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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Temptations in Narnia: The Last Battle

This ends my series on temptations, or moral choices, in the Narnia books, which began with this post. I believe my desire is to go "further up and further in," or "Further in and higher up!" (Both expressions are used in the book.) I am so glad to have had an excuse to read these books yet again.

Peter Chattaway has written that the Narnia books are, in some senses, not only Christian, but Pagan. He is correct in this--Bacchus, fauns, tree spirits and other such beings appear--and quotes C. S. Lewis, himself, to the effect that paganism was pre-Christian--pagans could be converted. Now to some temptations:

Puzzle the Donkey is tempted to not question what he is doing, on the grounds that he isn't very smart. Therefore, he is marginally complicit in putting forth a false Aslan. Shift the Ape is mainly responsible, and yields to the temptation to disguise Puzzle as Aslan, probably because of greed, one of the seven deadly sins. (He wants more nuts, oranges, and bananas, and a more luxurious life.) Later, Puzzle comes to see that he, too is partly responsible: "I see now," said Puzzle, "that I really have been a very bad donkey. I ought never to have listened to Shift. I never thought things like this would begin to happen. - C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, New York: Macmillan, 1956, p. 79.

G. K. Chesterton wrote a poem, "The Donkey," which I mention because of Puzzle, and which is related to Holy Week. Here's a much more recent posting on a King and a Donkey, by Ish.

When the Ape sets up a false Aslan, the animals are confused. One of the confusions is that the Ape, and the Calormenes that are complicit with him, claim that the awful Calormene deity, Tash, and Aslan, the good Lion, are the same. The animals are tempted to believe this. Ginger, the Cat, yields to the temptation to disbelieve in either deity, and at least some of the Calormenes also do not believe in their own god.

The dwarfs are tempted, like Ginger, to believe that there is no god, nor any Aslan. They succumb to this temptation, and, like Uncle Andrew, in The Magician's Nephew, succeed in making themselves stupider.

Jill, like many of us, and, I think, Lewis himself, is tempted to wish that things would just go on as they were. The Unicorn, Jewel, replies: "Nay, sister," answered Jewel, "all worlds draw to an end; except Aslan's own country." (p. 84)

Susan Pevensie has yielded to temptation, and is "no longer a friend of Narnia." (p. 126)

All the inhabitants of Narnia had to come up to a great door into Aslan's country, and look into his face. Some of them went on into Aslan's country. Some of them disappeared into his great shadow, did not go through the door, and were never seen again. This wasn't exactly a moral choice, but, it seems, the result of the moral choices made before this time.

Emeth, the Calormene, finds out that his choice to serve the god Tash with honor and fairness was actually a moral choice to serve Aslan. He tells his story:
". . . But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou has done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then . . . I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook . . . and said, it is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done for him, for he and I are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. . . . But I said also . . ., [yet] I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek." - C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, New York: Macmillan, 1956, p.156-157.

Finally, to those who have chosen to follow Aslan, there is great reward. They begin to spend eternity in Aslan's country:

. . . but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. pp. 173-4.

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