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(Spoilers)

In The Last Battle, the main characters of the series arrive in Narnia one last time, having died in a train wreck in England.

"There's not much to tell," said Peter. "Edmund and I were standing on the platform and we saw your train coming in. I remember thinking it was taking the bend far too fast. And I remember thinking how funny it was that our people were probably in the same train though Lucy didn't know about it-"

Aslan explains further:

"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."

It's fairly obvious that Lewis, who uses a lot of symbolism and metaphor in the series, wrote this to describe death in the physical world leading to the afterlife in heaven. But regarding the train wreck specifically: Did Lewis ever confirm the exact inspiration behind it, or comment on it at all?

According to this post on a Narnia community forum, the idea may have been from the devastating Harrow and Wealdstone train crash that occurred just four years before The Last Battle was published.

In The A-Z of C.S. Lewis by Colin Duriez, the character's deaths are mentioned:

One of the strangest features of The Last Battle, in a twist reminiscent of Charles Williams, is that all the principal characters from our world who come into Narnia are already dead as a result of a train accident. There are some similarities with Lewis' The Great Divorce, in that events after death are imagined, and a vision of heaven is presented.

Charles Williams was a fellow writer and close friend of Lewis, but I don't know how the 'twist' ending is reminiscent of his work. Was the train wreck scene possibly inspired by Williams?

Did C.S. Lewis ever explain the scene, perhaps in journals or letters?

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    Why would he need to explain it if it was fairly obvious? Jun 2, 2020 at 4:38
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    I suppose, in a morbidly practical way, a train wreck is maybe just the most believable option to suddenly kill off that many characters at once, in the time and place the story was set. A few years earlier and it might've been a bombing raid, a couple of decades later and it might've been a plane crash.
    – Withad
    Jun 2, 2020 at 11:03
  • @Fivesideddice Please go back and read the question more thoroughly. Jun 2, 2020 at 15:22
  • A search in "The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis" does not appear to turn up anything.
    – GotCarter
    May 21, 2021 at 21:01
  • In one of Lewis' non-fiction theological works (if I recall correctly) Lewis analogizes God with an author - and one of his examples is how a train wreck might be used by the author as a motivation of a character to become a better person. I'll look for a quote, but this may have been (if I'm right) an idea that he came back to for Last Battle
    – Andrew
    Aug 17, 2022 at 19:39

1 Answer 1

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In January 1955, a year or so before the book appeared, there was a railway accident at Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham in which a York to Bristol express took a 30mph curve just before the station platforms at 60mph, causing the train to derail and mount the platform, causing significant death and injury on the platform and in the first carriage of the train. The destination of the train and the rough details match the accident in 'Last Battle' much better than Harrow and Wealdstone where an express train over-ran danger signals in foggy conditions and rear-ended a standing train.

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