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These books may only be about 200 pages long, but Lewis sure packs a lot into those 200 pages. Love, death, despair, hope, redemption.... It's all there, and it's in this book in spades.
This is, of course, the last book in the series. A good author knows how to name his books properly. If this had been the first book, the editor might have tweaked the title a little, although I do think it would be funny to call the first book in an epic fantasy series "The Last Battle" and then have the next six books deal with the aftermath of a near-apocalypse.
But I digress.
It is the end of an age, and its main players are a drunken monkey and a donkey with self-esteem issues. When the talking Ape named Shift finds a lion skin in the river, he sees opportunity. But opportunity takes hard work, and he prefers to delegate that to his donkey friend, Puzzle, who has come to accept that Shift will always be smarter, better and more Right than a poor old donkey can ever be. The way they figure it, if Puzzle wears the skin, and Shift promotes him as Aslan, the world will be their bivalve of choice! Now you may be wondering, how could anyone be taken in by a donkey in a tatty old lion skin, when the real Aslan is bigger than life and makes you want to cry when you see him?
Answer: low lighting and some clever accomplices.
Shift falls in with some of Calormenes, who are still looking for ways to take over Narnia. Shift and the Calormenes decide to blend their gods - Tash and Aslan - to make Tashlan, a unified deity before whom all must prostrate themselves. And give up all their worldly possessions, which Shift and his associates will gladly take up the burden of administering.
The scheme works wonders. The talking Beasts of Narnia follow Shift and Puzzle because they really do think it's Aslan. They've never seen the real guy before, so some lion-looking creature in the shadows and some slick talk from the Ape make it believable. Aslan tells them to cut down the trees in the Lantern Waste? Well, he must have his reasons, so let's get to it and hope that the dryads' screaming doesn't get too shrill.
That's where the last King of Narnia comes in. King Tirian and his unicorn, Jewel, get wind that something's not right. There's someone calling himself Aslan who is ordering the denizens of Narnia to destroy their own land. Like any good king, he decides to take matters into his own hands, and promptly gets himself captured. Silly, silly king.
But there is hope. In the dead of night and at the end of his endurance, he calls out to the children who, legend has it, appear in times of great need. He begs for their intercession, and, ten minutes later, Eustace and Jill pop into view, fresh off the train. They free Tirian and Jewel, round up as many loyal Narnians as they can find, and set to unmasking the scam that Shift and the Calormen are perpetrating.
But first they have to go through Tash. And he ain't a very nice God.
As you can easily guess from the title, this is the end of the series, and it is certainly an apocalyptic one. The Destruction of Narnia is beautifully written and illustrated, and it's certainly a sad moment in fantasy history. At least until you get to the next page and remember your Plato. Needless to say, it gets very metaphysical. There are worlds within worlds here, and each of them is more real and more wonderful than the one before. The Narnia that we knew, that we loved, is but a reflection of the True Narnia, and what holds true there also holds true here. Lewis tries to describe Heaven, and makes a very good go at it. But finally he gives up and says that it's truly beyond his power to describe. He assures us that this is a happy ending, and the Diggory and Polly, Peter, Edmund and Lucy (Susan apparently Grew Up and is, in Peter's words, "no longer a friend of Narnia." Yikes), Eustace and Jill have more adventures. But their adventures are beyond his ability to tell.
And so we must simply be content in knowing