CS Lewis, Islam
The Last Battle
I have been a reader of CS Lewis since I was introduced to them by my headmistress who read them to us at my boarding school on Sunday evenings before bedtime. It is one of my fondest memories.
Of course at the time of I didn’t understand the allegorical significance of Aslan or the deeper meanings intended, but came back to the stories time and again, always finding new levels of meaning in them as I grew older.
Lewis was a convinced Christian, a conversion he reached in the years around 1930, partly influenced by JRR Tolkien, himself a devout Roman Catholic all his life since a child. This was to come out a great deal more obviously in his works than in those of Tolkien, although both took it as a foundation of meaning in their sub-created worlds.
As I have grown older, and especially in more recent times when I have read and studied their writings in more depth, I have come to understand the historic archetypal forces which they describe in terms of the real world.
Tolkien said that he wanted to compose a mythology for the English, since so much had been lost after the Norman invasion.
This mythology would have to have some parallels or symbolic relations with the real world or else it wouldn’t stick.
His Middle Earth is quite clearly a representation of European peoples defending against barbarian invasion by hordes from the East. This is a dynamic which Europe has experienced time and again with Attila, the Mongols, the Ottomans, even the USSR, although that had not spread its Iron Curtain across the continent at the time when Tolkien was conceiving Lord of the Rings.
We all know the literary forebears of Middle Earth ~ Beowulf, the Icelandic sagas, Finnish and Celtic influences, but scholars will shy away from the more difficult threads. Who are the Orcs?
It seems to me to be dishonest to suggest that the geographical location of Mordor and the Orcs do not in some way correlate with Turkey, or the Middle East, or its inhabitants.
The Shire is the safety of northwestern Europe, Gondor is some version of Rome or Constantinople which stands as a bulwark against the barbarian hordes of the East. Do we really need to argue this? Are people so politically correct in their pretence that they cannot see the obvious correlations with the geopolitical world of, not only the past, but the present as well? I recently found that the term 'orc' means 'foreigner, monster or demon'. Perhaps our forebears made no great distinction between these things.
[May I briefly interject here that it is my opinion, having recently read John Buchan’s superb Greenmantle that there is a literary root of the LOTR in that novel. The journey across country to reach the great river Danube, going down it in a line of boats and reaching the great city of Constantinople (Minas Tirith in Gondor surely). But the real bullseye was the nine riders who appear at one point, and there are others. But I digress.]
It is my conviction that both Lewis and Tolkien knew that there were great threats to our civilisation, and that a decline of faith into agnosticism would lead to a vacuum which could be taken advantage of.
CS Lewis had a much more unconventional theological evolution than Tolkien and in the twenties had dabbled in theosophical and other ideas. One of his closest friends, Charles Williams, is reputed to have been a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn.
There is much written amongst certain groups about how Tolkien and Lewis were occultists who sought to infiltrate the Church with their heresies. On the other hand, Marxists claim that they were racist nationalists and xenophobes.
I’m inclined to go with a middle way and accept that Lewis was probably the most influential and widely read Christian writer in English of the twentieth century, and Tolkien was probably the greatest scholar and writer in English of the century. Whilst the modern cultural left approach them warily, recognising that they form a part of a serious backbone of English literary, religious and cultural national identity which persists to this day, they still take sidelong swipes at them whenever they can find, or invent, an opportunity.
Philip Pullman’s claim that Lewis exercises racist attitudes in The Last Battle for instance has been roundly dispelled, so I shan’t bother to detail that here, but it is that work, the final one in the Narnian Chronicles which I wish to address here.
It occurred to me this Good Friday just gone that there were certain parallels with the actual situation in which we find ourselves at this very time, so I embarked on a quick read of said book (at 165 pages it can be polished off in three or four hours) and found much to feed my curiosity.
The principal idea which had sparked this train of thought was that Tash, the god of the Calormenes had a head like a vulture. The meaning of this suggests that the god only eats dead flesh. Thus the followers of Tash are in themselves spiritually dead.
Whilst Aslan is a lion. Lion only seek living prey. The meaning of this then is that the followers of Aslan are spiritually alive, they are vital and thus have the Holy Spirit.
