Tag Archives: CS Lewis

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle

C.S. Lewis’ epic series, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” comes to a conclusion in book seven, “The Last Battle.” Yep, it’s “The Apocalypse” for kids. I can’t say much else, because that’s what it really is. Book seven is the eschatological conclusion of the series. There are a number of significant characters in the book: Shift, Puzzle, King Tirian, Jewel, Jill Pole, and Eustace Scrubb (Aslan, of course, is present in all seven books).

 

I believe I read once that the book is designed to mirror the book of Revelations, at least, to a certain extent. My own eschatological lore is a bit rusty, but here it goes: Shift is the False Prophet and Puzzle is the antichrist. Shift, a talking ape, decides his little slice of Narnia is not enough. He sets about a sequence of events to put him in control of the whole country. Puzzle is a donkey who, at Shift’s suggestion, goes about wearing a lion skin impersonating Aslan. I am hesitant to call him the antichrist because he’s really not so much a villain, as he is a clueless dupe. Shift is the real source of the problems; he sets things in motion that begin the downfall of Narnia. Still, it is Puzzle who wears the lion skin and so sets himself up as a false Aslan or false Christ. King Tirian is the last king of Narnia. He puts up a valiant fight against the forces of darkness that seem to overwhelm the forces of good in the last battle. Jewel is a Unicorn, and King Tirian’s sidekick. Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb are the two “Friends of Narnia” who show up to help King Tirian and his friends in the Last Battle. The remaining “Friends of Narnia” also show up, excepting Susan, at the end of the novel.

 

This is a somewhat darker Narnia book than the others as it describes the end of that world. The forces of evil pretty much have the upper hand throughout the book up until the point Aslan intervenes and calls up the giant, Father Time, to bring things to their conclusion. The world is destroyed. All the inhabitants of Narnia approach Aslan, who sits in judgment of them, one at a time. I find it odd that Puzzle manages to get into the afterlife with the good people. As a character, he was a relatively innocent dupe, but he’s still the most obvious candidate for Lewis’ antichrist, and generally, Christians regard the antichrist as very, very bad. Why Lewis’ was not, I don’t know.

 

Anyway, I found this book a little more interesting than the preceding ones. Maybe I just like darker stories. Overall, it was an engaging little tale, although at one point, there might have been hints of racism. Specifically, some rebel dwarves began calling the dark-skinned Calormenes “Darkies.” However, that only happened after the dwarves pretty much rebelled against everybody (Aslan included) and kept saying “The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.” So, it certainly is not conclusive. Aside from that, my only other complaint is that (spoiler alert) everybody dies at the end. Diggory, Polly, Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Eustace, and Jill … all dead. The story ends with a beatific description of the afterlife and what the “Friends of Narnia” and the other creatures of Narnia encounter in Aslan’s country. So, according to C.S. Lewis, it’s really a happily ever after ending. But is it? I’m not sure the very young would appreciate or understand that kind of ending.  But who am I to say?

 

Ultimately, I’ll give this story three and a half stars for an adult, and probably only three and a half for children as well, because of the dark nature.

 

This review was originally posted on Shelfari on 12/30/12

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Book Five of “The Chronicles of Narnia” is entitled “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Like book four this book features the young King Caspian, but also two of the four original children from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” namely, Edmund and Lucy. It also features a new child, Eustace, the Pevensey’s cousin, who, in the beginning of the book, is a bit of an ill-mannered youngster always belittling his cousins and everything they talk about. He thinks Narnia is some fanciful yarn the other children tell, and not a real place… until he finds himself in it, as well.

The story begins with the children in our world. They are fascinated by a painting of a Narnian-style ship. There is a bit of a tussle between Edmund and Lucy on one side, and Eustace on the other—Eustace excels at making things difficult. They see the painting changing before their very eyes. The waves it depicts begin to move, as does the ship; the painting grows in size, and before you know it, the young children find themselves deposited in the sea. They are, of course, pulled aboard by the crew of the ship. There they find King Caspian, only a couple years older from when they left him in “Prince Caspian,” and they learn that the name of the ship is “The Dawn Treader.” And, I have to admit, that’s a pretty cool name for a ship in a magical land.

The children learn that King Caspian is on a quest to find the seven lords who King Miraz sent away during his reign because they might have supported Caspian during the troubles in “Prince Caspian.” Likewise, their old friend, the mouse, Reepicheep, is on a quest to sail into the uttermost East in search of the land of Aslan beyond the edge of the world. Edmund and Lucy happily join in the quest; Eustace is more interested in making trouble and complaining, and badmouthing everyone and everything.

So, they head out and have several interesting adventures along the way. They encounter slavers, an island that changes Eustace into a dragon—which in the long run, is actually good, because it teaches him what a pest he has been, although he still must grow a lot to overcome his own shortcomings—an island with a wizard who has one-legged dwarves for servants, a sea serpent, an island where dreams (particularly nightmares) are made real, and an island where two “retired” stars live. There is more, of course, but I will let you find it out for yourself when you read it.

