I think of this as the final book in the Prince Caspian Trilogy. It's also an introduction to Jill Pole, one of my favorite characters - she's smart and capable and courageous, and it's not her fault Dr. Lewis subscribed to the conventional wisdom that girls are always weaker than boy. I figure she and Eustace are on the cusp of puberty at this point, and therefore she'd actually be stronger than Eustace, but that's not something Lewis would know. She's also stubborn and it took her a while to listen to Aslan. And, honestly, that's prefectly reasonable - she's been whisked to this strange land and this huge Lion is telling her to drink some water.
(That's pretty much, from what I could see, the only real religious aspect of this story - the language Aslan uses. "If you are thirsty, come and drink.") I liked that the Earthmen's first thought upon being released from their spell is, "How come I haven't danced or sung?" It's a nice reversal in many ways.
I also like to think that the Giants were actually relieved that they wouldn't have to eat the little girl who charmed them so, even if they were less happy about losing Eustace. Poor Jill, though - she traded her so-practical shorts and Girl Guide (Scout) knife for a dress too long for her. And yet she managed.
Once again, though, we see that the presexual "tomboyish" little girl is preferable to the adult woman who is clearly using her sexuality to control Prince Rilian.
The Horse and his Boy
I have decidedly mixed feelings about this book. I love the pure adventure aspects, and the Horse is delightful in his pride and care for Shasta, and it was more than interesting seeing Susan, Edmund and Lucy in the middle of their joint reign - the only time we see them as adults other than the brief glimpse at the end of LWW. For that matter, Aravis is also a great character in the mold of, but not identical to, Lucy and Jill. Lewis does seem to like the tomboyish young girl.
But this is, and here I'm speaking as a person of my generation with full understanding that Lewis came from a different time and place, balanced by the overt racism. The Calormenes, with only a few exceptions, are as dark as their features. They can be very good looking, but the only decent one was Aravis. Shasta's foster-father was all-too willing to sell him. For that matter, Aravis's father was doing approximately the same thing. Shasta instinctively likes the Narnian contingent because they looked different (lighter) than the Calormenes - this can be mitigated somewhat because they were the first people he'd seen who looked like *him*.
But they're also presented as people with honor - Prince Corin, when he returns, can't think of a reason NOT to tell his friends what had happened, and Shasta can't think of a reason to do so.
There's also the ethnocentrism of Shasta smelling a traditional English breakfast for the first time and Lewis's hope that his readers had done so, often. But then, that was was his presumed audience, so forgivable.
Then we have the sexism again. There are five female characters in this novel with any role at all - Aravis, Queen Susan, Queen Lucy, Hwee (Aravis's Horse) and Lasaraleen, Aravis's friend. Hwee is presented as having a bit more sense than Bree, and less pride, but she essentially follows his lead. Queen Susan is an adult, ready to get married. In fact, her sexuality - her desire to possibly marry Prince Rabadash - is what puts them in such a precarious existence. Rabadash goes to war only to acquire her for himself when she turns him down. Sexuality is a dangerous thing.
And yet, when the fighting comes to Archenland, she stays back home - even though she's a champion archer, would be useful in the field and the battle is about her. Why? Not becuase that would be a dangerous thing for her to do - which would be an excellent reason - but because she's a grown-up lady. Grown-up ladies don't fight. Their adolescent sisters do. This, of course, wouldn't be the last time Susan would stay behind with her sexuality as a reason.
Queen Lucy, of course, joins the battle with her bow and arrow - her bow and arrow which aren't even the gifts from Father Christmas. But she, it's implied, isn't a grown-up lady yet.
Larsaleen is the same age as Aravis, but she's married and frivolous and scatter-brained. Married = sexual.
However, when Aravis absconds to Archenland, she becomes, in effect, chatelaine of the royal castle. She has to stop being the headstrong girl who ran away from home so she wouldn't be married to a man she didn't love or even like and settle in to being a housekeeper. Eventually, she becomes queen, marrying Shasta/Cor, but it's written more...huh. "So they could continue arguing more easily." Which - she's living in the same castle and her duties wouldn't change that much, so...? Okay, here he was being cute and funny, so I'll let him get away with it.
