The Problem of Emeth

Today I decided to write about the most problematic portion of the entire chronicles of Narnia series, at least for me. The passage below is from Chapter 15 entitled “Further Up and Further In” from the final book in the series, The Last Battle.

“Know, O Warlike Kings,” said Emeth, “and you, O ladies whose beauty illuminates the universe, that I am Emeth the seventh son of Harpha Tarkaan of the city of Tehishbaan, Westward beyond the desert. I came lately into Narnia with nine and twenty others under the command of Rishda Tarkaan. Now when I first heard that we should march upon Narnia I rejoiced; for I had heard many things of your Land and desired greatly to meet you in battle. But when I found that we were to go in disguised as merchants (which is a shameful dress for a warrior and the son of a Tarkaan) and to work by lies and trickery, then my joy departed from me. And most of all when I found we must wait upon a Monkey, and when it began to be said that Tash and Aslan were one, then the world became dark in my eyes. For always since I was a boy I have served Tash and my great desire was to know more of him, if it might be, to look upon his face. But the name of Aslan was hateful to me.

“And, as you have seen, we were called together outside the straw-roofed hovel, night after night, and the fire was kindled, and the Ape brought forth out of the hovel something upon four legs that I could not well see. And the people and the Beasts bowed down and did honour to it. But I thought, the Tarkaan is deceived by the Ape: for this thing that comes out of the stable is neither Tash nor any other god. But when I watched the Tarkaan’s face, and marked every word that he said to the Monkey, then I changed my mind: for I saw that the Tarkaan did not believe in it himself. And then I understood that he did not believe in Tash at all: for if he had, how could he dare to mock him?

“When I understood this, a great rage fell upon me and I wondered that the true Tash did not strike down both the Monkey and the Tarkaan with fire from heaven. Nevertheless I hid my anger and held my tongue and waited to see how it would end. But last night, as some of you know, the Monkey brought not forth the yellow thing but said that all who desired to look upon Tashlan – for so they mixed the two words to pretend that they were all one – must pass one by one into the hovel. And I said to myself, Doubtless this is some other deception. But when the Cat had followed in and had come out again in a madness of terror, then I said to myself, Surely the true Tash, whom they called on without knowledge or belief, has now come among us, and will avenge himself. And though my heart was turned into water inside me because of the greatness and terror of Tash, yet my desire was stronger than my fear, and I put force upon my knees to stay them from trembling, and on my teeth that they should not chatter, and resolved to look upon the face of Tash though he should slay me. So I offered myself to go into the hovel; and the Tarkaan, though unwillingly, let me go.

“As soon as I had gone in at the door, the first wonder was that I found myself in this great sunlight (as we all are now) though the inside of the hovel had looked dark from outside. But I had no time to marvel at this, for immediately I was forced to fight for my head against one of our own men. As soon as I saw him I understood that the Monkey and the Tarkaan had set him there to slay any who came in if he were not in their secrets: so that this man also was a liar and a mocker and no true servant of Tash. I had the better will to fight him; and having slain the villain, I cast him out behind me through the door.

“Then I looked about me and saw the sky and the wide lands, and smelled the sweetness. And I said, By the Gods, this is a pleasant place: it may be that I am come into the country of Tash. And I began to journey into the strange country and to seek him.

“So I went over much grass and many flowers and among all kinds of wholesome and delectable trees till lo! In a narrow place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion. The speed of him was like the ostrich, and his size was an elephant’s; his hair was like pure gold and the brightness of his eyes like gold that is liquid in the furnace. He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert. Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man does a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.

“Then he breathed upon me and took away the trembling from my limbs and caused me to stand upon my feet. And after that, he said not much, but that we should meet again, and I must go further up and further in. Then he turned him about in a storm and flurry of gold and was gone suddenly.

“And since then, O Kings and Ladies, I have been wandering to find him and my Happiness is so great that it even weakens me like a wound. And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me Beloved, me who am but as a dog -“

The story ends on a humorous note, with one of the Talking Dogs getting offended by the expression “who am but as a dog,” until another dog pointed out that they called misbehaving puppies “girls” or “boys.”


The Last Battle is the most controversial book in The Chronicles of Narnia series. I myself have a couple of questions about it, which I plan to write about one at a time. My first and biggest question is this: will God really accept the service and faith a person has offered to another god if it was done with a pure heart, as Emeth did with Tash?

I agree with the part that “no service which is vile can be done to [Aslan]” but I’m not so sure about “none which is not vile can be done to [Tash].” When we face Jesus at the gates of heaven, will He say: “all the service thou hast done to (insert name of god of your choice), I account as service done to Me”?

There’s the expression regarding faith in Christ that you can be sincere, but you can also be sincerely wrong. I really can’t wrap my head around this theological issue which C S Lewis raises in this portion. Did he mean to say that a person who has not believed in Jesus can enter heaven as long as that person has been sincere in seeking some other god? This directly contradicts what Jesus explicitly stated in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. NO ONE can come to the Father EXCEPT THROUGH Me.”


POSTSCRIPT (written on 15 August 2008, two months after I wrote the original post)

I believe I got the solution to this problem. Interestingly, this came to me while I was taking a bath one morning.

Emeth has not died yet, meaning he still has a chance to repent. And that was what he did – the moment he saw Aslan, he turned to him and recognized that he is the true God and not Tash. Because of this, he was able to join the others in Aslan’s country.

