Any discussion of Irish fantasy and Irish fantasists would be incomplete without mention of Clive Staples Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy.
As a member of the Inklings, whose informal membership included J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis was at the forefront of a nascent literary movement that would give birth not only to Narnia but also Middle Earth. As a writer of science fiction he helped to move the genre away from its pulp sensibilities into a more thoughtful and literary sphere and as a writer of fantasy he created one of the richest playgrounds of the imagination to ever grace children's literature.
Born in Belfast on 29 November 1898, C.S Lewis was the son of a solicitor, Albert Lewis. His mother, Florence (nee Hamilton) Lewis was the daughter of a Church of Ireland minister. In 1905, Albert Lewis moved his family to 'Little Lea' on the outskirts of Belfast, a house he had built for Flora and their two sons:
To a child it seemed less like a house than a city . . . I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstair indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books... There were books in the study, books in the drawing-room, books in the cloakroom, books in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents' interests, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. . . I took volume after volume from the shelves. (Surprised By Joy, 1955)
It is not hard to see the beginnings of Narnia in Little Lea, particularly the opening chapters of The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950):
It was the sort of house that you never seem to come to the end of, and it was full of unexpected places. The first few doors they tried led only into spare bedrooms, as everyone had expected that they would; but soon they came to a very long room full of pictures and there they found a suit of armour; and after that was a room all hung with green, with a harp in one corner; and then came three steps down and five steps up, and then a kind of little upstairs hall and a door that led out on to a balcony, and then a whole series of rooms that led into each other and were lined with books-most of them very old books and some bigger than a Bible in a church. And shortly after that they looked into a room that was quite empty except for one big wardrobe; the sort that has a looking-glass in the door.
It was also in Little Lea where Lewis took his first steps into fiction, creating – together with his older brother Warren – the world of Boxen which, with its cast of talking, dressed animals, holds the first seeds of what was to become the world of Narnia. Sir Peter Mouse, for instance, can be seen as an early incarnation of Reepicheep – the combative, honour-obsessed rodent paladin who appears in Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – but for all their naive charm the Boxen stories are early scribblings, containing tantalising glimpses of what was to come.
It was around this stage that Lewis developed a fascination with Norse mythology and the Icelandic sagas – elements of which would find their way into Narnia, in particular the evocations of the snow-bound landscapes found in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe:
. . . she stopped looking at the dazzling brightness of the frozen river with all its waterfalls of ice and at the white masses of the tree-tops and the great glaring moon and the countless stars and could only watch the little short legs of Mr Beaver going pad-pad-pad-pad through the snow in front of her as if they were never going to stop. Then the moon disappeared and the snow began to fall once more.
Lewis' mother died of cancer in 1908 and he was set to Wynyard School in Watford, which was a terrible experience for him by all accounts (the school itself was closed in 1909 after its headmaster was declared insane). After first attending Campbell College in Belfast, then the preparatory school Cherbourg House and Malvern College in Worcestershire, Lewis was privately tutored before being accepted to Oxford's University College, where he studied for a term before joining the Officer's Training Corps. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Somerset Light Infantry, he was sent to France where he was wounded in February 1918. By the time he recovered, the war had ended and he returned to Oxford in 1919.
An atheist since the age of 15, for Lewis, and indeed a whole generation of writers, the First World War proved to be a watershed, with the old certainties of Empire swept away and the 'glories' of combat revealed as blood-soaked and horrific and his experience of war strengthened his atheism.
After his return to Oxford, he received a First in Greek and Latin Literature, a First in Philosophy and Ancient History and a First in English, between 1920 – 23. In 1924, he became a philosophy tutor at University College and, in 1925, was elected a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Magdelen College where he served until 1954.
Always a prolific writer, Lewis produced a vast amount of non-fiction and poetry, but it as a writer of the fantastic that he is best remembered.