Tash is the principle god of the Calormenes. They do have some others, Azaroth and Zardeenah, but these seem like minor household deities while the ruling class of the Tisroc and his Tarkaans all claim descent from Tash.
It seems unavoidable to see some conflation between Islam and the worship of Tash, illustrated here by Pauline Baynes from The Last Battle.
On the superficial level, the Calormenes appear similar to Turkish Ottomans or nearby Middle Eastern people. In itself only a casual association, but there is much more to flesh this out.
The descent from Tash is reminiscent of the descent from Mahomet which the leaders of the two main branches of Islam claim. And their society based on the worship of this creature which only seeks the spiritually dead is one which seems to be built on top down domination by the sword, not the high trust co-operation of the Narnians.
But we also find that there have been numerous wars between the Calormenes and Narnia and Archenland, its southern neighbour. Which we cannot ignore is what has happened to Europe at the hands of the Turks numerous times over the centuries, as well as other incursions into Iberia and the Italian peninsula. It is hard to be certain, as Lewis is frequently almost deliberately vague about dates and how often, but it seems clear that there have been numerous wars with Calormen, mostly instigated by the Calormene desire to take these free northern countries under its rule. Also reminiscent of the constant pressure of the East on Gondor, if I may say ˡ.
The image of Tashbaan in Pauline Baynes’ charming illustrations in The Horse and His Boy clearly shows minarets in the Islamic style around what must be the Temple of Tash at the top and centre of the city, and to me is highly evocative of Istanbul, Constantinople as it was known for about 1600 years, while the very name of their lordly class Tarkaans sounds like a conflation of Turk and khan, a common name or ending in Islamic lands deriving from the Indo-European root word meaning king.
The language of the Calormenes is rich with the kind of sayings we associate with Islam and middle eastern potentates ~ May he live forever is reminiscent of the saying Peace be upon him.
We get into more detail with The Last Battle in which Calormenes have been infiltrating Narnia in twos and threes pretending to be merchants and diplomats. Meanwhile they are assembling a military force at the very heart of Narnia while at the same time dominating the local Narnians.
And here we come to the crunch. The Narnians are all saying that this is what Aslan has been instructing. Indeed as the story progresses Tash and Aslan are quickly conflated into a ‘We Are All One’ scenario and the noble Talking Beasts of Narnia are to be caged up while the Speaking Trees are to be cut down and a more productive state of affairs is to be imposed. (I love Lewis’s dig at communism!)
To my eyes, what we are seeing here is an almost literal account of what is actually happening today. We hear that the God of Jesus and that of Mahomet are one and the same, although their commandments and their practices are entirely different. We are told to invite them into our lands, and yet meanwhile they build up covert forces in enclaves which have already struck against us. Mollenbeek is an obvious example.
What has been described by Dr Kevin McDonald as ‘pathological altruism’ leaves the Narnians vulnerable to foreign incursion because they trust the Calormenes at face value. This is the vulnerable downside of the living spirit which the enemies exploit. Many of the Talking Beasts are too timid to fight on the side of right and their own people, slinking off into the woods, or are cowed by the threat of Calormene punishment. Is this not what we see in the face of Islamic rape gangs? People too afraid to speak up?
Did Lewis realise what he was writing, or was he just using a convenient stereotype to get over a story?
The images in the works of CS Lewis were spontaneous creations of his imagination which tended to jump fully formed into consciousness, but he did not string them all together until he had understood them.
He was a literary historian. He knew the story of the Crusades and the endless attrition of the Moors and the Ottomans on Christendom. It is no coincidence that the God of the Calormenes is shaped like a vulture and has robes like an Aztec priest. He knew that Islam was the ancient enemy which lurked on the borders of our entire historic awareness like a bogey man in a fairy story and so he represented it as such. The more important story is of the children and the King and how they behaved with honour and loyalty, while we see that the Ape (whom I imagine as Tony Blair, the chief traitor of our nation) who has contrived this but also been the puppet of larger forces is gobbled up by the demon god.
What is it to be spiritually dead? It is to wish to build your own life force on the domination of others, of taking their life energy from them, to have no conception of spiritual creativity yourself.
Islam promotes the idea to men that women are mere chattel, whilst Christianity (and some other faiths and creeds as well) believes in the concept of Romantic love, something Lewis himself wrote on extensively in several books. It is a higher level of spiritual development engaged with a sense of humility before the divine, but also of generosity and forgiveness absent in the Religion of the Sword.
