like dragons

Wednesday reading — at the end of all good things

What I've been reading

I did finally reread The Last Battle after all my procrastination and fussing. Unsurprisingly, I still didn't like all the bits I originally didn't like, but there were also more things that I was able to enjoy than I remembered.

The initial chapters with Shift and Puzzle are a striking depiction of an abusive friendship, and specifically of an abuser manipulating social justice rhetoric to control their victim. That alone would probably make it my least favorite Narnia book, just because it's so unpleasant, but revisiting it I can at least say that I do find it an effective piece of writing.

Something that struck me is that Shift's most frequent complaint is that he can't get ahold of oranges and bananas. He coerces Puzzle into going into town to buy him some, but they don't have any. They don't seem to grow anywhere in Narnia, and Archenland seems by all indications to have the same temperate climate, so presumably they're imported from Calormen, but the apes can't be, because all the Talking Animals of Narnia were given that ability by Aslan when he created it. Why are there apes in Narnia when it isn't their native climate and they can't get their native diet? Getting nice things to eat is one of the reoccurring themes of Narnia: it's practically a defining feature. Sure, you may get taken in by magically evil Turkish delight, or have to subsist on apples and roast bear for a while, but eventually you are going to get offered a really good meal, unless you're an ape, apparently. Not that I'm arguing that this excuses the things Shift does in universe; it just feels like shitty, lazy worldbuilding in service of everything getting terrible so Lewis can crumple up his world and throw it away, which I'm not in sympathy with and I'm not inclined to play along with.

I did really enjoy the large middle chunk of the book, though. It's basically a dystopia set in Narnia and I do enjoy reading dystopias. Also it has much more Eustace than I remembered, and he feels more like the Eustace from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader than the one from The Silver Chair, maybe partly because of the rapport he and Jill have with Tirian and Jewel, who are more like Caspian and his crew than Puddleglum is. There are actually as many great Eustace and Eustace-related lines in this book as there are in Dawn Treader, which I would never have realized if I hadn't taken it into my head to do a completionist reread. So there's that.

I most certainly did not notice the first and only time I read this book that it contained the line "You have been wakened yourself by cats quarreling or making love on the roof in the middle of the night: you know the sound." I don't know what amuses me more—that Lewis makes reference to cats fucking, or that he employs the locution "making love" for it. Which, incidentally, he had previously used in its earlier sense, unless those scenes of Jill making love to the giants in The Silver Chair are meant to be read very differently. I can't, incidentally, lay my hands on a decent source dating when the former meaning definitively slid into the latter, and would like one if anyone else has one.

I just plain hate the last third of the book where everyone is dead. None of them sound or act very much like themselves any more. You can't really have a story in a place without time, so while this gorgeous dreamlike world would probably be a lot of fun to be in, I don't find it particularly fun to read about compared with actual Narnia. I think the Platonic scheme of the Realm of Ideal Forms and the shadow it casts (i.e. the real world) is muddled by the introduction of Narnia, which while short of heaven is clearly superior to the actual real world because it's a fantasy wish-fulfillment land. It makes it weird.

There are repeated references to Eustace and Jill being younger than all the Pevensies, which I don't think can be right. Surely Eustace is older than Lucy? If he really isn't right around Edmund's age, either a bit younger or a bit older, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader reads very differently, or would if I didn't utterly reject this piece of canon.

Um. That was even more than I was expecting to write.

I also finished reading Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Ancient Athens, which I adored. It's my very favorite kind of history, and so engagingly written.

Also posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comment(s)
I kind of figured that, when Aslan created Talking Animals, he did so throughout the world, and most were either born in Narnia or migrated there after persecutions elsewhere. Doesn't LLW have talking leopards, too? Without having the texts set hand to doublecheck, I think there are a bunch of non-temperate-climate talking animals.
Yes, there are talking leopards in LWW! They'd be pretty well set in terms of diet, though, at least, since they eat (non-talking) animals and there are plenty of those in Narnia. Then again, LWW also has talking squirrels eating Christmas puddings with forks, whereas LB (and maybe also PC? I don't remember.) has them eating nuts, more like regular squirrels. And of course talking beavers eat fish, potatoes, and marmalade rolls, none of which are part of the diet of normal beavers. So I guess the real answer here is that talking animals eat or don't eat whatever the plot requires at any given moment. :)

All the talking animals are in one place when Aslan bestows speech on them, but obviously they must spread out and multiply from there. I always assumed they stayed within the political borders of Narnia, but I suppose it doesn't really say either way. The extent of geography beyond Narnia, Archenland, Calormen, and the sea Caspian sails to the end of is also kind of vague.