Out Of The Silent Planet (1938), the first of Lewis' Space Trilogy, is best thought of as an 'interplanetary romance' and, certainly, owes much of its literary structure to the swashbuckling space adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs or Otis Adelbert Kline. But where the heroes of Kline and Burroughs were two-fisted men of action, and their versions of Venus and Mars were vast, colourful playgrounds, the hero of Out of the Silent Planet – Elwin Ransom – is an academic scholar and the setting of Malacandra (Mars) an idyllic rather than deadly one. Certainly, there are no armies to be fought or alien princesses to be wooed and the principle danger, both to Ransom and Malacandra, comes from opportunistic and xenophobic earthmen.
Like much of Lewis' fiction, the fantastic elements of Out of the Silent Planet provide a framework for a deeper, more theological discussion. Lewis had returned to Christianity in the early 1930s (specifically to the Anglican Church) and his faith became one of the cornerstones of his writing.
In Out of the Silent Planet, much is given to the notion of the Fall, here couched in the nominal language of early science fiction, with Earth (Thulcandra or the Silent Planet as it is referred to here) as a 'fallen' planet and Malacandra as a heavenly utopia.
Similar themes would be explored in Perelandra (1943) and That Hideous Strength (1945) with Lewis again utilising the trope of pulp science fiction to discuss and explore wider theological issues. Perlandra, for instance draws heavily from the Christian notion of the Garden of Eden and the power of temptation, while in That Hideous Strength, demonic evil becomes manifest and the dangers of apocalypse are set very much in the Christian mould.
In many ways these books are products of their time (as, indeed, all books are), the theology often heavy handed, the plot subsumed by theme, yet at the same time there are breath-taking passages which evoke the often elusive 'sense of wonder' which is the very heart's blood of science fiction:
A nightmare, long engendered in the modern mind by the mythology that follows in the wake of science, was falling off him. He had read of 'Space': At the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how much it affected him till now - now that the very name 'Space' seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it 'dead'; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean the worlds and all their life had come? He had thought it barren: he saw now that it was the womb of worlds, whose blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the Earth with so many eyes - and here, with how many more! No: Space was the wrong name.
Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens - the heavens which declared the glory – . . .
. . . When he returned to the dark side, the world they were leaving hung in the star-strewn sky not much bigger than our earthly moon. Its colours were still visible - a reddish-yellow disk blotched with greenish blue and capped with white at the poles. He saw the two tiny Malacandrian moons - their movement quite perceptible - and reflected that they were among the thousand things he had not noticed during his sojourn there. He slept, and woke, and saw the disk still hanging in the sky. It was smaller than the Moon now. Its colours were gone except for a faint, uniform tinge of redness in its light; even the light was not now incomparably stronger than that of the countless stars which surrounded it. It had ceased to be Malacandra; it was only Mars.
And, perhaps more importantly, the novels represent a genuine attempt to marry science fiction with much grander themes, particularly at a time when science fiction was in the process of casting off its juvenile shackles (as represented by the pulp magazines) and redefine itself as a vibrant and viable literary form (a struggle which, to some extent, continues today) and, the seeds of The Space Trilogy would find themselves sprouting in other hands – James Blish (A Case of Conscience, 1958), Harry Harrison (The Streets of Ashkelon, 1962), Michael Moorcock (Behold The Man, 1969) and Mary Doria Russell (The Sparrow, 1996) – as science fictional concepts of Faith and theology were further explored.
In The Screwtape Letters (1942) Lewis took another approach. In this short, but richly comic novel, a senior demon – Screwtape – writes a series of letters to his nephew, Wormwood, a Junior Tempter concerning the best methods of securing damned souls:
Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. . .
Keep his mind on the inner life. He thinks his conversion is something inside him and his attention is therefore chiefly turned at present to the states of his own mind . . . Encourage this. Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office. . .
It is, no doubt, impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always very “spiritual”, that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism. . .
. . .You will find, if you look carefully into any human’s heart, that he is haunted by at least two imaginary women-a terrestrial and an infernal Venus, and that his desire differs qualitatively according to its object. . .
