Thursday, December 01, 2005

All We Know of Heaven: The Problem of Susan

God help me, but Andrew Rilstone has very nearly convinced me to forgive C.S. Lewis for what he did to Susan in The Last Battle.

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?

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Howdy!:)

1) Consider this: What is wrong with religon-inspired fiction? If the fiction is good, the pleasure you recive from it isn't diminished by the message. At worse you won't like it. At best you might find it appealing and try to work it into your own life. If the fiction is bad, you won't finish the book - so again, you haven't lost anything.

2) If ALL writing with a hidden agenda is bad because fiction should be for it's own sake I doubt anything will be written. Even the most naive super-hero comic affirms certain things. Like the male is active, women should have large breasts and slim waists etc. Fiction only works because , in it's best, it works against some "basics". For example, "Os" is interesting because it breaks SOME assumption (HEY! Prison DOESN'T help people?) but has to reeffirm others. Most men look buffed up and Edibisi's character is almost a parody of the concept of "African". That's FICTION.

3) If your beef is with Susan and the fact she isn't "saved". Well, why not accept the fact that yes. This writer believed that foolish girls who like make-up don't get saved by the lion-christ-like figure.

Doesn't effect MY life, OK?:) Hell, he can write that Jewish boys who like comics don't get saved by imaginary christ-like lions, I don't give a shit.

But does he tell an interesting STORY? Did I enjoy the Narnia books as a kid reading the Hebrew trans?

YES, I did.

Isn't that enough?

Happy New Year!:)

Hagay
Baltimore

chance said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
chance said...

When I was a child I always interpreted it as "Oh Susan has developed a sexuality, so she's not going to heaven."

This might not have been the message he meant to send, but it was still the message I received. And it always colored my reading of all the books.

(And I always hated Lewis for what he does to Susan too.)

Anonymous said...

Hi Abigail,

Enjoyed the post.

You wrote: "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)."

But narratively-speaking if one of the Pevensies were to fall, don't you think Susan is the clear choice?

It surely won't be Lucy - the first into Narnia, and the one closest to Aslan (as shown at various points, I think). Edmund doesn't make good narrative sense either, not after the conversion/redemption story in the first book.

So it's either Susan or Peter. The choice between the two of them is not quite as clear, but I think when you consider the books up until that point, it point to Susan.

That is, when you consider Susan's inherent qualities, I think she is the most obvious choice. Most notably, during Prince Caspian, she is the last of the 4 children to see Aslan leading them. I think that Lewis set her up as the most obvious choice at least from that point.

Whether any of them had to fall to serve the narrative is another question entirely, but I think Susan makes complete sense as the choice.

ca said...

First anonymous: There is nothing wrong with religion-inspired fiction or in general, writing with a hidden agenda (and in fact, it doesn't seem to me that Abigail thinks so either).

But the agenda/subtext must always be serving the STORY, and not the other way around; otherwise it's a tract and not a story. Which is fine as well; C.S. Lewis (since we're talking about him) has written some very fine religious/apologetics essays, including at least one that I think is absolutely knock-my-socks-off amazing. But he was not trying to tell a story in those essays. When you sacrifice story and character for some didactic point you're trying to make, you have lost the whole point of telling the story at all; you'd've been better off writing an essay. The point, insofar as you feel the need to make one, should flow naturally out of the story and characters. Thus I think LWW, with its subtle message of sin and redemption coming from the very in-character, very understandable motivations of Edmund and Aslan (okay, Aslan is not exactly understandable-- it's not like he's a tame lion-- but he's portrayed consistently and lovingly), is a MUCH better book than TLB, where, well. As Abigail says, we're hit over the head with analogies, and the story-- well, there's not really one, is there? Or characters, really. They're all kind of tacked on as an afterthought to "Here's the analogy to the end of the world as Christians think of it!"

(I also think that Lewis himself, not to mention both Andrew and Abigail, would have problems with your assertion that "foolish girls who like make-up don't get saved." In fact, Andrew's whole *point* is to rebut that statement. Foolish girls who care more for make-up than for reality, for truth (in Lewis's world, if you don't happen to be Christian), don't get saved. Foolishness (consider Puzzle) doesn't do it; neither does liking things (consider, oh, Eustace, say). )

Wow, this has been rambling on. At any rate, here's the point: Nothing is wrong with GOOD religion-inspired fiction. BAD religion-inspired fiction I have a problem with, because it's bad.

ca said...

