The Last Battle: Surprising Heresy & A Gloriously Small Picture

The Last Battle, the last volume in the Narnian mythology, was awarded the Carnegie medal in 1956 for the best children’s book published that year.[1] That alone tells you that the quality and candor of this book was, and in my opinion still is, in a category of its own.  Knowing this, it was very surprising to me to see something within it completely heretical alongside some of the most heavenly writing I’ve read in fiction.  Now, I am aware that claiming Lewis to be heretical is rare, possibly arrogant, and perhaps a bit foolish, but one part of The Last Battle is not Biblical, hurtful to readers, and dishonoring to God.

Lewis’ heresy is revealed when Emeth[2], a worshipper of Tash and one of the soldiers of Tarkaan from the city of Tehishbaan in Calormene, begins a monologue in chapter fifteen of The Last Battle.  Emeth is angry because the ape (who was using the names of Aslan and Tash for his own political power play) claiming that Tash and Aslan are indeed one and the same calling it Tashlan is blaspheming his god Tash, so he decides to see for himself which god the ape is hiding behind him in the stable.  Emeth rushes over behind the ape and walks into the stable door, supposedly holding this god Tashlan, and is surprised by what he sees.  Rather than seeing a dark hay filled stable room, Emeth sees bright lights, bright skies, and wide open country lands.  Soon thereafter Emeth sees a large lion running up to him, and says to himself, “He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert.”[3] After falling at the lion’s feet in fear he thought his time was up because somehow Emeth sensed that this Lion, who is obviously a god some kind, would be aware that he served Tash all his life rather than the lion.  The words from Lewis’ pen that come next are shocking.  Aslan said,

‘Son, thou are welcome.’  But I said, ‘Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.’  He answered, ‘Child, all the service thou has done to Tash, I account as service done to me.’  Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, ‘Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?’  The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, ‘It is false.  Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites – I take to me the services which thou hast done to him.  For I and he 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.[4]

Lewis is puzzling here to me, because it seems that he is putting some form of universalism to bear here in this passage.  Whether or not the Calormene man knew so, the service he did to the Tash, the false god, Aslan counts as service toward Himself, the true God.  Could this then imply that what Lewis means to teach is that a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or any type of pagan worshipper really worships Yahweh, the true God and God of the Bible, even if they are not aware of it?  Another meaning cannot be present here.  All evil is done to the service of Satan, while all good is done to the service of Yahweh.  This is unhelpful to the most extreme degree.  This is not merely a theological slip-up from Lewis, he is claiming that there are other ways to serve and honor the true God than by repenting from sin and believing in Him.  The child reading this, receiving his “pre-baptism” as Lewis calls it, is receiving teaching from this absolutely different than what the Christian Scripture puts forth.  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  There is no other way to know this God.  “Good” service done in the honor of a false deity, from a Biblical point of view, is service done to the false deity, not service done to Christ.  This passage from the mythology is simply wrong, hurtful to man, and ultimately dishonoring to the true God.

I am sorry to say this last scene is not the only hurtful thing about the theology of The Last Battle.  After an apparent bus accident, all the characters from the former Narnia volumes find themselves back in Narnia, unsure as to how they arrived there.  Aslan informs them that there really was an accident in which all of them died, and that they are now residents of the real Narnia forever.  The joy that passes through them is extremely rich and very evident as they explore their new home, finding out that they can run faster than animals, swim up waterfalls, and not grow weary one ounce from doing so.  The description of Narnia is simply breathtaking, and gives the reader a foretaste of what’s to come in the New Jerusalem for certain.  Listen to the words that come from 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.  Bree-hee-hee!  Come further up, come further in!”[5]

After this the party runs off into the distance as fast as they can.  They travel through the entire land of Narnia and make their way up the snowy capped mountains and then they see it, golden gates.  The door opens and out walks everyone they have ever known rushing to greet them in Aslan’s name.  The scene is breathtaking when Aslan finally walks up to them in this great golden city made especially for its inhabitants.  He tells them that they have now begun to the true story, where every chapter is better than the one before, and with that, the seven volume Narnian mythology is finished.

