I think I was in the fourth grade when I received a box set of The Chronicles of Narnia for Christmas. Then I’m pretty sure I read through them rather quickly. That actually wasn’t my first experience with Narnia, though. I remember watching an animated version of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe on television in my childhood.
Yes, I enjoyed the stories, and I think I read them more than once back then.
Still, I can’t say that they didn’t cause some difficulties in my thinking.
The Last Battle is the last book in the Narnia series, and it’s about the last days of Narnia and the world in which Narnia was located. The last king of Narnia, Tirian, hears rumors that Aslan has returned. But Aslan is acting very differently than the accounts say he acted in the past. Then, while the king is trying to learn about this supposed Aslan, an enemy nation invades and conquers Narnia. This leaves the king and his companions, including two children from this world, in a hopeless fight. Finally the real Aslan steps in, and the darkest hours of Narnia become the brightest of days in a new and better world.
There is a lot of good stuff in this book. The idea of syncretism, shown in the heinous idea of “Tashlan,” is displayed as ridiculous. Readers see heroism in a lost cause. The story focuses on where a Christian’s real hope should be: not on the things of this world, even the good things, but on Christ and the hope for a better world to come.
So, what about The Last Battle caused problems for my young mind?
In Aslan’s new world awaits one strange person, a Calormene man. He worshiped and was devoted to the god of his people, Tash, and hated Aslan. Yet when he arrives in this better world, he meets Aslan himself:
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 hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.1
And then Aslan explains further:
. . . For I and [Tash] 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. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? . . .
Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.2
I suppose Lewis is not the first person who has wanted to think there exists some kind of back door into Heave. Or that God will judge people by a standard like their intentions or hearts. Or that maybe even people who might have wholeheartedly served, obeyed, and worshiped a god other than Jesus might still be acceptable and find themselves in Heaven. I know when I read The Last Battle, I found the idea appealing. Being a child who had not yet gone far into thinking for himself and trying to find the real truth, I concluded that this story’s writer had to be telling me the truth.
It’s never easy to disagree with someone you respect, and it didn’t happen overnight for me. But there may come times when we must disagree.
C. S. Lewis was wrong to insinuate in this story that a man who worshiped a false god could somehow also be serving the true God.
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
To keep a vow is a good thing, it is obeying the law. And that is the point; it is a work of law.
The problem with that is, we do a lousy job of keeping the law. What if we even bypassed God’s Law and just looked at the laws we create for ourselves, whether in our societies or personal standards? If we are honest, if we could really see ourselves as we really are, even then we would conclude that we can’t keep those laws well.
If we had to depend on our own efforts to reach paradise, even through some kind of back door, we would fail.
Yet there is hope, as Romans 3 explains directly after verse 20:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith . . .
Here is our hope, our only true hope: salvation, forgiveness of sins, justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Christian readers have the responsibility to read with our eyes open, especially when reading someone we respect and largely agree with.
Authors must also make sure our writings, even our fiction, even our stories set on space stations located on the edge of the galaxy or in a fairy kingdom of elves and unicorns, to make sure even those things display, teach, and proclaim true Christian doctrine.
The Last Battle offers much that is good. “Tashlan” might almost be considered prophetic, if you want to explore the concept of “Chrislam” or any other extreme ecumenical compromises. But I’m a reader who was also affected by the bad ideas in this story. No, I do not say The Last Battle should be not be read. Just read it with your eyes open.