There are plenty of stories from my childhood that I appreciate even more now that I’m older and realize how perceptively they connect to real life. One such story is The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis, the final book in The Chronicles of Narnia.
I recently re-listened to a dramatization of The Last Battle, a book I’ve read or listened to countless times. Experiencing the story again, I discovered that the “battle” in the title refers to more than just the physical conflict over Narnia. There’s also a struggle raging for faith and optimism while under the shadow of great spiritual darkness, one that applies to our experience today here on Earth.
Finding Hope in The Last Battle
An allegory for the end times, Lewis maintained a bittersweet tone in The Last Battle. Narnia experienced a tragic end, but also a new beginning. The enemies of Narnia and conniving beasts overthrew the country and killed the protagonists. In the end, the great lion Aslan – creator of Narnia – destroyed that world entirely.
But fortunately for readers, the story didn’t end there. Aslan brought all the faithful Narnian creatures and heroes to the “real” Narnia in his eternal country.
The old Narnia “had a beginning and an end,” explained Lord Digory, the now grown-up title character from The Magician’s Nephew. “It was only a shadow or 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.”
One particular plotline stood out to me during my latest experience with The Last Battle. The story’s protagonists – King Tirian of Narnia and children Eustice and Jill from Earth – daringly rescued about 30 dwarves from being enslaved by Narnia’s enemies. Instead of responding with gratitude, all but one of the dwarfs refused to fight for Narnia alongside Tirian, Eustice, and Jill.
The dwarfs’ main complaint was they no longer trusted in Aslan after Narnia’s enemies set up a false Aslan, whom they used to perpetrate atrocities.
“I feel I’ve heard as much about Aslan as I want to for the rest of my life,” Griffle the dwarf said. “We’ve been taken in once and now you expect us to be taken in the next minute. We’ve no more use for stories about Aslan, see!”
Sadly, the dwarfs’ cynicism continued leading them astray. They later fought ruthlessly against Tirian and his faithful Narnians.
Perhaps in their most famous scene, the dwarfs demonstrated a baffling level of cynicism, eerily reminiscent of modern Western thought. The dwarfs refused to acknowledge they had arrived in Aslan’s country (aka, the “real” Narnia). They insisted they were still in old Narnia, imprisoned in the stable where they were thrown by their enemies. Even Aslan himself tried to convince the dwarves that they were free, but to no avail.
“Starting a new lie! Trying to make us believe we’re none of us shut up, and it ain’t dark, and heaven knows what,” the dwarfs said.
They later insisted Aslan wasn’t really there: “Don’t take any notice! They won’t take us in again.”
“They will not let us help them,” Aslan explained. “They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own mind, yet they are in that prison, and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”
Dispelling Cultural Disillusionment
The dwarfs in The Last Battle demonstrated a type of dismal thinking reminiscent of the fundamental intellectual shift that occurred in Lewis’s time. Following the World Wars, deep-seated disillusionment set in as suspicion of religion and the superiority of Western democracy increased. These Earth-shaking conflicts gave rise to a surging tide of secularism in the West, particularly Europe.
“A counterfeit gospel, a false myth, created a cacophony of despair in the West,” wrote Dr. Joseph Loconte, Associate Professor of History at The King’s College in New York City.
While many authors added their voices to this cacophony of despair, Loconte pointed to two notable exceptions in his book, A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War. Lewis and his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, both World War I combat veterans, decided to exalt hope instead of gloom in their writings.
“Fortified by their faith, they proclaimed for their generation—and ours—a True Myth about the dignity of human life and its relationship to God,” Loconte argued.
With this in mind, Lewis’s purpose for including the dwarfs in The Last Battle sharpens into focus. The dwarfs served as a clear metaphor for the contemporaries of Lewis and Tolkien who disavowed their faith.
Today, we live in a world lacking hope. The clouds of despair and disillusionment following the World Wars still hang over Western civilization. Like Lewis’s dwarfs, many are imprisoned by “their own mind.” They refuse to find the freedom of the gospel because they are “so afraid of being taken in.”
But Christians must not fall into such despair. We must recall that we know how history ends. Like Narnia, our world will be replaced by something newer and better when Christ returns. God’s steady hand guides history to the ultimate conclusion. Christians shouldn’t be afraid to say it, even if unfashionable.
“Christian commentary, especially among English-speaking Protestants, about God’s perceived hand in the ebb and flow of momentous human events used to be far more common,” IRD President Mark Tooley wrote recently. “This analysis seemed to become unfashionable after WWI.”
It behooves Christians today to reintroduce this type of commentary into our culture. Like Lewis and Tolkien, the world needs prophetic Christian voices to declare the true message of hope. We are on the right side of history, so we have nothing to fear.