A couple more thoughts:

Second anonymous: you're spot on, in my opinion. I never thought that Lewis really cared about Susan very much. She never really got to do anything interesting in any of the books, unlike all three of the others.

On the series: I just reread all of the narnia books. The Silver Chair and The Horse and His Boy, neither of which I liked terrifically as a kid, improved tremendously with time. I like them a lot. Of course, besides LWW, they are the only ones with plots. The Last Battle, if anything, got worse with time. So did the Caspian books.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Gee, I was just coming here to respond to Hagay and ca went and said everything I wanted to say, but better. Commenters are fun!

As for Susan being superfluous, yes, she's certainly the most expendable one of the four, but we could turn around and ask why this was so.

My memory of the books in terms of quality is that LWW is the best by a long stretch, but I was quite fond of The Silver Chair. The others I could take or leave. Speaking of The Horse and His Boy, Michael Schaub over at Bookslut linked to this article about its being unsuitable to adaptation because of its rampant racism. It's quite a good article, neither sensationalizing Lewis' prejudices nor forgiving them.

ca said...

:) I was actually quite fond of the Calormenes. I thought they were much cooler than the Narnians in a lot of ways (they study storytelling; how cool is that!), and they definitely got to talk in ways that I thought were neater. (I mean, to my nine-year-old self, how awesome would it have been if I could have called my dad "O-my-father-and-o-the-delight-of-my-eyes," even when i was mad at him...) And the only redeeming feature of The Last Battle, at all, was the young Calormene (Emeth, I think), whom I loved. And Aravis rocked, of course-- probably the only decent female character the Inklings ever produced. But I do see why it wouldn't go over so well today.

Yes, I got the distinct impression that Lewis didn't think people of Susan's type (i.e., older girls) were interesting enough to give much thought. Younger boys (Edmund, Eustace) are interesting because they grow up. Older boys (Peter) are interesting because they can be mature and courageous. Younger girls (Lucy, Jill, Aravis) are interesting because they can be spunky and fun and adorable, and grow up. Older girls... well, let's say that although Queen Susan is portrayed as not a bad thing by any means, I never wanted to be her. I wanted to be Aravis! and to a lesser extent, Lucy.

Rereading this comment, it occurs to me that the main reason I liked The Horse and His Boy was really that I thought the Calormenes were fascinating, and not that I thought it was a particularly great story or anything... :) That had never occurred to me before!

Dotan said...

Susan's character just begs for some corrective fanfic, which is a clear sign that the author has done the character wrong: like, she could find her way back to Narnia (perhaps with the help of a dashing, Mary-Sueish companion) and rescue her family from the afterlife!
Andrew's closing reminder that Susan and her siblings spent half a lifetime ruling Narnia as adults, before being restored to childhood in our reality, is a nice fairy-tale touch in the original book, but becomes an unsettling idea that can leverage untouched psychological depth from the Pevinses (nasty Pevinses!). Susan, obsessed with "growing up", was already a grown-up - she's had an adult life in Narnia, has known suitors and perhaps lovers (well, maybe that's too deep into fanfic teritory...) - only to have all that taken away from her, to find herself back in a child's body and be told that all that was but a dream. I'd suggest that this would be a traumatic experience for all the four children - one day you're king Peter the magnificent, the next it's back to being beaten up on the rugby field or whatever.
And if they finally came to terms with the experience, telling themselves that those lifetimes in Narnia were just some strange dream or hullucination, they end up in Narnia again, for a sequel, except that they're still kids and the evidence they see that they were once kings is all ancient history.
My theory is that this makes Susan "snap": Anything that Narnia offers can be taken from you in an instant. It is far crueler than a dream, because it feels real and vivid, but fades just as easily. So she rejects Narnia, because she can't bear to let herself be hurt again by losing it.
That's not really a take supported by the text, but if the text abandons the character...
Also, it's worth looking at Andrew's essay about the reading order of the Narnia books. I submit that a shortened reading order suggested by my aunt, which warned me that "the last books aren't that good", is just as valid.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Susan's character just begs for some corrective fanfic

This is only one of the reasons why I'm desperate to read Neil Gaiman's short story, "The Problem of Susan". That, and the fact that he once described as 'Narnia slashfic'.

Lots of interesting thoughts about Susan's character, Dotan. I remember as a child reading LWW and wondering what it would be like to have been an adult - a very powerful adult - and to return to an ordinary, powerless childhood.

