In The Last Battle, the fate of Narnia comes to a head at a small barn in the woods. Eventually, all of the characters you would expect end up in heaven: those Narnians who remain faithful to Aslan and those from Earth who made their way to the land of talking beasts (with the glaring exception of Susan, which deserves it’s own post).
But one unexpected person makes his way into Aslan’s land—a Calormene soldier named Emeth. Knowing what we know about his country, that comes as a shock to many Christian readers of Narnia.
Calormen, in this conclusion to The Chronicles of Narnia and in several other stories, is the enemy of Narnia and all things good.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lewis introduces the Calormene people as “wise, wealthy, courteous, cruel and ancient.” The Horse and His Boy describes an attempted invasion of Archenland and Narnia by Calormen.
And finally in The Last Battle, they work with a deceptive ape to capture the Narnia king and enslave the people. But as the story shifts to those who followed Aslan and found themselves in his country, the Narnians see Emeth there.
He says he met Aslan and was amazed at the beauty and majesty of the lion. Even though he spent his life serving Tash, the supposed god of Calormen, Emeth says seeing Aslan, even if it meant his death, was better than being a king on earth.
He confessed to Aslan his previous religious convictions, but is told that any honor he displays could not have been done in Tash’s name, just as any cruelty can not be truly done in Aslan’s name. Aslan says all of Emeth’s good works done for Tash were accepted as works done for Aslan.
Emeth’s retelling of the conversation ends with his admitting he had been seeking Tash his whole life and Aslan responding, “Beloved, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”
This can leave many evangelical fans of Lewis and Narnia in a potentially difficult situation. A surface-level reading of the text could lead some to believe this advocates for a works-based salvation. [After some helpful social media dialogue, I have attempted to clear up this point.]
Lewis is not advocating salvation through good works in this passage (or any of his writings), but his view is different than my own.
I don’t want readers who also disagree with Lewis’ position to disregard all of Narnia because they have problems with this one passage—much of which is based on a misunderstanding of the text. So what do I do?
Clearly, we should remember The Chronicles of Narnia is fiction. Lewis is using a fictional world to present pictures and myths that point to real truth. We should not necessarily expect a one-to-one correspondence.
But beyond that, three facts from within the Narnian world could be kept in mind to evaluate the issue of Emeth’s admission into Aslan’s country.
1. Narnia’s Aslan is not Earth’s Jesus.
It seems obvious, but it bears stating. Narnia is a different world with a different incarnational appearance.
Aslan’s does not appear to the talking beasts of Narnia the same as Jesus has appeared to the humans of Earth. Aslan repeatedly visits Narnia, while Christians are waiting on the second (and final) appearance of Christ.
Aslan did offer himself as a sacrifice to save Edmund from the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but that was the extent of the redemption. It was not meant to redeem all of Narnia.
No one is ever asked to accept the sacrificial death of Aslan to ensure their salvation. Because of the differences, we should not expect the same rules to apply in both places.
Clearly, the literary picture of Aslan is meant to reflect Jesus, but the character Aslan has a different relationship with the fictional world of Narnia than Earth has with Christ.
2. Narnia did not have a Fall.
There is no Adam and Eve who disobey and impart sin into their offspring. Sin, as it were, enters Narnia through Jadis, a queen from a completely different world. (This is from The Magician’s Nephew, Narnia’s creation narrative.)
Clearly, the animals (and humans) living in Narnia have the ability to choose to follow Aslan, but we should not assume the redemptive history of that fictional world mirrors our own.
If the Fall is different, it is reasonable to assume salvation and entrance into heaven would look different there as it does here.
In a way, however, Emeth is subject to the earthly Fall. All humans in Narnia descended from earthly humans—either from King Frank and Queen Helen (The Magician’s Nephew) or pirates that stumbled into Narnia (Prince Caspian).
But Emeth was born and has lived his entire life in a world without the same type of Fall. He is in a place where God became incarnate as a lion, not a human.
In refusing to acknowledge Emeth as a rightful entrant into Aslan’s country, we are essentially asking Lewis to directly apply truths specific to our world on a world with a completely different spiritual makeup.
3. Emeth does not go directly into Aslan’s country.
Within the world of Narnia, there appears to be a type of purgatory, an intermediary place prior to being in Aslan’s country. It is here where Emeth meets Aslan and realizes his mistake of following Tash.
Aslan breathes on him and tells Emeth they will meet again “further up and further in.”
But Emeth is not the only unbeliever to go through the door in The Last Battle. Others come through, but continue deluding themselves, even in Aslan’s presence.
A group of dwarfs refuse to believe they are in a beautiful land and, instead, behave as if they are trapped in a dark dungeon. “They will not let us help them,” Aslan says. “They have chosen cunning instead of belief.”
So it is not a matter of universalism in Narnia. Not everyone reaches Aslan’s country, only those who at some point recognize and accept Aslan’s lordship.
For Emeth, this happened in an intermediary place between Narnia and Aslan’s country.
Seeing that Narnia and Earth are different, I can hold to the absence of purgatory on Earth, but accept the presence of a similar location in Narnia.
When you read The Last Battle and thought about Emeth’s admission into Aslan’s country, what did you think? I’ve already had some helpful social media dialogue on this issue. I would love more of that.
If your theological position on salvation is different from what Lewis presents in The Last Battle, do you try to reconcile the two? If so, how did you think through the issue? I’m genuinely interested in how readers and scholars of Lewis have thought through this.