Although, for all its jocularity and dry wit, The Screwtape Letters is a serious treatise on the subject of damnation and temptation and, as Lewis' wrote:
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
Ultimately, though, the success and reputation of C.S Lewis as a fantasist lies with the seven volume Chronicles of Narnia series, published between 1950 – 56, combining Christian theology with high fantasy, fairy tale, mythology and elements of his early Boxen writings. A world of mythical creatures and talking animals, The Chronicles of Narnia have sold over 100 million copies, have been translated into 30 languages and spawned film, television, radio and stage adaptations.
Beginning with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (1950), the Chronicles chart the creation, evolution and, ultimately, the final days of Narnia, a quasi-medieval land which lies in parallel to our own and which can be reached through a number of portals and/or summonings which differ from book to book.
It is in The Chronicles of Narnia that Lewis found an ideal vehicle, not only for his imagination but also his strongly held faith, and the Narnia books are steeped in Christian symbolism – the lion Aslan, for instance, is a Christ-figure, The White Queen/ Jadis represents Evil manifest – in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe she is presented as the Tempter figure, in The Magican's Nephew (published in 1955, but chronologically the first of the Narnia books) she is cast in the metaphorical guise of Serpent in the Garden of Eden – Edmund in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe assumes the mantle of Judas (although finds himself ultimately redeemed), Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952) undergoes an almost literal rebirth and Narnia itself, after the events of The Last Battle (the final book in the series, published in 1956) is transformed from temporal to Heavenly (and Eternal) kingdom.
Lewis himself made no secret of the Christian parallels in his work:
"He (Aslan) is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, ‘What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?" (Letter composed in 1958)
However, unlike the earlier Space Trilogy, the theology and symbolism in Narnia is handled with a much lighter touch and, on a superficial level, The Chronicles of Narnia are easily read as adventure tales in which the young protagonists frequently face and conquer great dangers, learning lessons about themselves and the world (both our own and Narnia) in the process.
In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the four Pevensie children – Lucy, Susan, Edmund and Peter – are evacuated from wartime London to ". . . the house of an old Professor who lived in the heart of the country, ten miles from the nearest railway station and two miles from the nearest post office." Exploring the house, the find a large wardrobe which Lucy, the youngest, decides to investigate:
'Soon she went further in and found that there was a second row of coats hanging up behind the first one. It was almost quite dark in there and she kept her arms stretched out in front of her so as not to bump her face into the back of the wardrobe. She took a step further in-then two or three steps always expecting to feel woodwork against the tips of her fingers. But she could not feel it.
“This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!” thought Lucy. . . '
Continuing on, she finds herself in a snowbound wood containing, incongruously, a lamp-post, and meets what proves to be the first of Lewis' many magical Narnian creations:
'. . . he carried over his head an umbrella, white with snow. From the waist upwards he was like a man, but his legs were shaped like a goat’s (the hair on them was glossy black) and instead of feet he had goat’s hoofs. He also had a tail, but Lucy did not notice this at first because it was neatly caught up over the arm that held the umbrella so as to keep it from trailing in the snow. He had a red woollen muffler round his neck and his skin was rather reddish too. He had a strange, but pleasant little face, with a short pointed beard and curly hair, and out of the hair there stuck two horns, one on each side of his forehead. . . He was a Faun. . . '
Narnia, Lucy finds, is a land locked in eternal winter and ruled by the despotic White Witch:
“The White Witch? Who is she?” (said Lucy)
“Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!”
Ultimately, it is the task of the four children to enter Narnia and defeat the White Queen, ushering in an Athurianesque era of peace and harmony. Put in such bald terms, the plot of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a straightforward one, and the notion of exotic secondary worlds reached (relatively) easily from our own had been explored in fiction before (notably by the American author Frank L. Baum in his books about the Land of Oz) but Narnia is a very special fictional construct as Lewis weaves a magical and compelling tale, one which has retained its charm for both children and adults.
He would go on to reuse the same basic plot in the majority of the Narnia books (the safety and harmony of Narnia is threatened and a group of heroic children are drawn from 'our' world in order to restore the status quo), but it is given its finest and fullest exploration in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
And it is in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe that the Christ/ Aslan parallels are made most explicit. In the battle between The White Witch and the Narnians, Aslan is compelled to give himself up for sacrifice (in place of the treacherous, but now reformed, Edmund):
. . . They began to drag the bound and muzzled Lion to the Stone Table, some pulling and some pushing. He was so huge that even when they got him there it took all their efforts to hoist him on to the surface of it. Then there was more tying and tightening of cords. . . .