I suppose Andrew would be able to provide us with references from Lewis' religious writings explaining how Susan's trials are part and parcel of the trials of any believer (have you been keeping up with the comment thread on his Susan post? Some very interesting ideas), but there's no doubt that as a character, she undergoes a unique psychological experience which might account for her choice to reject Narnia.

Dotan said...

When I read the commentator who asked you (in the thread on Andrew's site) if you'd readthe problem of pain, I couldn't help thinking that the thesis of this book, published in 1940, would be quite unacceptable in the post-war era, especially to Israelis, because of the Holocaust.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Again, I've not read the book so I don't know what the thesis is apart from the obvious inferences I can draw from the title and the context in which it's been mentioned, but remember that Lewis fought in WWI. He witnessed slaughter on an unimaginable scale and saw at least one very close friend killed. I'm not sure it would be fair to say that he didn't have an idea of what true horror was.

Dotan said...

I'm not saying that Lewis didn't witness and experience horrific things, and he certainly had a great deal of pain in his life; my point was that the aftermath of the Holocaust has had such an effect on modern discourse that any attempt to address the problem of pain (or the problem of evil) can't escape the subject, and any attempt to "explain" the Holocaust is bound to be found wanting.
I'm sorry I brought this up now. This has wandered too far from light hearted topics like, say, Neil Gaiman.

Helen Louise said...

Heh, when I first saw fanfiction.net, I immediately looked for the Narnia fanfiction, convinced I'd find a Susan fanfic. Found one in seconds.

I think you're right - Susan seemed to be sacrificed in order to make a point, rather than as meaningful character development (I left the book hoping that she'd immediately realise what an idiot she'd been when she heard the rest of her family had died... I found it incredibly annoying that there wasn't some meaningful resolution).

It's true that all my childhood I lamented at the "now go home" at the end of fantasy adventures (except for the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon where they never got home, which was just as frustrating!) Because "now go home" seemed almost as cruel as "and it was just a dream". It seemed like the author just didn't have the courage to really believe in their fantasy world (there's a bit in the film Hook where Captain Hook taunts Peter "You know all this is only a dream, don't you?" and my housemate said to me, "But we know that it is all a dream" to which I retorted that it wasn't a dream and that was precisely the point of the film... but back on topic). However Aslan's "you don't have to go home... you're dead!" seemed rather like cheating to me.

As for a 'fallen' character, I think it has to be Susan because:

We haven't seen Polly since Magician's Nephew. It would have been a whole lot of nothing if it turned out her obsession with jam-making and thimble collections had blinded her eyes to Narnia.

Professor Kirke/Diggory was obviously still a 'believer' in LWW, and also Lewis needs him to make remarks like "It's all in Plato, dear me, what do they teach them in these schools!"

If it were Edmund, it would be too tragic, considering Aslan died to save him in LWW. He's a reformed character, and it would just be upsetting if he lost it again.

Same goes for Eustace, who was such an annoying little twerp (although his diary in VDT is very amusing, I used to read it out loud imagining his voice..). Eustace used to be interested in nothing but himself.

As for Lucy, it would also be far too tragic since she is most sensitive to Aslan, and everyone's favourite. Mine, anyway :) Also Lewis's goddaughter might have been upset (she was called Lucy).

Jill would be an unfair choice too because she was something of an outsider, not being related to the others and having come in quite late. Also her adventure in Narnia was far too recent for us to imagine her changing.

So that leaves Susan and Peter. Peter's the High King and always in charge. Susan is slightly less important to the plot. So that leaves Susan.

Also "The Seven Friends of Narnia" has a nice ring to it :)

Anonymous said...

"Anything that Narnia offers can be taken from you in an instant."

Replace the word Narnia with the word life and you still have an accurate sentence - one that is often the reason people stop believing in God (Aslan/Narnia). Susan's disbelief, whatever the cause, is the problem - not that she is a young woman. At least that how I read The Last Battle.

I haven't figured out why determined Athiests, like Pullman, care that Susan isnt redeemed at the end. Do they think that if she is, they might have a chance too - despite their disbelief?

brad said...

I think that all who love Narnia are upset at the Damnation of Susan Pevensie. Only those who--like C.S. Lewis--see Narnia as a means to make some broader point can swallow it with equanimity...

Didi said...

Speaking of Susan fanfic, y'all should check out Jo Walton's excellent fanfic poem about Susan:
http://www.livejournal.com/users/papersky/154809.html

shriekingviolet said...

