DISCLAIMER: SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRETY OF THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA SERIES
Before I jump into this let me preface this by saying I enjoy most of the books of The Chronicles of Narnia series. I have a few gripes about the 1st and 4th books of the series, but for the most part, I enjoyed the simple plot and recurring characters. My primary bone to pick with C.S. Lewis is the seventh and final entry to The Chronicles of Narnia which I thought was very poorly done and the ending was abrupt and confusing.
I know these books are intended to be children's books because of the shortness of length and illustrations. However, some of the plot points throughout the series are needlessly rushed to their conclusion when I thought Lewis could have gone into more detail with them.
I'll list a few examples of the ones that stood out the most to me. In The Magician's Nephew, the first book of the series, Digory and Polly end up waking up Jadis (sometimes referred to as the white witch) from her dying world of Charn going back to the real world and then tricking her into going with them to the creation of Narnia in a span of fewer than 24 hours. While this might seem standard for a story about children with world-hopping rings the pacing of the plot is all of this happens within about thirty pages. Now for so many important events to happen all at once with little to no explanation of the significance of freeing Jadis the empress or bringing her along with the children to the birth of Narnia without checking in on the character's states of mind while all of this is happening is leaving some unanswered questions for the sake of accelerating the plot.
The same thing occurs in the fourth book of the series Prince Caspian. Caspian has to take back the kingdom from his evil uncle Miraz with the help of the four Pevensie kids Lucy, Peter, Edmund, and Susan. We're never given to opportunity to learn more about Miraz or his motivations except hearing it from other characters because in the chapter he appears in he dies due to the treachery of his captains. Also, the entirety of the war is won in one battle which bothered me. I know the same thing happens in The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, but there it makes sense because, without the White Witch, her army is leaderless. You don't get the same feeling with Miraz and the Telmarines because they proceed to fight the battle with Miraz dead anyway.
Again, these are minor nitpicks but the reason I cite these examples is that they throw logic out the window for the sake of telling the story the author wants. Now I can suspend my belief in a fantasy novel well enough. Do you want this world-hopping adventure that Digory and Molly take in the first book to end with the creation of Narnia all in one day? Fine. Do you want to have wars won with only one necessary battle to ensure victory? I can live with that. What I can't live with is the existence of book seven The Last Battle which in my humble opinion is a terrible way to end a fantasy series.
The Last Battle is easily the worst book in The Chronicles of Narnia because from start to finish it is a convoluted mess. The last book in the series should've been The Silver Chair the one that comes before this book simple enough. Lewis could've easily combined aspects of both books and made it a satisfying conclusion to his series but nope! Instead, we are stuck with this stupid monkey named Shift and Tarkaan Rishad as the main antagonists of this final book. Not even Jadis who has been a recurring villain throughout the entire series! The plot starts off simple enough. Shift the monkey puts a lion skin on his donkey servant Puzzle and pretends he is Aslan tricking all of the talking animals. Shift then makes a deal with the Calormenes which are basically Narnia's version of Arabs that live south of Narnia past Archenland.
The warlord he makes the deal with named Tarkaan Rishad ends up manipulating Shift for his own purposes and ends up eventually taking over Narnia and enslaving the talking animals. The Narnian King Tirian is captured and it is up to Jill and Eustace ( who are also two kids who've been on Narnian adventures) to save Narnia.
To make a long story short they fail and are thrown into the stable where the fake Aslan is. What they don't know is that the God Tash (which is the God of the Calormenes though it is established earlier that Tash is a false god and Aslan is the real God, but apparently Lewis retconned this and now Tash is some sort of demon) Tash the bird demon is waiting for them. Tash grabs the monkey Shift and Tarkaan Rishad and takes them to basically hell, but the stable for the good people is a portal to Aslan's country.
After all this, Aslan shows up and ends the world with the good people going to Aslan's country which is a copy of Narnia kind of like "I saw a New Heaven and New Earth" from the Bible and the bad people go down to Tash falling into shadow. Aslan then explains to all the people there, Digory, Molly, Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Eustace, and Jill that they will have adventures in Aslan's world forever because when they were brought to Narnia from the real world it is explained to them they were in a railway accident and DIED. Also, Susan, wasn't there because she didn't believe in Narnia anymore for some reason so in my mind Susan won in the end because she didn't die in a freaking railway accident and was now in Narnia with Aslan forever which is basically Lewis's version of heaven.