When once Aslan had been tied (and tied so that he was really a mass of cords) on the flat stone, a hush fell on the crowd. Four Hags, holding four torches, stood at the corners of the Table. The Witch bared her arms as she had bared them the previous night when it had been Edmund instead of Aslan. Then she began to whet her knife. It looked to the children, when the gleam of the torchlight fell on it, as if the knife were made of stone, not of steel, and it was of a strange and evil shape.
As last she drew near. She stood by Aslan’s head. Her face was working and twitching with passion, but his looked up at the sky, still quiet, neither angry nor afraid, but a little sad. Then, just before she gave the blow, she stooped down and said in a quivering voice,
“And now, who has won? Fool, did you think that by all this you would save the human traitor? Now I will kill you instead of him as our pact was and so the Deep Magic will be appeased. But when you are dead what will prevent me from killing him as well? And who will take him out of my hand then? Understand that you have given me Narnia forever, you have lost your own life and you have not saved his. In that knowledge, despair and die. . . ”
But, again in a direct parallel with Christ, Aslan's death is temporary:
The rising of the sun had made everything look so different―all colours and shadows were changed that for a moment they didn’t see the important thing. Then they did. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.
“Oh, oh, oh!” cried the two girls, rushing back to the Table.
“Oh, it’s too bad,” sobbed Lucy; “they might have left the body alone.”
“Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it magic?”
“Yes! said a great voice behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad.
“Aren’t you dead then, dear Aslan?” said Lucy.
“Not now,” said Aslan.
“You’re not―not a―?” asked Susan in a shaky voice. She couldn’t bring herself to say the word ghost. Aslan stooped his golden head and licked her forehead. The warmth of his breath and a rich sort of smell that seemed to hang about his hair came all over her.
“Do I look it?” he said.
“Oh, you’re real, you’re real! Oh, Aslan! cried Lucy, and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.
“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards. And now―”
In terms of the Narnia books, Aslan is the only permanent figure. Even the original Pevensie children eventually grow too old to visit Narnia again, being replaced in latter books by others (in essence playing the role of disciples/apostles and, like the apostles, becoming part of the greater mythology of Narnia).
In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Lewis also delights in playing games with Time – specifically in that Narnian time and 'earth' time run at different rates, so that many hours, days or even years can pass in Narnia while virtually no time passes on earth. Thus, Lucy, Susan, Peter and Edmund are able to grow to maturity in Narnia, to become great Kings and Queens but, upon their return home, find themselves as children again.
The notion of time's fluidity also enables Lewis to dip in and out of Narnian history – in Prince Caspian (1951), the direct sequel to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, many years have passed in Narnia and the Golden Age has long since over, giving way to an age of men. The Narnians – the mythical creatures and talking animals – have been forced into hiding and Aslan himself has become a myth. Arguably, this is Lewis recasting the plight of early Christians in a high fantasy setting, with the ruling Telmarines in the role of the Roman Empire. However, the usurped prince, Caspian, is able to summon otherworldly saviours (in the form of the Pevensie children) in order to restore harmony and secure the return of/ belief in Aslan once again.
Caspian also reappears in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952) in which Lucy and Edmund, together with their odious cousin, Eustace, embark on an episodic and wide-ranging voyage with Caspian in order to find seven banished lords.
In a return to the overt theology of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Eustace undergoes an almost literal rebirth at the hands (or claws) of Aslan after his greed sees him transformed into a dragon:
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know―if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off―just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt―and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me―I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on―and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . .
The concept of rebirth and resurrection, whether literal or figurative, is one that lies at the heart of the Narnia stories: Aslan's resurrection in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Caspian's spiritual rebirth as Narnian King in Prince Caspian, Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Prince Rilian's awakening to his true self in The Silver Chair (1953) the chastisement of Aravis and the revelation of Shasta's true identity in The Horse and His Boy (1954) the 'conversion' of the Calormen warrior, Emeth, and the ultimate rebirth of Narnia in The Last Battle (1956).
