The Last Battle is the dramatic conclusion and final book of the Narnia series. Looking at the religious corollaries often found in the Narnia books, you can look at this as the Narnian equivalent of a Christian Armageddon and has numerous parallels to the prophecies of Armageddon as found in the Bible.
I'll give a quick plot synopsis of the first portion of the book. It will hold some minor spoilers so feel free to skip ~3-4 paragraphs down to get my reactions.
The story starts out focused on an Ape and a Donkey in Narnia. They find the skin of a lion (its origins are alluded to but quickly dismissed…and that part of the story still has me a little confused and troubled, especially given the direction the skin came from and the direction the characters go in the end of the book). The Ape (Shift) suddenly has a plan for grandeur. He drapes the skin over the Donkey (Puzzle) and presumes to disguise him and present him to the inhabitants of Narnia as Aslan returned. His intentions are not altogether malevolent but based more out of greed. Comparing with the Christian allegory, Shift (through Puzzle) takes a position as a sort of "False Christ" figure who leads the people through deception and subterfuge.
Shift's main intent is to have the animals gather food, clothing, supplies and riches for him but as time goes on, he finds himself making uneasy alliance with the Calormenes (people from a neighboring country to Narnia, introduced in The Horse and His Boy). It's quickly obvious that the Calormenes have their own agenda and they begin subtly using Shift and Puzzle in ways that Shift doesn't necessarily want but is powerless to stop without admitting his own mistakes.
The current Narnian king (Tirian) discovers the unrest and deception and seeks to put an end to it. Unfortunately for him, the Narnian people and creatures are too fearful of disobeying Aslan. Even though they acknowledge that Aslan has "changed" from the kind, merciful being in the Histories, they are unwilling to risk his wrath by helping Tirian overthrow him. Instead, Tirian finds himself captured. While he awaits certain destruction, he calls out to Aslan for help of some kind and has a strange vision that he's standing before the Pevensies and other Earth-dwellers who have helped Narnia in the past. The vision ends before he is able to fully petition their help, but on Earth, the Earthlings also saw Tirian and knew there was trouble. Jill and Eustace are the youngest and so they are the ones who arrive in Narnia to help King Tirian. They untie him and quickly scour the land for supplies and allies for the "Last Battle".
I won't give away the climax or the conclusion of the book. But I will say that the book felt to me to be a little segmented into "before" and "after" the battle. The majority of the plot and intrigue happens before the battle (or during the battle itself)). I felt like Lewis did a good job of creating tense situations and bringing his protagonists to the brink of despair with an extremely grim outlook. As has been the case in some of his other books, there was a sort of Deus ex Machina situation which isn't terribly satisfying but given the religious nature of the book it was fitting and natural.
The portion of the story "after" the battle was interesting and had a number of small little asides about morality, religion and the state of a person's faith and nature both in life and in the world to come. The final segments of the book were different from the other stories much in the same way as the ending of The Silver Chair. This time we get more than a glimpse into "Aslan's Country" and we get definite insight into Lewis's view on the afterlife and heaven and other things of that nature. Even though it was still set in the style and tone of Narnia, this reminded me of his other book The Great Divorce in which he explicitly looks at the nature of Heaven and Hell and their inhabitants.
Overall I really enjoyed The Last Battle and found it to be a fun and exciting conclusion to the Narnia series. The final battle itself was fairly short in comparison with the rest of the novel and the main focus seemed to be on the overall conflict between good and evil rather than just focusing on the specific moments of combat on the actual field of battle. This again felt to me like a sort of metaphor that even though Armageddon will include a final large-scale physical battle, there is already a battle raging among us and people on both sides are doing what they can to undermine the other side.
As always, I found the world and characters of Narnia to be interesting and a lot of fun. I enjoyed getting to reunite with characters from the older books and meet some new characters as well. It did feel like the characters and situations in this book were a little less developed than previously or at least developed in a different way…focusing on their part in the allegory more than fleshing them out for their place in Narnia.
I had a lot of fun with the Narnia series and definitely recommend it to kids and adults alike. The religious themes are definitely there but if that's not "your thing" you can definitely overlook them and enjoy the stories for the adventure they contain.
4 out of 5 stars
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