Some of the more politically correct of Lewis’s readers just dismiss The Last Battle as if it were some aberration. Lewis getting senile, run out of ideas, returning to a second childhood, turning into some right wing bigot, racist, xenophobe.
One thing I tremendously admire about Jack was his almost reckless disregard for social convention when it came to facing the truth. And consequently I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the Islamic references in his final Narnian story are entirely intended.
While I am at it, may I briefly add that the speculation that some make that Lewis was running out of ideas and wanted to kill the Narnia series have entirely got it wrong. Michael Ward in his excellent Planet Narnia demonstrates, to my full and complete satisfaction, that there was an underlying pattern behind the books of which he never explicitly spoke but which is clear nonetheless to those with eyes to see. And I think many would agree that if Lewis had run out of ideas he was a sensible enough chap not to try and squeeze toothpaste out of a tube which had run dry. It’s also my understanding that the books were not written like some penny dreadful serial with the publisher asking for the next best seller by a certain date, but that he had an organised, overarching plan which he evolved as a whole. The very fact that there are seven in the Chronicles, the Holy Number, is surely no accident.
Yes, CS Lewis was very much more into the mystical side, at least in some of his works, than was his friend Tolkien. And it’s my belief that he saw this as a genuine possibility which he felt would be better signalled and preserved in a work of fiction than in some prosaic political commentary that would be forgotten.
And lastly, I should say that it is my firm conviction that both Tolkien and Lewis saw the potential re-emergence of Islam as a danger which lurked always on the horizon. These are two of the finest minds of twentieth century Christendom and to dismiss that they may have seen this afar off is for lesser minds to scoff at elders they fail to recognise.
It can be no coincidence that both of them produced major, mature works which seem to be themed around the invasion of Europe. Tolkien at a more mythological level invoking the barbarian hordes of the East, yet nonetheless with certain Islamic resonances (see my blog Tolkien and Islam), and Lewis far more explicitly with The Last Battle.
Coming as they did in the 1950s, in the last wave of traditional Western culture before the Marxists got their teeth into it, the Narnian Chronicles and the Lord of the Rings can be seen as great signposts and warnings that have been left to tell us of the dangers we face, built before the leftist propaganda destroyed the rest of our culture.
Had they come later they might not have achieved the stature that they did. Were they to be written today, they would be ridiculed, attacked as racist, imperialist, xenophobic. We see how The Hobbit films were infected with political correctness that went entirely against what would have been true to the story and to Middle Earth.
The works of CS Lewis and Tolkien are edifices which we would do well to value and learn from. They are voices from the past crying for us to remember who we are, to stand firm against chaos and barbarism, the cruel tyranny of Islam and attrition against the truth of our own spiritual nature and destiny.
ˡ Gondor: in my recent researches and deliberation about Middle Earth, I came across a Cultural Marxist ‘analysis’ of Gondor. It claimed that Gondor was an invading power which sought to dominate Middle Earth. The writer of this piece (I have lost the link) has clearly not properly read the history of Numenor as it was the case that only Elendil, his sons and a few boats filled with survivors of the wreck of Numenor arrived on the western coast of Middle Earth. This was hardly an invading force. It was only by their intelligence and mighty works that they established themselves in the lands in which they arrived. Where else should they go? There were already Elves in the West of Middle Earth who were friendly to them, and that is where they set up, West of the River, and East of the Sea. They had no other options.
By today’s standards they would undoubtedly qualify as refugees, but the Men of the West did not try to sponge off the local inhabitants, who were accustomed to a much lower standard of living than the Numenoreans. Instead they set about building a new civilisation in as close an image to the one they had lost as possible.
So the builders of Gondor and Arnor were far more like entrepreneurs, explorers and inventors in that they brought trade and artisan skills to the West of Middle Earth, as well as building alliances of strength with their neighbours such as Rohan which maintained peace for long periods in the face of chaotic incursions from the tribes of the East.
You can purchase a paper or e-book version of my account of my shamanic rite of passage at The Hundredth Monkey Camp 'Waking The Monkey! ~ Becoming The Hundredth Monkey' (A Book for Spiritual Warriors) below