He's a dangerous one, that Andrew. He can be very quiet for long periods of time, and you pass by his blog with a forlorn expression, hoping for something new. And then, out of the blue, he'll spring a post on you that's so clever, so insightful, and so fantastically well-written that you'll be nodding your head in stupefied wonder before you even comprehend what you've agreed to.
Andrew's most recent obsession is misrepresentations of C.S. Lewis in the media. There's been a flurry of them recently as the release date for the new film ("starring New Zealand and a computer", according to Andrew) draws near: Lewis didn't want Narnia to be filmed, he hated Walt Disney's cartoons. But as usually happens in these cases, attention is inevitably drawn to Susan and her sad fate at the end of the series. Andrew, who knows a lot more (and cares a great deal more) about Lewis in general and Narnia in particular than I ever will, mercilessly filets the unthinking argument that Susan is left behind because of her sexual maturity.
Susan has lived in Narnia; she has reigned as Queen of Narnia during its golden age. She and Lucy have had an intimacy with Aslan that ever Peter does not experience(4). She comforted Aslan during his agony before going to the Stone Table, and he let her stroke his mane. After his resurrection, she celebrated with him and he let her ride on his back. However, she now denies that any of this ever happened, and instead seeks joy exclusively through beauty products. Pullman wants us to believe that "Susan became interested in lipstick, and is therefore thrown out of Narnia." I think Lewis is really saying "Susan ceased to love Narnia, and therefore, became a pathetic figure -- a woman of 50, trying to be a girl of 21, capable of loving nothing apart from lipstick."To read Andrew's take on Susan is to grow terribly angry with her, and rightly so--she had a glimpse of divinity and turned away from it in favor of frivolous things--but when I think of Susan and her fate, my first reaction is always to pity her, not as a promising young woman who lost her path, but as a blameless character whose creator sacrificed her in favor of a cheap rhetorical victory.
The Last Battle is my least favorite Narnia book (although, in all honesty, I think that of the seven books, only The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a really good read). When I first read it, at 14 or 15, I had managed to miss the Christian undertones of the books. As I understand it, that's not an uncommon reaction, and to my mind this fact speaks well of Lewis' subtlety as a writer. With The Last Battle, however, Lewis abandons subtlety by the wayside. He hammers in his philosophy with a sledgehammer, and Susan is simply a victim of his rampant didacticism.
There is no quality inherent to Susan that singles her out as the fallen Pevensie (and although Andrew makes a good case for the fact that when he writes that Susan "thinks of nothing but lipstick and nylons", Lewis is not being misogynistic, I do have to wonder if it ever occurred to him, at any point during The Last Battle's composition, that the fallen Pevensie might be one of the boys). He needs to cut the book's final scene, that joyous reunion in the new, "real" Narnia, with a bit of tragedy, one final opportunity to shake an admonishing finger at the readers and remind them that all this is theirs to lose if they, as Andrew puts it, become confused about what is real and what is not. Even as a teenager who didn't understand Lewis' ulterior motives, I read this scene as a betrayal, the carpet being pulled from beneath my feet. I had been, naively and trustingly, reading the Narnia books under the assumption that the author's goal and mine were compatible, but here he was proving that there was something he cared about more than the story. I felt angry and deceived. To my mind, the final scene of The Last Battle is the tragic overtaking of Lewis' delicate text by an indelicate subtext, of which Susan's sacrifice to the gods of religious indoctrination is simply the cruelest and most blatant example.
Nowadays, when I think of Susan, I think of what it must have been like for her to get the news. Her siblings, her parents, her cousin, her adopted aunt and uncle--everyone she loves in the world--have died a horrible, sudden death. Did Lewis really believe that Susan deserved that pain, or did he truly imagine that 'but they're all in heaven' was sufficient to comfort her? Did he even care?