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[This text comprises two reviews. In April 2000, I wrote three Narnia reviews covering "The Last Battle", "The Silver Chair", and "The Magician's Nephew". However, I only completed and published "The Last Battle" review at that time. In September 2001, I wrote a second review that went unpublished until October 2012. Review 1 is the April 2000 review. Review 2 is the previously unpublished 2001 review]
Review 1: Apocalyptic fiction has become a fashionable trend in the Christian market nowadays. Yet this book, published in 1957, proves one thing: Lewis was years ahead of his time. Although Jenkins and LaHaye are doing good detailing their fictional account of the end-of-the-world (Left Behind series), in what is taking them hundreds of pages, Lewis does in a short 200. Not that that is a bad thing, because each had different purposes. Since I'm reviewing Narnia, Narnia I will stay with.
Lewis, in his only end-of-the-world book, tells of how in the last days of Narnia, there are two animals living by the Great Cauldron. One is Puzzle, a lovable Donkey, and the other is an evil ape named Shift. Shift, thru manipulation and deception, tricks Puzzle into donning a lion skin, making a false Aslan. This is representative of the Anti-Christ. It is about how the real Aslan and the real Tash come again into Narnia, and the final show down.
The most stirringly majestic portion of the whole book is the last part, where the old Narnia passes away, and behold! the children and all good Narnians who love Aslan are called into Heaven, the New Narnia. This is the single most precious portion of any of Lewis's fiction. It drips of Heaven. The Power and Majesty of God on High is portrayed thru these pages. He goes thru judgement day (never mind this pre-mid-post trib stuff or debate), and then how the children react to being in heaven.
An interesting concept put forth by this book is a LIMITED universalism. Emeth, who is servant of Tash, a pagan god, is found in heaven. When Aslan comes and speaks to him, Emeth says he was not servant of Aslan but Tash. Aslan says that in reality he had been serving Aslan all along, and he knew Aslan, but to him Aslan was known as Tash. In other words, Emeth's perception or view was not the real Tash, who was an evil being, but the real Aslan. To an extent, I agree that this might be possible. I feel you can have a relationship with Jesus, but know him under a different name. That does NOT mean I believe all religions send you to heaven. You still have to know Jesus, and God.
The dwarves, who are in heaven, are to stubborn to let got of themselves. They perceive themselves in a horse stall (that is where the last of old Narnia is seen. It is night, and all these people in a great circle or waiting for Tashlan, which is the fusing of Tash and Aslan, exactly what the Anti-Christ is, and the children run into the tent or stall.) "The Dwarves are for the Dwarves!" This is pride. This is what it is like on earth. What to us seems distasteful, if we would really let go of our pride and let God be God, then in the end we would have ultimate joy. That is what Lewis is saying thru the Dwarves.
Lewis also uses classical philosophy to educate children. The old Narnia is called the Shadowlands, mere shadows of the More Real Heaven. This is straight from Plato. The values we hold dear, such as truth, valour, honour, etc, are manifestations of its essence. We practice truth and valour. That is a form of valour, a shadow. But the essence of valour, that is the real thing itself. Lewis uses this concept to help the Children better understand God. I came across this in this story when I was a child; I was astounded to realize it was Plato when I was in a philosophy class in college. That is why, in being a Christian, the more you act like the Christ the more Christ is in you and part of you. The more honour you show and love you show, the more Christ is you and you are him because Christ is the very ultimate of honour, and all the other vitures we hold dear. That is why God gave us the shadow of marriage, to help us understand the very real union between God and man. We become one with God, just as man and woman become one flesh in sexual intercourse. God is such an awesome God.
In the end, we have a powerful vision of Heaven. Although it is Narnia, the ending he detailed was as much our world as Narnia. His prose is fantastic. As far as C. S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity" coming out in his fiction, this is his ultimate achievement in giving hope to the Christians on the afterlife. This is my favorite (from the Christian perspective) of the Narnia series. There is so much to learn and digest from this beautiful book. The heart of this achievement is that this is written for Children, and yet he packs so much meat into it without EVER coming across as condescending OR preachy. Truly one of the best.
(For adult fiction, Till We Have Faces is his best. Actually, I think that novel is his deepest novel, and his best).