In 1955, Lewis wrote The Magician's Nephew, chronologically the first of the Narnia stories since it deals with Aslan's creation of Narnia and how evil (in the form of Jadis, the White Queen of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe) entered it:
The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave. In a few minutes it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountains, making that young world every moment softer. The light wind could now be heard ruffling the grass. Soon there were other things besides grass. The higher slopes grew dark with heather. Patches of rougher and more bristling green appeared in the valley. Digory did not know what they were until one began coming up quite close to him. It was a little, spiky thing that threw out dozens of arms and covered these arms with green and grew larger at the rate of about an inch every two seconds. There were dozens of these things all round him now. When they were nearly as tall as himself he saw what they were. “Trees!” he exclaimed.
There, only a few yards away from him, stood the Witch. She was just throwing away the core of an apple which she had eaten. The juice was darker than you would expect and had made a horrid stain round her mouth. Digory guessed at once that she must have climbed in over the wall. And he began to see that there might be some sense in that last line about getting your heart’s desire and getting despair along with it. For the Witch looked stronger and prouder than ever, and even, in a way, triumphant; but her face was deadly white, white as salt. . .
“I know what errand you have come on,” continued the Witch. “For it was I who was close beside you in the woods last night and heard all your counsels. You have plucked fruit in the garden yonder. You have it in your pocket now. And you are going to carry it back, untasted, to the Lion; for him to eat, for him to use. You simpleton! Do you know what that fruit is? I will tell you. It is the apple of youth, the apple of life. I know, for I have tasted it; and I feel already such changes in myself that I know I shall never grow old or die. Eat it, Boy, eat it; and you and I will both live forever and be king and queen of this whole world―or of your world, if we decide to go back there.”
Once again, this is Lewis retelling an important aspect of Christian belief and mythology (in this case the Garden of Eden) in high fantasy terms.
The Horse and His Boy (1954) uniquely among the Narnia books, takes place primarily in the land of Calormen and, briefly, Archenland, both exclusively human kingdoms (Calormen represents a fantasy version of the Middle East and Archenland a sort of idealized medieval England). Unlike the previous novels in the series – and those still to come – The Horse and His Boy does not feature any characters from 'earth' as major characters (although the Pevensies appear in supporting roles in their High Kings and Queens incarnation). A story of duty versus desire, slavery versus freedom, with a nod to Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, The Horse and His Boy is – ironically – perhaps the most 'Narnian' of all the books, shorn (in both dramatic and world-building terms) of external plot influence.
Briefly, a talking horse named Bree and a young boy named Shasta, both slaves in Calormen, meet by chance and plan their return to Narnia and freedom, along the way they meet a young Calormen noblewoman fleeing an arranged marriage who is also accompanied by a Narnian horse named Hwin. As a 'secondary world' fantasy, A Horse and His Boy is an excellent example of the genre and plays to Lewis' strengths as a storyteller.
The Silver Chair (1953) Eustace, and his classmate Jill, aided by the morosely hilarious marsh-wiggle Puddleglum search for the missing Prince Rilian.
The final book of the series, The Last Battle (1956) is in many ways both the bleakest and, conversely, most uplifting of the Chronicles.
When a false Aslan (actually a rather mild-mannered talking donkey in a lion skin) is seen in Narnia, it precipitates an invasion from Calormen and the ultimate destruction and rebirth of Narnia itself. Here, Lewis' vision is suitably apocalyptic:
The Dragons and Giant Lizards now had Narnia to themselves. They went to and fro tearing up the trees by the roots and crunching them up as if they were sticks of rhubarb. Minute by minute the forests disappeared. The whole country became bare and you could see all sorts of things about its shape―all the little humps and hollows which you had never noticed before. The grass died. Soon Tirian found that he was looking at a world of bare rock and earth. You could hardly believe that anything had ever lived there. The monsters themselves grew old and lay down and died. Their flesh shrivelled up and the bones appeared: soon they were only huge skeletons that lay here and there on the dead rock, looking as if they had died thousands of years ago. For a long time everything was still.