One shortcoming of the book was the nautical terminology. Maybe (okay, probably) it was my fault and I was lazy and I didn’t look anything up in the dictionary, but there were a number of nautical terms regarding a ship that I did not know off the top of my head. I’m sure most of them would be confusing for a young child reading them for the first time. I could keep port and starboard straight, but that was about it. Other than that, the book suffers the same weaknesses as the other Narnia books… it isn’t detailed enough for an adult reader. It’s fine for kids, of course, but I find the Narnia books somewhat tiresome, although, this one was less so than the others. I managed to read this one in just a few days.

Overall, I’ll give the book four stars out of five for a child audience, and three stars out of five for an adult.

This review was originally posted on Shelfari.com on 12/30/12.

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The fourth book of “The Chronicles of Narnia” is entitled “Prince Caspian.” In this book, C. S. Lewis builds on the story of the four youngsters who played such an important role in “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe,” namely: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. The four children are pulled out of our world and sent to Narnia by the power of a magical horn that a certain Prince Caspian blows in desperation to summon aid.

The children arrive on the scene in Narnia literally thousands of years after they originally reigned in “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.” The castle that was the seat of their power is now a ruin. The landscape has altered: rivers are not where they are expected to be. The magical powers of the land are weakened: forests lie dormant, and many of the animals of that world no longer speak. It is, indeed, a dark time.

With the help of a dwarf guide they set out to render assistance to Prince Caspian. Prince Caspian, the rightful ruler of Narnia, has been usurped by his uncle Miraz, the ruthless Telmarine King who seeks Caspian’s death. Caspian, once in Miraz’s care, has fled the Telmarine castle and taken up with those few of the old Narnians—the talking animals, the wood spirits, and what-have-you—who are willing to fight for their old land and for this new promising king who is not afraid of them and will cherish their magical ways. As a result, the armies of King Miraz and the armies of King Caspian are destined to clash at Aslan’s How, the location where the great Lion, Aslan, came back from the dead in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

Aslan, of course, does make an appearance in the book. First, he is seen by Lucy, but not the others; however, shortly, beginning with Edmund, the others start to see him. I won’t dwell anymore on the plot elements of the book; if you are further interested, you should read it. Like the other Narnia books, it is an excellent fantasy novel that espouses much of the Christian ethics that has so influenced so much of the world. But, like the others, I must emphasize it is a children’s book. Although it was not as tiresome as some of the others, I still had to struggle to finish it—but that’s because I’m an adult, I think. I do believe young children would enjoy it immensely.

Overall, I would give this book four stars out of five for a young children audience, but only two and half or so for an adult audience. The writing style is just too simplistic and quick. I just never felt like I could quite immerse myself in the world created or anything like that.

This review was originally posted on Shelfari on 12/30/12.

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Horse and His Boy

Of all the books that make up C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” this one, “The Horse and His Boy” is perhaps the most unusual. In every other book, the main characters start in Earth and come to Narnia through some magical portal to learn some important lesson. In this one, although the main characters do not live in the land of Narnia, they start in the same world. They come from a land south of Narnia on the Narnia map in the land of Calormen.

 

From the descriptions of the people, the actions they take, and the language they use, Calormen seems to me to be a metaphor for the Arab nations of Earth and their views of the great Tisroc might be construed as a metaphor for Islam. I’m not sure about that completely as I am not fully conversant in Islam or C.S. Lewis’ scholarly background. But it seems likely. As such, there is a developed contrast between Narnia (Christianity) and Calormen (Islam/Arabia) and as C.S. Lewis is a Christian, Christianity comes out clearly as the winner in this book. Personally, I do think Christianity has an edge over Islam (but again, I’m not fully conversant in Islam), but my views are not relevant to this review or the work as a whole.

 

Anyway, the four main characters of this novel are: the young boy, Shasta, the young girl, Aravis, and the two Talking Horses, Hwin and Bree. The book starts with Shasta living a desperate life of servitude in Calormen and the story, as a whole, generally revolves around him. In the beginning, he’s pretty much a slave-boy to his “father,” Arsheesh, a poor fisherman. Then one day, a nobleman comes to his father’s hut, and, seeing the boy, wants to buy him as a slave. His “father” and the nobleman begin to barter. That night, now in even more desperate straits, Shasta escapes on the nobleman’s horse who just happens to be Bree, a Talking Horse from Narnia who is pretending to be a dumb animal wishing he could return to Narnia.

 

Shasta and Bree take flight north towards Narnia. Along the way, they encounter Aravis and her Talking Horse, Hwin. They team up and begin their journey.

 

Another unusual aspect of this book is that this story takes place before the end of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” It happens sometime during the reign of the two kings and two queens of Narnia from that book. Shasta and his company encounter King Edmund and Queen Lucy several times during the book. Or is it Queen Susan? I’ve forgotten already. Anyway, I won’t reveal the ending.

 

It’s a decent book for kids, morally speaking. It embraces the Christian ethos while providing an intriguing, fun adventure story.

