewis' meditations turned to the afterlife for solace. Plato had expressed that this world is only an imperfect representation of an ideal world, and that humanity is like people who watch shadows in a cave, mistaking the shadows for reality. So this is where the concept of the ideal Narnia and the ideal England are likely to come from. The charlatain character of the Ape Shift, might be inspired by the infamous 1950s demagogue Senator Joseph McCarthy. Puzzle the Donkey is a metaphor for the working class, and his character very much mirrors that of the horse Boxer, from George Orwell's "Animal Farm" who is mislead and betrayed by the pigs. However, Puzzle comes to a much better end than Boxer, who is rewarded for his hard work by being sold to the knacker.

Re: Making sense of "The Last Battle".

PostPosted: Oct 21, 2016 9:36 pm
by The Rose-Tree Dryad
That is very interesting (and very, very tragic) about the railway crash... it does seem as though it may have been the inspiration for the deaths of the Friends of Narnia. I don't think that this event inspired Lewis to first contemplate on why God would allow such misery, however. He had already written a book about the Problem of Evil in 1940, titled The Problem of Pain.

Comparing Plato's Cave to the Shadowlands is also a compelling perspective; I've noted that thematic connection myself in the past. There's also a strong link between the name "Shadowlands" and "the land where the shadows fall" found in George MacDonald's fairy tale The Golden Key. MacDonald was a Scottish author, poet and minister who was a huge influence on C.S. Lewis. (Lewis said he thought he had never written a book in which he didn't quote from him!)

Also, interesting thoughts about the people and books that may have influenced characters like Shift and Puzzle! I'll have to research those. I've never really given very much thought to the current events and contemporary people in Lewis's life that may have shaped The Chronicles of Narnia; it's an intriguing topic to ponder about.

Re: Making sense of "The Last Battle".

PostPosted: Oct 23, 2016 4:58 am
by Varnafinde
The Narnia books were not written in the same order as they were first published - Lewis had written a few pages of what would later become The Magician's Nephew before he even wrote Prince Caspian. About a year later he wrote a fuller version, but he left it aside because he wasn't quite satisfied with it.

He wrote The Last Battle before he took up The Magician's Nephew again. He then finished it in an improved version (with Frank the Cabby and his wife as King and Queen of Narnia).

I'm not sure when exactly he started writing The Last Battle, but he had finished it by March 1953. It's very likely then that a major train accident in October 1952 had made its way into his text, either as "where it really happened" (I'm not quite sure about that), or just as a pattern for his own story. I didn't know about this - it's a very interesting fact!
And a terrible tragedy.

Lewis finished The Magician's Nephew in February 1954, more than a year before he married Joy and discovered her illness, so she was not part of his wish for healing as he wrote it.

But the loss of his mother was devastating for the then ten year old boy, who was very soon sent to boarding school because his father couldn't handle bringing up his two sons on his own. (It was the school where his older brother had been a student for a while already, so at least the two brothers had each other, and they were very close for all their life.)

Yes, in fiction Lewis could give his character the healing that he didn't get for his own mother ...

Re: Making sense of "The Last Battle".

PostPosted: Oct 23, 2016 10:49 am
by NotRoyalStuart
Thank you for your very thoughtful replies.

The sadness of The Last Battle runs deep. When I was eleven in 1979 and I first read about the Pevensies being killed in a train wreck, I cried. I also cried at the end of Narnia. Anyone who reads the books has the secret desire to visit Narnia, and when that door is closed there is a real sense of a paradise lost. When as an adult I discovered after some research that the train wreck at Harrow and Wealdstone was real, I cried again, both for all the victims and also for my inner child who loved those fictional characters so much. That wreck must have been a national tragedy, that was known by all Britons in that era, but as an eleven year old growing up in The US in the late 1970s, I had no idea.