Count me as another who was an early Narnia reader and fan who was deeply upset when Lewis sacrificed Susan to make a point. For whatever reason, I identified with Susan's character immediately and she remained my favorite character throughout the series. No, as someone else has already pointed out, she didn't have any special adventures like some of the other children but she spoke to me a lot and I saw a lot of myself in her. So imagine when I got to the final book and read that the person whom I saw representing myself in these adventures was the only one who didn't come back. As a nine year old who was as emotionally invested in the series as plenty of young Narnia fans were, I was absolutely crushed. I never picked up That Last Battle again, it always felt like the source of a wound that still nags me today if I ever think about it. I never read any criticism of Narnia until recently, but I wish I hadn't put it off because I'm been very pleased/relieved to see that I wasn't alone in those who felt outraged on Susan's behalf.

I loved this entry, thanks for writing it!

Matt McIrvin said...

It's funny: I read the Narnia books a long time ago and very much liked them, but the human characters, as opposed to the fantastic creatures, have almost completely faded from my memory. Maybe it's just the kind of reader I am.

Anyway, I remember really disliking The Last Battle, but not because of the treatment of the Calormenes or that Lewis was hitting us over the head with pseudo-Christian eschatology, or because Susan wasn't redeemed (though that might bother me now).

It was more that Lewis seemed to be treating dying so lightly: that "you don't have to go home; you're dead!" that somebody mentioned above. That seriously disturbed me as a kid, for reasons I maybe couldn't completely articulate. These kids all die in a train crash (or whatever it was), and we're supposed to like this outcome? What does that say about how we should behave in the real world? They never asked to die. Was Susan damned or did she get off easy?

Also, I was disappointed that his heaven was ultimately "the true, inner England" and not yet another cool place where you could have amazing adventures.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I misunderstood. I thought that Susan was not, at the time of the Pevensies "trip to Narnia", among the
"saved" - but to conclude that she could never repent, for the rest of her life, and would be condemed to eternal torment, or whatever - that seems to me too big a jump. Is that what Lewis said - that she's damned for all eternity - or just - she's "no longer a friend of Narnia" AT THIS TIME.

By the way, I saw the BBC LWW on video a number of years ago and actively hated it. I saw the current movie a week ago and thought it was medium good - but compared to the Harry Potter flics, or Lord of the Rings, it's pretty thin stuff.

Anonymous said...

but to conclude that she could never repent, for the rest of her life, and would be condemed to eternal torment, or whatever - that seems to me too big a jump.

Exactly. At the end of The Last Battle, she simply isn't dead. The reason why she survived is because she wasn't accompanying the others on an adventure in which she didn't believe. Her life certainly stinks, since her siblings and parents are all dead, but she hasn't been damned. She could conceivably return to belief in Aslan by his "other name" in our world at any time. Now, this doesn't change the fact that he chose Susan to beat up on, but I think other commenters have dealt with how this was a plausible choice. Assuming, of course, that it had to happen to anyone.

And it's the lamest of the books anyway, so who cares? :-)

--mds

Allyn said...

My perception of Susan's fate will be colored by a recent reading of Neil Gaiman's short story, "The Problem of Susan," which is about a (nameless) elderly Susan reflecting on her childhood.

If I understand the point of Gaiman's story--and it's a dark, bleak story, and certainly not for children--it's that we err when we think of "the problem of Susan" as Susan's problem. To explain at a slightly longer length, we tend to focus on the singular passage in The Last Battle and its portrayal of Susan, which exists entirely within the context of Narnia, rather than on Susan herself and her experiences. We see Susan not as she is but as others perceive her.

The problem of Susan is essentially the problem of Job, which is the Problem of Evil--why does an omnipotent and omniscent God allow evil to happen? Except that in the usual conception of the Problem of Evil we look at it purely philosophically--an abstract God allows abstract evils to occur--and the problem of Susan isn't philosophical; what happens to Susan really happens within the context of Lewis's fictional narrative.

Gaiman attacks the problem from two perspectives--the textual perspective, from within the confines of the Narnia stories themselves, and a metatextual perspective, from within the context of children's literature--and provides two different answers to why Susan falls.