One might say, “What is wrong with that?”  To which I answer, one thing; it is glorious but small.  The description of the beautiful scenery is so breathtaking the reader cannot help but smile as he reads about this new Narnia.  But that’s just it, Lewis seemed to glory in the landscape and the glories of the new Narnia more than Aslan himself.  This is why it is a glorious but small.  Is this what the true heaven will be like?  In part yes, but the reason the citizens of that city will be rejoicing is because the One focus of the celebration will not be the country itself, but it’s foundation and builder, Jesus Christ.  Lewis painted a picture where the scenery of Narnia was treasured more than Aslan himself, when the real heavenly city will be just the opposite.  This prompts me to ask my readers, would you be happy in heaven to have all the purified joys you can have (friends, food, physical fitness, breathtaking nature, pleasures galore, etc) if Jesus were not there?  The Christian would answer simply, “No.  He is my prize!  If He’s not there I don’t want to be there!  He is my treasure, not His gifts!”

Therefore, though the imagery and literary genius of The Last Battle is clearly evident, and I have personally benefited from its work, I do think it is more harmful to readers than helpful in my opinion simply because it paints to much an un-Biblical picture.

[1] Sayer, 318.

[2] There could be an interesting word play going on in this man’s name, for it means “truth” in Hebrew.

[3] Lewis, 756.

[4] Lewis, 757.

[5] Lewis, 760.

4 thoughts on “The Last Battle: Surprising Heresy & A Gloriously Small Picture

  1. Adam,
    I have been struggling much regarding this idea of salvation through other means. I agree with you that the bible does not explicitly say anything about this. In fact, it states that the only way to salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ. However, if you take the bible as a whole, the meaning of “faith in Jesus Christ” may not be as clear cut as it appears at first. It is clear that many were saved in the old treatment without confessing their faith in Jesus. This includes certain characters like Melchizedek who was not even a Jew, without the Covent or the Law. Yet he was called “the high priest.” I have to conclude from this that a verbal confession is not required, not even the personal knowledge is required. How then can this be done? I have no answer. I have to accept this as a mystery. I think Lewis’s fictionalized account is one possible speculation. Heresy is perhaps a too strong of a word. Though it is non-biblical in a sense that this is not clearly stated in the bible, it is not entirely contrary either. If you consider carefully of his reasoning, there is a possible explanation for his account. I think the basis for his speculation is the nature of God. We know that our God is good, and all goodness comes from him. In fact, he is not capable of being cruel. It stands to reason that all goodness is from him no matter who did it. No evil person is capable of showing true kindness that is not from the one true God. It is debatable what true goodness means. Only God can see our hearts, only he knows. Based on this set of theology, it would be reasonable to speculate that God will accept all good deeds no matter the person know his name or not. I understand that this does get a little muddy to judge who gets saved who doesn’t. Luckily, that is not our job. Only God is in charge of the book of life. We are only called to love one another and spread the gospel. Anyhow, I think if you take Lewis’s writing as a whole, you can see that universalism is not what he believes.

    1. I hear what you’re saying, but I do think you misunderstand me. I DO NOT think this account of Lewis is Biblical at all. No one comes to the Father but by His Son Jesus, He is the only way. You must know His name, must turn to Him while turning away from sin to enter in. This is 100% in the Bible, both in the New and Old Testaments. Lewis is great, and I love a lot of his stuff – but here in this instance we must part ways, he is wrong.

  2. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to find that heresy, as you call it! It’s also interesting your second complaint, and I would slightly disagree with that. They delight and glory in the new Narnia *only because Aslan is there too*. Just like in the old – without Aslan it would not be complete. It is only at the end that they even realise the true extent of that wonder, and then the focus shifts where it ought. So I would somewhat disagree with you.

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