Review 2: The Last Battle, the very last book in the Narnian Chronicles, also stands as the most impressive book in the series as far as the religious aspect goes. It also shows what LWW could have been had Lewis handled it properly. Lewis infuses Christian ideology with fantasy for fantastic results, and the result is a book that stands as one of the most beautiful things he ever wrote. There is no other prose from Lewis's hand that equals the last sections of The Last Battle and the first sections of Perelandra in terms of sheer beauty and joy.
In my own life The Last Battle has proven to be very significant because of Lewis's utilization of the Platonic concepts. I did not know it was Plato when I read Lewis, but when I took a philosophy class everything clicked, and I consider myself a Platonic Christian. This is Lewis's prime aim in all seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis wants to provide, in story form, truths that, because he has sown the seed, when later encountered in adult life the children will be much more sympathetic to them than they may otherwise be.
Another important theme running through The Last Battle is the use of perception, and although we see it numerous times in the books we see it here the most. Those who cannot see the things of God blind themselves to it because of their own spiritual problems, and the people will not let go of their own sin to lead the life God wants them to lead. In The Great Divorce, this is the central theme of the book. People go on a bus ride to heaven, and if they wish to stay, they must give up a vice that they have retained. Only one makes the leap of faith and lets go of his red dragon, which symbolises lust. In The Last Battle, the dwarfs will not let themselves see the true beauty they would be in if they just allowed themselves the opportunity to see it.
Another thing about The Last Battle that troubles me is the presentation of Emeth. I have been undecided on Universalism as Lewis presents it. To be a radical Universalist would simply not do, and Lewis was not. I see the point he makes, and there is a side of me that really wants to believe what he has to say on Emeth, but another side of me balks at the idea. I personally would never advocate this view simply because I simply don't know if it is true or not, and as we are talking about eternity here it is not something to play around with. However, I do think this is a possibility and half the time I believe it and the other half I don't, so I simply remain undecided.
The events at the stable are very significant for all parties concerned, for it seemed the side aligning themselves with evil are now suddenly shocked to see supernatural occurrences begin, while the animals who are afraid of Tashlan are just all the more certain that he is really angry with them, but for the truly saved are hopeful. Ginger the cat is made into a dumb animal, which really scares the bad side. Rishda Tarkaan becomes terrified to realise the god he has been serving actually does exist. Emeth rejoices, for he will be able to at long last meet his love, which is Tash.
The children and Tirian do not fully realise what is in the stable, but they want to know. Tirian grabs Rishda and goes into the stable with him. Tirian has a very surprised reaction, for the Stable is much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. This goes into the Platonic concept of the inside being bigger than the outside, and Lucy makes the remark that once in her world a stable held someone (Jesus) who was bigger than the entire world. Then the end of Narnia comes and every one goes through that stable door, which, because of its Biblical allusions, is a very approriate door to have to travel through. Either you accept Jesus or you don't, but everyone will know Christ is Lord. That, to me, is what the true significance of the Stable Door is.
[This is a brief paper I wrote about how Lewis imparted truth to his characters and am including the text here as bonus content to the review proper:]
Lewis has his characters experience truth in a number of ways. The four works this essay will look at are "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe", "Prince Caspian", "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader", and "The Last Battle". Not all of the truth the characters encounter are what the characters wanted.
In the first book, LWW, we have Edmond who has become a traitor. Edmond does not wish to believe that the Witch is bad, because she can supply his fix. This is one of the biggest truths that Lewis imparts to his young readers: addiction blinds you to the point of where your only god is the addiction itself and you will do anything it takes to get whatever you are addicted too. Edmond is a classic case of addiction, and if this were a work for adults it would have been quite appropriate to make his addiction drugs. When the Beavers are discussing Aslan, Edmond does not like the conversation. He feels this could pose a threat to getting his fix of Turkish Delight. Like drugs, this addiction ruins ordinary pleasures, and Lewis says at the beginning of Chapter IX that memories of bad magic food spoils the taste of regular food. He is so focused on his addictions that Edmond no longer cares about real life, and he will do anything possible to get it, even selling out his brother and sisters to the White Witch, which in everyday life could be a man who will let his family go hungry or will not pay the rent because he cannot get his cocain if he takes care of the basic needs of his family. Even in this degraded state of mind, Edmond gets a realisation of the cruelty of the White Witch, for what he craves the most she will not give him. For truth to come to Edmond, he must accept this terrible fact of his being a traitor and Aslan must die for him. Aslan and Edmond have a talk afterward, which, although we are not told what is said, Lewis does tell us that Edmond never forgot that conversation and he is truly a changed boy.
