One of my goals was to finish a series that I had started sometime in the past. I had many series to choose from, but you all convinced me that the unfinished Chronicles of Narnia was a travesty not to be lightly overlooked. I had read the first three (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and Voyage of the Dawn Treader), so I needed to read the last four to complete the series.
Everyone who pushed me to finish The Chronicles of Narnia was right. I'm a little embarrassed it took me so long to read them all (especially since everyone else in my family loves the books and has probably read all of them multiple times). Well, now I've joined the ranks.
When the story begins, Narnia appears to be at peace. But all is not right beneath the surface. The Calormene people are greedy for power, and deceit and betrayal begin to snatch away all but the most faithful Narnians. One of the instigators of this evil plot is an ape named Shift who convinces Puzzle, the donkey, to put on a lion skin and pretend to be Aslan. It has been so long since anyone has seen Aslan that the masquerade comes off surprisingly well. However, Tirian, king of Narnia, is not so easily convinced but doesn't have enough faithful followers to expose the deception. As the despair begins to set in, Jill and Eustace arrive from England, and they are soon followed by Digory, Polly, Peter, Edmund, and Lucy. (Susan no longer believes in Narnia and so does not have the opportunity to come with the rest.) Together they discover that Aslan has plans for Narnia, plans so wonderful and great none of them could have dared imagine or dream them.
One of the things that continued to surprise me with each book was how little I knew about it before I read it. I guess I just thought since Narnia has been such a well-known name to me since childhood that the plots and characters would feel familiar even though I hadn't read them before. But they didn't. Each book was a delight and a surprise as the plot unraveled itself and new characters were introduced. Even though I didn't read all of them when I was eight, in many ways I felt like a kid again because I was reading them with completely fresh eyes and an unbiased mind.
Even with this last book, I found myself going into it thinking I knew all about Narnia only to be surprised by a cast of entirely new characters: a unicorn, donkey, ape, cat, and dogs, all of which never make a memorable appearance in any of the other stories. Maybe one of the reasons I have a hard time finishing a series is just that I get a little bored with it all after the third or fourth (or even second . . .) book. Each book is just a continuation of the last with the same types of adventures happening again and again.
But with Narnia, although the setting and the children remain somewhat the same (bringing continuity to the series as a whole), each book is an entirely new adventure with new problems, new villains, new friends, and new lessons learned.
With this last book, the story didn't grab me as quickly, and I was worried the symbolism wasn't going to be as poignant or as powerful as in the other books. But the story was just being set up, and so when the symbolism finally came, it was all the richer for having waited for it.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes (and corresponding thoughts). (Forgive me if they're not exact quotes since I was transcribing them from the audio.)
- "Tirian had never dreamed that one of the results of the ape's setting up a false Aslan would be to stop people from believing in the real one." When Lewis wrote that line, I wonder if he had any idea how true it would be of the world today . . . how we fill our lives with so many tangible things, it's easy to stop believing in Someone who doesn't demand our attention.
- This next quote comes from Emeth, one of the few Calormenes who is not lost in Narnia's destruction. As he is wandering in the Real Narnia, he meets Aslan and is amazed that Aslan knows and loves him since all his life he has served the Calormen god, Tash. Aslan explains that Emith's heart and intentions have always been in the right place. As Emeth tells his story to Eustace and Jill and the others, he says, "And my happiness is so great that it even weakens me like a wound. And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me 'Beloved.' Me, who is but as a dog." I have a feeling that I will feel much the same way when I finally meet my Savior: wonder, awe, and gratitude.
- The next two quotes are similar, as they both describe the various characters' reactions to discovering that they are still in Narnia. First, from Lord Digory, "Listen, Peter, when Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of, but that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow, or a copy, of the real Narnia, which has always been here and always will be here. Just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan's real world." And also this one, from Jewel, the unicorn: "I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this." What a beautiful way to describe the transformation of the world that is described in the scriptures. In some ways, C.S. Lewis reminds me of Albert Einstein. They both had a unique understanding of time and space--one spiritual, one scientific, but who knows but that they're not the same.
- And finally, this quote: "But very quickly, they all became grave again, for, as you know, there is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes." I don't know that I've ever heard this kind of happiness described so well, but I've felt it, and I think C.S. Lewis captured it beautifully.
Even though this wasn't my very favorite of the Narnia books, I thought it was a perfect ending to the series. It felt complete while still giving a hint that the story was far from finished and that new adventures would continue to happen. Reading this series has been one of the highlights of my year, and I even put the collection on my Christmas list because I want these books to be a part of our family.