 

I was having some issues while reading the latter half of this book, so I don’t feel comfortable giving it a precise ranking, so I will give it a range. I think it is about three and a half to four stars out of five, inasmuch as it’s a children’s book. Adults probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much (I know I didn’t: these Narnia books are becoming something of a challenge to finish).

This review was originally published on Shelfari.com on 12/30/12.

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

“The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” by C.S. Lewis is probably the most famous of the books of the Chronicles of Narnia. Although it is listed as book two in the series because the events that take place within it follow the events that take place in “The Magician’s Nephew” it was actually written first (I believe “The Magician’s Nephew” came out chronologically as around book six or so, and was written as a prequel). Anyway, because of the break in the timeline, there is some discontinuity between this book and the first; specifically with reference to the character of the White Witch.

 

As noted in my prior review, the Chronicles of Narnia are intended to be a metaphorical story used to introduce young children to Christianity. The Lion, Aslan, is analogous to Jesus Christ. Opposed to him is the White Witch, a.k.a. Satan. In this book, the relationship between Satan and the White Witch is a little clearer. In this book, there is a reference to the White Witch previously being in the service of The Emperor Across the Sea (God) as his sort of enforcer. That is analogous to the role Satan has in some Judea-Christian traditions where he played the role of an accuser of a man for his sins before the throne of God. I just wanted to note that because that is a change from “The Magician’s Nephew” in which the White Witch is described as coming to Narnia from a completely different world (a world she destroyed); there is no reference to her ever being in service to The Emperor Across the Sea.

 

Anyway, the main characters of the story are four children: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. They discover a wardrobe in their uncle’s (I think it’s uncle) house, that leads them to the magical land of Narnia. There, they find the whole land in the grip of a never-ending winter brought on by the power of the White Witch. And to make matters worse, the White Witch is even preventing Christmas from coming (oh, no!). But with the arrival of the four children—the two Sons of Adam, and the two Daughters of Eve—things start to turn around. Soon, the Great Lion, Aslan is on the move to help the children bring about the ruin of the White Witch.

 

The most important metaphor in this book is the death of Aslan at the hands of the White Witch and his subsequent resurrection by the power of the Deeper Magic. Obviously, this is supposed to serve as a metaphor for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And there’s not too much to be added to that.

 

Overall, this is a good children’s book incorporating the strong moral traditions of Christianity in it. As an adult, I found it entertaining, but of a somewhat light fare. And, after a certain point, because it is geared towards children, it started to get a little tedious; I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish the series.

 

Anyway, as far as a children’s book goes, I’ll give it four out of five stars.

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician’s Nephew

I’ve decided to reread the entire “Chronicles of Narnia” series by C.S. Lewis beginning with the first book in the series: “The Magician’s Nephew.” I read the series several years ago, but remember only highlights. I never read the series as a child, only as an adult. Anyway, I completed this book in three days. All the books are about the same length and are about the right size for a young child. C.S. Lewis is well-known as a Christian thinker and his personal philosophy is woven throughout this book in remarkable and interesting ways.

To begin, let’s start with the players. There are two young children: Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer. There is Digory’s uncle, Andrew. And there are the two supernatural powers: Jadis, the White Witch, and Aslan, the great Lion. Aslan is, of course, symbolic of Jesus of Nazareth, believed by Christians to be the Son of God. The White Witch is symbolic of evil, or the Devil, if you will. This book is a largely metaphorical work designed to make Christianity appealing to children. Christ was big on being open to children, so C.S. Lewis designing an alternative magical universe catering to the spiritual needs of the young is a natural extension of that philosophy. There are other characters in the novel, but those are the big five. As powers, Aslan and the White Witch are the most important. The main character, though, is Digory Kirke. The story is told largely from his perspective, although it occasionally shifts back to Polly, and even less frequently to other characters.

The story is pretty basic. Uncle Andrew is a magician here on earth who has created several magical rings that allow transportation between worlds. Lacking the courage to explore himself, he sends the children in his stead. The first adventure lands the children in the dead world of Charn, a world once ruled by Jadis, but which the horrible woman destroyed. During their explorations there, Digory inadvertently releases Jadis from an enchanted slumber. They flee that world and return to Earth. Fortunately, the children know that Jadis is up to no good and they manage to get her off of Earth and onto a third world at the very day of that new world’s birth. It is, of course, Aslan the Lion, who sings this world, named Narnia, into existence. For those not up on biblical lore, this is kind of a parallel to the notion of original sin: it was man’s fault that allowed evil into the world in the Garden of Eden. Anyway, the story continues from there emphasizing the wonder and magic of Narnia and the great power and wisdom of Aslan. A small mini-quest is set before Digory and Polly, and there are one or two more Garden of Eden allusions in store for the reader.

In any event, I enjoyed the story. It’s a good tale for kids and as such is fairly morally sound. Just because it is oriented toward Christianity it is not necessarily unappealing to non-Christians. It can be a little preachy in some areas, but not to the extent that it ruins the work.

Overall, I’ll give it four stars out of five.

This review originally appeared on Shelfari.com on 12-30-12.