In Prince Caspian, Lewis gives us another boy who is struggling to discover truth. Caspian learns from his Nurse that there is an older Narnia where Talking Animals lived and there were dwarfs and tree and water people and various creatures who claimed Narnia has their home. His Uncle Miraz, however, denies this and sends his nurse away to be replaced by a Dr. Cornelius, who, as it turns out, is a half breed of dwarf and man. It is notable that he is the only named example of interbreeding, although, according to Ford, Caspian's nurse may also have dwarf blood in her. Caspian must decide which "truth" he will believe, and because of his relatively good sense he chooses to belief the stories about Old Narnia. This ties into Lewis's theme about the longing for the truth. I highly doubt that, if a person is on Aslan's side (although Caspian is not to begin with), he/she will long for something in a deep spiritual sense and it not be the truth. Lewis talks of this in his Pilgrim's Regress, and it is God's prime instrument in conversion. People long for something true, and unless they are deceived by Satan, they will find their answer in Jesus Christ. It is also important to note the relationship between Dr. Cornelius and Prince Caspian. God wants to use you to help awake and feed that desire for God in someone else's life, and that is why He tells us to go make disciples of men. One reason Lewis chose Dr. Cornelius as a half breed is to illustrate we are not to perfection yet, but we are progressing toward it, and also one reason the dwarfs intermarried was so the were not killed. Sometimes, as Christians, we cannot be open about our religion but must seek God to know who we should share it with. Of course, this does not apply to America yet, for we have tremendous religious freedom. As the world progresses, however, I fear that will change. Once you discover truth, then you are accountable to that truth and must help fight for it, which Prince Caspian does, and then becomes King Caspian.
Eustace Scrubb also encounters truth for the first time. Much of the first half of the novel Eustace is a perfect ass.
Jill also encounters truth in The Silver Chair. At the opening of the novel, she learns the appropriate ways to approach God, and these ways are not Satanic, as the dark magic she suggested to Eustace as a method of getting into Narnia was. She also learns in that opening scene with her and Aslan more of the nature of God. You cannot put God in a box, and Aslan will make no promises to her what he will do, but she does not doubt his word when the Lion tells her that there is no other stream. Throughout there rest of the novel Jill learns that no matter what God says, you must do as he asks, even if it seems that you will be killed or seriously harmed or seemingly impossible, and she also learns that, through the giants of Harfang, God will take care of you even if you err, but there will be unnecessary complictions if you do not do it his way.
Perhaps the most interesting of all, and certainly rather an anomoly as mostly the examples given are good characters becoming better, but in The Last Battle we have one of the central bad guys learn that there really are supernatural forces, even though he did not believe in them. Farsight, the Eagle, notices that Rishda Tarkaan is very surprised about what is in the stable and of Shift's destruction. His discovery of the truth, however, is horrific. Tash, the god he has called on but does not believe, has come to gather his lawful prey, and Rishda is shocked that Tash even exists. Lewis uses this character to illustrate to his readers that you should be careful in what type of belief system you invoke, for the worship of Tash was a cultural practice that Rishda practice not in belief but because it the culture, and he really does not believe in anything.
These are some examples of the numerous ways in which truth comes to Narnian characters.
[Throughout the years, I have written a number of reviews that have never been published online on Amazon. These writings comprise two types of reviews: unfinished reviews, abandoned during various stages of composition, and completed reviews that for life reasons were never posted. Of the later type, back in September 2001 I wrote a cache of work, a full sixteen reviews of several different C. S. Lewis books which have never been released. I am publishing these reviews now for the first time, over a decade after they were initially written. Mike London 10-3-2012]
(These reviews covered all seven books of "The Chronicles of Narnia", the three novels of "The Space Trilogy", "The Abolition of Man", "The Four Loves", "A Preface to Paradise Lost", a revised version of my 2000 review of "Till We Have Faces", "Surprised By Joy", and "The Screwtape Letters".)