Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Farewell to Narnia

There's something satisfying about being done. This is particularly satisfying to a reader like me, since I read a fair number of series-type books -- both adult and children -- and I'm most definitely a finisher. (Talk to me about the knitting project I have now dubbed "too big to fail.") As I was working my way through the endless list of Agatha Christie novels as a young reader, I was so relieved to discover Dorothy L. Sayers, who had only written eleven Peter Wimsey stories. There won't be any more, she's dead! (Well, there are some more, but only as a technicality.)

C.S. Lewis is also dead! And so is Narnia. I've finished The Last Battle -- having listened to each of the seven novels, beginning six-and-a-half years ago (just two are covered in this blog). King Tirian is ruling over Narnia, but he is helpless when the evil Calormenes invade at the instigation of a very ambitious ape named Shift who has figured out how to impersonate the lion Aslan. Aslan has long been absent from Narnia, so when he "reappears" the humans and Talking Beasts of Narnia are quick to do his bidding -- which is to accept the invading Calormenes and their god/leader Tash. King Tirian and his faithful unicorn advisor, Jewel, are imprisoned; and in a last, desperate plea he calls upon the old rulers and friends of Narnia to help him.

Eustace and Jill appear in Tirian's prison and -- even though the odds are against them -- vow to help the King save Narnia. The other Kings and Queens arrive as well. All is nearly lost when Aslan appears, but it is too late for Narnia. Even so, Aslan escorts them out of a darkened and destroyed Narnia into an even more wonderful new world. Spoiler: We learn that all the children who visited Narnia -- the Pevensies and Eustace and Jill -- have been killed in a railroad accident in their (our) world!

Can you say Christian allegory? Aside from Aslan living again after his death in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, this destruction of the world and emergence into an even better place seems the most Christian moment in the entire series. Very Left Behind (which I've never read). Like all the Narnia books, these read very old-fashioned to me: Lots and lots of talk, without much action. And that's OK. I really enjoyed Lewis' loving descriptions of Narnia's landscape.

Despite The Rapture, The Last Battle is a bit of a downer. The enslavement of the Talking Beasts is disturbing, as is King Tirian's bottomless despair as he is held captive. The terrible battles where Cair Paravel's inhabitants are slaughtered by the Calormenes, and where the Narnians take their last stand are fairly frightening. Narnia's gradual destruction brings the story down further. I don't remember this much violence in any of the other stories.

Actor Patrick Stewart reads the book. He's got that rich, deep bardic voice that lends itself very well to the relative vastness and sweep of the novel. He reads with an intensity that serves the story's wildly divergent emotional swings. A listener feels the pain of an enslaved Talking Horse, the despair of King Tirian, even the barely disguised fear of young Eustace. Stewart largely steers clear of dramatic characterizations, his interpretations are more subtle, but it's still easy to follow conversations.

HarperAudio published all seven books in audio format beginning in 2000, employing some well-known British actors (to U.S. listeners) to read them. Stewart is probably the most familiar (do I have to say why?). Evidently, there was a perfectly good set produced in the 1990s from Chivers Audio (absorbed [?] by BBC Audiobooks, now called AudioGO), all read by Andrew Sachs. (One wonders why it took so long to get these books -- published in the 1950s -- an audio version at all.) It must be a commercial decision, but I know there's a number of British-produced audiobooks that I'd like to listen to ... no American mediation required. (One of these is coming up ...)

The Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis
Narrated by Patrick Stewart
HarperAudio, 2004. 4:51


Listener said...

There's also a podcast audio version of the Narnia series available for free at Ancient Faith Radio. See my review of the free audiobook of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe at my blog, Free Listens.

Sarah said...

I have read the books, but haven't had a chance to see the movies. I was just wondering what your opinions on the movies were. I know the voyage of the Dawn Treader is out on DVD today, so I might have to check them out to see how they compare with the books.