2.17.2011

Now Make an End


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The topic of Lewis's The Last Battle is lastness itself. Eschatology, given its fantastic nature, remains the provenance of fairy tales. From the fantastic and bizarre images of Revelation to the sweeping calamities of ragnarök, the "happily ever after" and simple "Fin," the beyondness of lastness necessitates a suspension of belief that only fantasy can provide. That also makes it quite difficult to write about.
Lewis brings to bear the same theological imagination that gives his other writings such potency. The Christian view of the end times promulgated in this story is of a particular kind, namely that it ends happy, in fact happier than should be hoped. Part of what creates this sense of barely speakable joy is the contrast with the depravity of the rest of the story. The pall of existential entropy hangs everywhere in the story. "In the last days of Narnia..." "The last king of Narnia sat beneath a tree..." "It had been better if we had died before this day..." The story takes a decidedly King Lear descent into the horror of seeing something so beloved decay into madness, delusion, and death. It is this dying that is so crucial to the Christian eschatological view. Without death there can be no resurrection.
PictureI recently read a post by my cousin Rachel Maxon at Common Places about resurrection in children's literature. The use of resurrection as a "just kidding" ploy in children's books and movies (Disney's Jungle Book, Grimm's Snow White, and even Back to the Future I, just to name a few). Her article is succinct and really hits the point that our culture tends to weaken and confuse the irresistibility of death by what turns out to by lazy plot construction. Death becomes no big deal. It's just something that happens in the last scene to get us to care more about the characters and witness their moral and relational development. But the way in which death and resurrection is different in The Last Battle and indeed in Christianity in general is the way in which, as Rachel put it, death is a big deal, so big that "it took the fundamental overthrow of the entire cosmic order to bring it down." Death and resurrection is, literally, the crux of Christianity.
PictureBut death is real! It is potent and bitter and appalling. How can I justify an honest struggle with death in literature when it gapes open-mawed at me from the squalid pages of human history and current pains around the world? Only one thing allows for the justification of this wrong. It is the picture and reality of resurrection. Lewis does it best. It reminds me to be thankful. And hopeful.

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