Making sense of "The Last Battle".

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Making sense of "The Last Battle".

Postby NotRoyalStuart » Oct 21, 2016 4:55 pm

"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. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrow_ ... 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.
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Re: Making sense of "The Last Battle".

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Oct 21, 2016 9:36 pm

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.
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Re: Making sense of "The Last Battle".

Postby Varnafinde » Oct 23, 2016 4:58 am

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 ...
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Re: Making sense of "The Last Battle".

Postby NotRoyalStuart » Oct 23, 2016 10:49 am

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.
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Re: Making sense of "The Last Battle".

Postby Sir Edmond the just » Dec 18, 2018 7:03 am

I cried and am sad when i read it still, if there was one place that i would want to go to it would be Narnia.
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Re: Making sense of "The Last Battle".

Postby coracle » Dec 18, 2018 2:04 pm

Lewis set the story in 1949 because there were no train crash disasters that year. It's generally understood that he was not intending it to represent a specific historical crash, of which there were a few during the period.
I'm glad he was not doing what the Titanic movie did - inserting fictional characters into a real disaster.
Lewis didn't use imagery in these stories, as suggested above; he did not have metaphorical or symbolic representations, nor any allegory.
If his stories had elements that reflected figures or events from mythologies, or the Bible, they were not meant to represent them - perhaps just to illustrate a point.
"Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who diversified his creatures" (a Jewish prayer to be said whenever one sees an unusual looking person or animal),
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Re: Making sense of "The Last Battle".

Postby King_Erlian » Dec 19, 2018 2:36 am

I remember getting quite annoyed about the inconsistencies in the (our world) timeline when I read The Last Battle. LWW was supposed to be set "long ago, during the war years". As it was published in 1950 I took that to mean 1940, not as recently as 1945, which could hardly be described as "long ago" unless you were very, very young. PC happened one year later, VDT one year after that, SC a few weeks after VDT, and LB "more than a year" after SC according to Eustace. Yet Eustace also refers to the idea of "being smashed up by British Railways", and British Railways (later British Rail) wasn't formed until 1948. Also, Eustace and Jill were the only ones of the Seven Friends of Narnia to still be at school in LB; so Lucy had gone from being a little girl in LWW to a school leaver (at least) in LB. Even if she had left school as early as age 14 (the school leaving age in Britain was raised to 15 in 1947), it's a bit of a stretch.
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Re: Making sense of "The Last Battle".

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Dec 19, 2018 3:27 pm

I doubt that exact timing would be an issue in a Narnia timeline, for several reasons. The first of those was the random way in which the seven friends of Narnia visited the place and in some cases revisited it.

Yes, "getting smashed up by British Rail" would point to 1947, the year before I was born, but let's face it, as far as I know, I am the oldest by age of any NarniaWebber. To me, being reminded of Eustace saying what he did to Jill and Tirian, clarifies even more to the reader that when the Seven Friends of Narnia greet Tirian beyond the stable door, later in the story, that there was a real train crash, due to human error, as Aslan was to tell them, and not something Aslan has been accused of doing, himself. In view of the way Last Battle has been misconstrued by so many people who have commented about it, being able to sheet home responsibility to British Railways makes the story less enigmatic than NotRoyalStuart claims at the beginning of the thread.

NotRoyalStuart wrote:Eight years earlier there was also a horrific train wreck at Harrow and Wealdstone that killed 112 and injured 340.


Yes, I did hear of that particular accident, and I am also aware of several other terrible railway accidents in UK, going back to almost the beginning of transport by rail, even before 1901, when Narnia allegedly began. It is not surprising that C.S.Lewis wanted to end Narnia as we grew to know and love it, by 1950, when LWW was originally published. The choice of timing LB to be in 1949, as Coracle has suggested, because 1949 was a year in which, maybe for once, there was no railway accidents, tells me that C.S.Lewis didn't want to tie his real railway accident to any particular rail accident that people could point to, and say "Oh yes, that must have been the one he meant". Even the late appearance in LB of Mr & Mrs Pevensie, who never knew Narnia, but who also died in the same English rail accident which brought the Friends back to Narnia suggests as much. After all, show me any country in the world where there hasn't been horrible rail accidents of the sort. Some, like our own 1977 Granville rail disaster, which killed at least 83 people, are commemorated each year.

NotRoyalStuart wrote: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.


I'm sure it was a devastating train accident, but since you first read LB, there have been many more such devastating accidents, even in USA. And that is not the worst part of human folly. Don't forget the innocent people who died in both World Wars, the horror of September 11, 2001, and many other such malicious incidents. World War II England and subsequently was the time frame C.S.Lewis used when he wrote his Chronicles of Narnia, and when he would have plenty of inspiration for his themes.

Rose-tree Dryad wrote: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.


And I expect that LB was something along the same lines as applied in LB. The duality of Good and Evil suggests the monstrously nightmarish Tash in that book. And what C.S.Lewis saw in his World War I service, let alone in World War II.
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