So The Last Battle in my mind was a really weird book and a strange way to end the series. What Lewis should've done in my opinion is made the final confrontation between Jadis the Witch and all the people from our world who visited Narnia and then maybe kill off a character or two to make us sad and have Aslan explain they're with him now and they'll be able to see him or her again in this world or their own world as they are one and the same. Then we could have some sad goodbyes with them leaving Narnia for good and the promise of more adventures to come.
What are your thoughts on how this series ended? Do you have a favorite fantasy series in which you felt like the author totally screwed up the ending and left a sour taste in your mouth? Let me know what you think or don't it's up to you.
I've never heard of Lewis's space trilogy before. I'll have to check it out.
I was obsessed with these books as a kid, so any hope of objectivity is out the window for me. You can never really get a true and accurate picture of a series you made your entire personality when you were seven.
The ending of book 7 didn't bother me at the time. Looking back, it's a little weird. Lewis's Christianity is present in the entire series, but it REALLY comes through here, in a way that's going to leave most readers wondering what the deal is.
I'm not categorically against it. I think it would have worked a lot with better foreshadowing, and if the concept was explored with more depth and moral ambiguity, though this would have to be in a series aimed at older audiences. There ARE a lot of unanswered questions this ending raises, and it would be cool to go into how the characters are dealing with everything that happened, if they're really completely satisfied with the in-name "happy ending" of things, and how they're dealing with the situation with Susan. Obviously all this is outside the scope of the story Lewis was trying to tell, but it would be interesting.
I hear Neil Gaiman wrote a story called "The Problem Of Susan" which goes into this very discomfort, if you're interested.
Ending aside, The Last Battle is probably my second favorite book in the series. It's certainly a bit convoluted, but I liked that part, I've always been a fan of complexity. What I really liked was the evil coming from within Narnia rather than without, and being much more slippery and difficult to identify. In the prior books it was a pretty clear-cut good-guys-sword-fight-the-bad-guys situation, but in this one the protagonists have lot more thinking they need to do. They're playing a much more complicated game, and the old strategies aren't working.
Dawn Treader's my favorite. Good book, solid concept for each of the islands. And I'm a sucker for shmuck redemption arcs.
SPOILERS FOR HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE BELOW:
As for other series with jarring endings, Hitchhiker's Guide ends in a very similar way. Nobody really liked the ending, including the author (he was planning to write another book undoing it). I don't like this ending either, but does fit in surprisingly well with the book and series. Adams had been laying on thick foreshadowing and development towards it from the beginning of the book, which makes it seem more just pointlessly tragic than actually badly written.
SPOILERS FOR DEEP SPACE NINE BELOW:
I think they wrapped up the dominion arc very well in this series, but the storyline with the prophets was... weird. They took Dukat's character in a very weird direction after "Waltz". Not enough to leave a sour taste in my mouth though.
Right, I've heard that too. And I'm really glad they decided to keep him evil instead of playing into that. I just wish they resolved that by highlighting the evil things he'd already done on-screen instead of making him more evil in unrelated ways. Waltz (the one where he and Sisko bum around in a cave for 45 minutes) did that beautifully.
I think I would agree with Gryphon and mizal that Voyage of the Dawn Treader was my favorite of the series for most of the reasons you listed above. The one thing I would add to that is Reepicheep who is my favorite comic relief character in the series just behind Puddleglum.
One of my main gripes with The Last Battle which you may have seen or not was the villains. I felt like Jadis, The White Witch, got cheated out of being the last antagonist since she is a recurring force of evil in the world and Lewis could've easily done the whole evil within Narnia plot with her puppeteering the false Aslan instead of a character we've never seen before. To me, it just makes more logical sense for her to be behind the false Aslan plot since The Magician's Nephew which is the book before kind of sets her up as the antithesis or the opposite of Aslan with her tempting Digory at the garden and then eating the fruit herself which is a clear reference to the garden of Eden. She also transforms into a flipping serpent in The Silver Chair which is another allusion to the garden of Eden and the serpent's temptation. She's clearly the main villain of the series.
Honestly Jadis never really did it for me. I've always found "pure evil" villains pretty boring. I would have been very disappointed if the fake aslan ended up being a Jadis-driven plot, I've always found human (or, uh, ape) antagonists a lot more engaging than the supernaturally evil ones.
I'm 99% sure that Jadis and the snake lady from the Silver Chair are different witches. They're never referred to as the same person, and Jadis was killed on-screen in the lion the witch and the wardrobe. They don't look or act anything alike.
In response to Mizal, I haven't read much of Lewis's other work, but I did really like the Screwtape Letters, so maybe I should check out his space trilogy. It's always interesting to compare how the same author's style differs when writing for children and adults.