I also liked that Bree and Hwee didn't marry each other.
One other point - the Calormenes have brought story telling to a high art, with set phrases and rhythms that enhance the tales - making them almost poetic - whereas their poetry is basically lists of aphorisms and quite boring. This makes no sense. It makes even less sense for a warlike people, who one would assume would enjoy epic recitations of battles that suit neither form. It seems it was just another way to make the Narnians better.
The last two books have their own problems.
The Magician's Nephew
This is, of course, the creation story. And it again has a spunky tomboy as one of the child-leads, and an adult woman with a fully realized sexuality as the villain. We, of course, know that this is the future White Witch (Jadis, after all), but it's the bachelor uncle (exactly as Professor Kirke was destined to be) who calls her a "Dem fine woman."
It's a clear retelling of the Genesis story, with the interesting stfnal addition of a interface between the worlds. We learn of the origin of the Lamp-post,and I remember that "ah-ha!" moment that I think would have been lost if this book were read first. I'm less bothered by the Jadis thing, since I think the "ah-ha" would have been about the same.
In a series of books which makes a big deal of noble blood, I find it intersesting that the King and Queen come from ordinary English country stock - interesting message there, I think. There's also the fact that no one ate the Apple (other than Jadis) without permission. If Jadis is a Lilith reference - I think it's a probablity - there is no snake. In many ways, Narnia is an Eden, which was invaded by foreigners (Calormenes, Telamarines) from our fallen world.
Too bad the toffee-fruit tree never seemed to reproduce. :)
As the entire book is a retelling of Genesis (with the odd-to-me idea that it was the Son of the Emperor-over-the-Sea who created it, as opposed to the Emperor Himself, but it makes sense, I believe, from a Christian worldview. If I'm wrong, I'm open to correction), bringing up religion is actually superfluous.
The Last Battle
This is a different box of Turkish Delight. As the first was a retelling of Genesis, this seems to be a retelling of Revelations (as best as I can remember - the only time I even tried to read Revelations was in college.) So commenting on the religious aspects is difficult for me at best.
Clearly the Donkey Puzzle is, at best, a reluctant anti-Christ, lead astray by the Ape. And I'm not sure what the symbolism here is, except we once again see the evil of the Calormenes, except for one good and honorable (and handsome) man. I found the idea that good actions, even if dedicated to a "Demon", are really accrued to Aslan to be...well. From the rules of Narnia, that's very good and makes perfect sense. In my universe - well, I know that if I told a Wiccan that the good things they did in honor of their God and Goddess were really to the credit of the One I worship, they'd be insulted, and rightfully so.
And then we get to other parts that bother, I think, many people. Susan is forever barred, or seems to be so, from the afterlife because she's forgotten Narnia and Aslan. She's also been left completely alone in the world, as everyone else - parents, siblings, family friends - are gone. All that seem to be left are Eustace's grieving mother and father. And it does seem to because she has become a sexual adult - just as they had to leave Narnia because marriage was immanent for her.
The Kings and Queens are excused because they have a duty to continue their lines, and the Pevensie parents had to produce (and pretty much abandon) their children. On the other hand, the Professor and Polly never marry - not even each other - and so in effect remain pre-sexual friends their entire life, while the Pevensies (excepting Susan), Eustace and Jill die before it becomes a factor. Which makes an interesting statement about Peter. I'm also interested that all of them are out of school at this point, because Dr. Lewis never made it clear what their ages really were, but Lucy, Polly and Jill never really change their personalities.
Huh. I know that the Apple is linked with sexual experience in Christianity (not so much in Judasism), and this seems to have not happened to Polly or Digory. I wonder.
The three Pevensie children never actually reach, so far as I can see, the age in which they leave Narnia to return to England, either.
It's actually rather sad - Caspian gets to grow up, get married and have a son. Corin and Aravis marry and have, I presume, children. Our Heroes never do.