At last something white―a long, level line of whiteness that gleamed in the light of the standing stars―came moving towards them from the Eastern end of the world.
A widespread noise broke the silence: first a murmur then a rumble, then a roar. And now they could see what it was that was coming, and how fast it came. It was a foaming wall of water. The sea was rising. In that tree-less world you could see it very well. You could see all the rivers getting wider and the lakes getting larger, and separate lakes joining into one, and valleys turning into new lakes, and hills turning into islands, and then those islands vanishing. And the high moors to their left and the higher mountains to their right crumbled and slipped down with a roar and a splash into the mounting water; and the water came swirling up to the very threshold of the Doorway (but never passed it) so that the foam splashed about Aslan’s forefeet. All now was level water from where they stood to where the waters met the sky...
Then the Moon came up, quite in her wrong position, very close to the sun, and she also looked red. And at the sight of her the sun began shooting out great flames, like whiskers or snakes of crimson fire, towards her. It is as if he were an octopus trying to draw her to himself in his tentacles. And perhaps he did draw her. At any rate she came to him, slowly at first, but then more and more quickly, till at last his long flames licked round her and the two ran together and became one huge ball like a burning coal. Great lumps of fire came dropping out of it into the sea and clouds of steam rose up.
Then Aslan said, “Now make an end.”
In The last Battle, Lewis addresses notions of faith and false prophets of loyalty, loss and redemption and immortality – a heady brew indeed for a children's novel. But the death of Narnia is not the end:
Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them all.
“I see,” she said. “This is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below, just as it was more real and more beautiful than the Narnia outside the stable door! I see… world within world, Narnia within Narnia…”
“Yes,” said Mr Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.”
And Lucy looked this way and that and soon found that a new and beautiful thing had happened to her. Whatever she looked at, however far away it might be, once she had fixed her eyes steadily on it, became quite clear and close as if she were looking through a telescope. She could see the whole Southern desert and beyond it the great city of Tashbaan: to Eastward she could see Cair Paravel on the edge of the sea and the very window of the room that had once been her own. And far out to sea she could discover the islands, islands after islands to the end of the world, and, beyond the end, the huge mountain which they had called Aslan’s country. But now she saw that it was part of a great chain of mountains which ringed round the whole world. In front of her it seemed to come quite close. Then she looked to her left and saw what she took to be a great bank of brightly-coloured cloud, cut off from them by a gap. But she looked harder and saw that it was not a cloud at all but a real land. . .
. . . And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; 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 the 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 forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.
As a fantasist, Lewis skilfully balanced both dark and light in his works, particularly in the Narnia stories. His 'favourite uncle' narration style helped to offset some of the darker elements – the death of Aslan, Caspian's fight with a werewolf and Hag, Shashta's sojourn among the Tombs of the Ancient Kings, the man-eating giants of The Silver Chair, the appearance of the demonic god Tash in The Last Battle and, of course, the many appearances of the White Queen.
Lewis' final novel Till We Have Faces (1956) retold the myth of Cupid and Psyche and Lewis himself considered it his most mature work. Although well received and continuing to enjoy acclaim among Lewis aficionados, the novel is less remembered than either the Space Trilogy or The Chronicles of Narnia.
Clive Staples Lewis (or Jack as he was known to those close to him) died on 22 November 1963. His passing was little remarked at the time since it coincided with death of Aldous Huxley and, more importantly in media terms, the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He left behind a legacy which continues to exert its influence on modern fantasy and enriched the tradition of children's books.
C.S Lewis (partial bibilography)
Out Of The Silent Planet (1938)
The Screwtape Letters (1942)
That Hideous Strength (1945)
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (1950)
Prince Caspian (1951)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
The Silver Chair (1953)
The Horse and His Boy (1954)
The Magician's Nephew (1955)
The Last Battle (1956)
Till We Have Faces (1956)