12 Comments Add yours

  1. anonymous says:

    Beloved, said the Glorious One, 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 says it all. You may not know that you serve Christ, but if you live a life in him, knowingly or otherwise, He knows you, and when you see Him in the end, you’ll know Him as the one you served your whole life

  2. Jaybee9 says:

    “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)” Romans 2:13-15 (TNIV)

  3. Emma says:

    Emeth is not dead. The cat came through very much alive and after being terrified, left back through the door to the earthly Narnia very much alive. Emeth killed the door guard while they were in this place thus the door guard was alive when he got there. And if it was Heaven, how was it that the dwarfs smelled bad smells and felt they were still in darkness? Aslan says, “All who seek will find”. Emeth was being rewarded for sincerely seeking by being called by Aslen. He answered that call by turning (repentance) to Aslan from Tash. The Dwarfs took neither side on earth, good or evil, they were for themselves. They, too, were called but they, unlike Emeth, refused the call. As Jesus said, “Many are called but few are chosen”. The reward here is not salvation, it is being given the opportunity to choose the truth. Those who were clearly dedicated to Tash were inmediately taken away with him but those who were undecided or who sought the Truth were given one last chance.

    I think you also have to put this chapter in context. This wasn’t a typical day, it was the time just before the end of the physical Narnia paralleling the end of God’s time dealing with mankind before His wrath. Revelation says that before the very horrible end, that angels would proclaim the Gospel to the four corners of the earth giving everyone one last chance to believe. This chapter , I believe, parallels that last chance.

  4. Phil says:

    This story is plagiarism, plain and simple. It is the story of the sheep and the goats…

    The Sheep and the Goats
    31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
    34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
    37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
    40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
    41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
    44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
    45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
    46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    All this talk of ‘hasn’t died yet’, or ‘confessed at the last minute’ or it’s just fiction…seems to be doing CS Lewis a great dis-service. He’s a great mind, and this is a powerful passage, not an accident.

    Obviously the implications of this passage, however obvious and sensible they may be, appear to fly in the face of some of Paul’s more exclusive messages…e.g. Romans 10: “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”. But John also makes it clear that knowing love is knowing God…so we can’t just stick to some verses and dismiss others.

    I think Andy Gray has a great interpretation here…

  5. Lorelei says:

    Personally, I believe that when Jesus said “No one comes to the Father except through me” he meant that He claims us – not that we must claim Him. Just as Aslan claimed Emeth, and not the other way around.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hey, I was reading the Last Battle today, and it came to me, why Emeth didn’t die. The ‘real Narnia’ is symbolic of the Millennial kingdom. So, Jill’s dead, because she died in England, but Tirian isn’t.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I love this part in the book. I have always thought of it as referring to the story of the good Samaritan or Mathhew 25:34-40>>

    “Then the King will say to those on the right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “Then these righteous ones will reply, `Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ And the King will tell them, `I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,you were doing it to me!'”

  8. Beth says:

    Why do you say Emeth was not dead yet? I interpret “going through the Stable door” as “death”. There really was a railway accident and the Pevensie’s parents died in it and met their children in “heaven” which ended up being the same place for both England and Narnia. This section (Emeth’s conversation with Aslan) has bothered me for years. The only way I can resolve it is to accept the fact that the series is NOT a theological treatise but much more like a parable or allegory. Some things has very strong parallels and conections and some do not. Given the superb storyteller that Lewis is as well as astute Christian philospher, I can’t believe that he simply inserted the idea (sincerity gets you to heaven) without reason or purpose. I just find it very difficult to “square” with the rest of his writings and my own convictions. Did anyone ask him about it while he was still alive?

  9. S.M. says:

    I think that Lewis might have been trying to get at the point that no man can know another’s heart, only God can. This would make sense in the story of Emeth, where it appeared that he was worshipping tash to his fellow humans, but perhaps Aslan knew where his heart really stood. I agree with Swanwhite and Renette that Emeth probably hadn’t died yet, so even if he had been worshipping tash in his heart he had time to repent and turn to Aslan instead… it’s certainly a difficult story for Christians to comprehend.


  10. Swanwhite says:

    This certainly is a tricky passage. But here is one way to think of it. Emeth grew up thinking that the name of the creator was Tash. He worshipped the God who created the world and the sense of right and wrong that he had. He was also told that a entity by the name of Aslan was opposed to the all powerful God. So perhaps in truth he could have actually been a follower of Aslan all the time thinking his name was Tash. Also as you said he wasn’t really dead yet and as has been mentioned it isn’t an allegory. Some things are different.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I agree with u KC, but I Think some people don’t know the difference between a bad god and God ( unfotunitly)I have a felling if C.S lewis wrote this to be true he thought long and hard about it.
    But then again maybe Emeth in his heart of hearts really believed in Aslan. No one knows.
    Just another thing to ask C.S. Lewis and Jesus when I get to heven.
    Queen Christy the Noble

  12. Anonymous says:

    Hm…this is one question that I have pondered for ages. But the question is, did C.S. Lewis really mean for his Narnia books to be taken as an allegory?

    When thinking about this, we need ot remember that this is a Fantasy Series, and though some things (like Aslan’s death on the Stone Table) reflect Jesus in our world, there are also things that do not pertain to our world.

    You could also ask if the Indians, who served a “Great Spirit” will go to heaven. They never heard of Jesus. Will they go to Hell because of their ignorance?

    No one really knows the answer to Emeth’s story. Either C.S. Lewis was wrong, or he didn’t mean it, or he was right. I guess we’ll see when we get to heaven.


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