APOCALYPSE TIME KIDDOS
Well, we’ve reached the end of our journey. We’ve seen kid heroes do lots of interesting things, and we’ve also seen lots of overt metaphors which thankfully decreased over time. However, the metaphors are cranked back up to 100 here.
The story opens with a pair of, er, “friends” called Puzzle and Shift. Puzzle is a kind, sweet Donkey, who is constantly used and abused by Shift, the appropriately named Ape. When they find a lion skin, Shift comes up with a brilliant plan: dress Puzzle up in the skin and pretend he’s Aslan!
When your friend suggests you become the Antichrist, just say no. In fact, you should find friends that convince you not to be the Antichrist.
Anyways, the next we hear, Shift has made a deal with the Calormenes, dryad trees are being cut down left and right, and everyone is feeling hopeless because they think “Aslan” is mad at them. Enter King Tirian, who is not a crude drunk, but a rather reckless young king. Evidently Caspian’s line has only increased in recklessness. He and his unicorn BFF Jewel try to stop the Calormenes from cutting down trees and selling talking horses into slavery, only to find themselves captured. Tirian somehow manages to partially manifest into the mundane world, informing Digory, Polly, Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Eustace, and Jill of what’s going down. The seven decide to try to enter Narnia using the magic rings once again, and they head out to the Bristol train station…
Next we know, Tirian is rescued by Eustace and Jill, who have no idea where the others are. They keep forming plans to stop the Calormenes and prove that the creature inside Shift’s stable isn’t Aslan. But the enemy stays one step ahead of them, and things get worse when the Calormenes performing one of their usual Tash rituals accidentally summon their god.
Tash, by the way, is a good example of the “Big Lipped Alligator Moment” trope. This weird freaky bird dude appears right out of nowhere, is creepy for a couple chapters, and then disappears after Peter yells at him. We don’t know anything other than he’s creepy and kills plant life around him. We don’t know where he actually comes from. We don’t know if all the bad guys were sent to wherever he is at the end, or if he’s just this eldritch guy doing his own thing somewhere else.
Look, let’s not mince words. This book is bleak for a good chunk of it. One plan after another falls through, there are enough deaths to please even George R. R. Martin (although he wouldn’t like the ultimate ending, of course), and it all starts feeling like Turin maybe got involved with how badly it’s going. We find out that literally everyone in that universe dies, and all of our protagonists from the past books except for Susan are dead (patience, reader, patience). But of course, this is the End Times.
Let me tell you about that. I read this series, and consequently this book, right at the height of Rapturemania, while also reading the Left Behind kids series. This book freaked me out much more when I was an anxious 12 year old embedded in premillenialism. I don’t even remember reading the happy ending of the protagonists because this book scared me as badly as Left Behind did.
This time it didn’t freak me out so much (okay maybe Tash still did), but the actual ending of Narnia and possibly that universe was some cosmic level horror. And everyone stands there and watches for however long it takes for the world to end, which includes the sun turning into a red giant and the dragons that devoured the land turning to bones. It’s a good thing the ending is so incredibly joyful because this was both extremely sad and extremely freaky.
Overall, the book was okay, but certainly not one of the best of the series. The pacing is a bit wonky, and it’s mainly focused on ushering the protagonists to their final heavenly destination. That said, I did enjoy seeing everyone one last time, and I liked the character of King Tirian.
ALL RIGHT LET’S TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE ALL THINKING ABOUT.
The first time I read this, I assumed Susan was on the train as well. I don’t know why, as it’s not stated anywhere, but I assumed she just straight up died and went to hell. I thought Lewis was being incredibly hard on the idea of enjoying things like makeup and fashion, and this was probably drawn from my upbringing where I was warned against vanity (and had my mom tell me she didn’t wear makeup so she wouldn’t teach me to be “vain” as well). So I had a bit of baggage.
As I watched Susan’s character this time around, I see it in a different light, although I think Lewis still didn’t handle the subject as well as he could. But first, I do suggest everyone go read these two articles, as they both do a great job of examining Susan’s character and ending in the books:
From the beginning, Susan tried to be the voice of reason in the group. She tried this, because she was mimicking what adults did. Even after being in Narnia, and living an adult life in Narnia, she still struggles with this. I mentioned this in my Prince Caspian review, but she wants a stable, normal life. As a result, once she can’t go back to Narnia, she decides to embed herself in the world around her. This in and of itself isn’t bad, either, but she did so by putting aside the lessons she learned as a child because she wants to be an adult. She doesn’t realize that the most mature adults are the ones that hold onto the things they learned as kids. Remember, we’re getting this from the viewpoint of a man who tried to be “mature” and was embarrassed to be seen reading fairytales when he was younger. Lewis is drawing off his own experience growing up.
Previously, when the Pevensies lived in Narnia for so long, they forgot what their old lives were like. But once they returned, they never forgot about their lives in Narnia–except for Susan. In this, one has to view this phenomenon from a Christian perspective. Christians, in some sense, live in two worlds. They live within the regular world around them, but also within the world of the Church (not their specific church, but the Church–the Christian body around the world) and the hope of the eternal life God has promised. The Christian life involves being able to navigate both these worlds without neglecting one or the other.
Susan focuses on outward appearances and what she can actually see. This seems to be a kind of weakness with her. This is what prevented her from seeing Aslan in Prince Caspian. It’s also what led to her being temporarily taken in by Rabadash’s social performance in The Horse and His Boy when others were skeptical of him from the start. Once she is outside of Narnia, she becomes increasingly focused on appearances. By the last book, Susan is apparently so caught up in being fashionable and going to parties that she’s not as close to her family as before. I think everyone can agree when something starts destroying a healthy family relationship, it’s not a good thing. I would liken it to young women who become so obsessed with being an influencer on Instagram that they spend their whole time perfecting their look and their environment and lose track of the world outside of the Internet.
But, as others have pointed out, Lewis didn’t envision an ultimately bad ending for Susan. He admitted any sequel about her would be a much more adult book, in that it would be exploring her grief and trauma, and he probably could have done it, but it would have been very different from the Narnia series.
Now, let’s get onto my quibble with how he handled Susan’s arc, which involves how he wrote this series in general. I complained before that I think he talks down too much to the reader. Like most children’s books, much of his story was telling, not showing, although he was certainly capable of showing. Susan’s ending is an example of this weakness. We get a bit of a throwaway reference to Susan continuing to try to act older than she is in Dawn Treader, but that’s the last we hear of her until the final book. We don’t really know what’s been going on until the others suddenly mention that she’s focused on fashion and is rather condescending to them when they talk about Narnia. It would have been nice to see a little more of this progression rather than abruptly hear about it in a couple paragraphs, and then have the subject dropped again. I think, too, Lewis didn’t really show what Susan’s problem was–only that it manifested itself in an obsession with fashion and society. At the very least, if he had even done a little more telling, we wouldn’t have people assuming that keeping up with the latest fashions had anything to do with a “girl discovering her sexuality” because when you’re reading a children’s book you should really focus on the sexuality of a young adult character based on a couple lines at the very end of the series.
(That’s sarcasm in case you didn’t catch it.)
So, that’s the series! Overall, I found the books almost compulsively readable, and even though some of the metaphors were way too on-the-nose, I still found much to ponder about after reading them that went deeper than the metaphors went.
Also, in case anyone is wondering, you can make Tash less scary by just imagining him going “HMMMmmmmmmmMMMM” like the Chamberlain the entire time.