The reporter of Gaiman's short story looks at the problem of Susan from the traditional perspective--Susan falls from grace because she is interested in lipstick and boys, and that while she's excluded from Heaven at the end of The Last Battle she still has time to redeem herself and repent her disbelief in Aslan and the sin of Eve. Susan's reply to this is that there's nothing to repent--the emotional damage the railway disaster inflicted upon her was traumatic enough, and a God that would inflict that trauma on her simply because she was interested in lipstick and boys isn't worthy of being a God. In other words, Susan suggests that the accident that many commentators take as a wake-up call to push Susan back toward Aslan is actually a strong reason for Susan to be pushed away. Susan rejects Aslan as someone worthy of devotion and respect because of the pain Aslan inflicts upon her.

This isn't to say that there's not a sexual component to Susan's exclusion from Narnia. Gaiman's Susan loses her Earthly virginity a year before The Last Battle (there's a suggestion that she may have lost her virginity in Narnia as well), and she thinks of the creatures in Narnia, including Aslan, in frankly sexual terms. Gaiman's critique of Narnia is that children's literature expressed a fear of female sexuality, and as a story Susan's fall from grace is symptomatic of the unconscious biases of the genre in the expressions of female sexuality.

Jessie said...

Thank you for posting this, I know this blog is quite a few months old but I'm really glad to hear I wasn't the only one that felt let down by TLB. And not just what happened to Susan, but the whole book as a whole just felt really odd and sub-standard compared to the rest of the series.

And, like another reviewer, I always felt most like Susan. When I read it, she was the practical one, the one that just couldn't jump in with both feet like Lucy, which is how I've always been. I read the books around 19-20, and just always identified with her the most. It really tainted the books for me, and even since I read through the series the first time, I haven't wanted to pick up the books again thanks to the (in my view) poorly written TLB. That whole "Narnia isn't Heaven ... this *other* Narnia is Heaven!" Just felt cheap to me.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised so many people disliked TLB. To me all the Narnia books are equally good apart from LWW which to me is the weakest of the 7 books. Not that I don't enjoy it but being the first written the literary style is a little uncertain and the religious allegory a little cruder.
As for Susan I think the most important insight into her character and her fall from grace is found in LWW when they meet Father Christmas. When the 2 girls are told they are not to be in the battle Lucy questions this but Susan meekly accepts it. Susan always falls in with what others expect of her; as a teenager she becomes obsessed with "nylons and lipstick and invitations" because that is expected of a teenage girl. Of all Lewis's female characters Susan is the only one who actually seems like the conventional "damsel in distress type heroine" and yet she is the one left out in the cold. Perhaps Lewis was much more radical than we are prepared to give him credit for

Anonymous said...

I always thought it was perfectly clear throughout the books that Susan wasn't on the same level as everyone else. She was never exactly all for Narnia to begin with. In LWW, after finding that Lucy's friend has been kidnapped, she immediatly wants to go home because "It looks as if it won't be much fun...What about just going home?" Also, in PC she is the first to doubt Lucy's seeing Aslan and the last to believe her. It made perfect sense to me in LB that Susan would deny Narnia, after all she was always the most sensible, practical, and pessimistic character.
Furthermore, if she had denied that Narnia was ever real, why on earth would she want to go back?? It would seem as a dream to her. I think that the reference to lipstick and nylons was just a way of saying that Susan was too caught up in her "real world" to be very interested in Narnia anymore. Lewis also mentioned in a letter to a dissapointed young reader that Susan's story was not finished. Just because she didn't go to Narnia does not mean that she is damned, simply that she no longer believed or would be happy there.

ShadowFalcon said...

Interesting post. I was shocked when I re-read last battle and realised the C.S Lewis had practically sent Susan to Hell. I like Andrews interpretations but does she really deserve no second chance?

Abigail Nussbaum said...

No, Lewis doesn't send Susan to hell. He keeps her out of heaven, for the time being. She's still alive, a young woman with plenty of time to get it right. She certainly gets a second chance - and probably more.

My problem with the novel's ending is that it's a betrayal by Lewis of his work's artistic integrity, and shows a profound apathy towards his characters' feelings while they're still alive. From a theological standpoint, however, he's being quite kind, and thoroughly Christian - you never run out of opportunities to get into heaven.

Anonymous said...

"Susan's disbelief, whatever the cause, is the problem - not that she is a young woman."

Lewis certainly cared about Susan - just as Aslan cared about her. As long as she remained close to him, she was all right. But we know she was considering marrying some creep just because he was royalty, despite her not particularly liking him and his total disbelief in anything remotely relating to Aslan. Lewis was demonstrating - *through* Susan - what happens when we allow ourselves to leave the childlike innocence Lucy portrays, forget the redemption and forgiveness we have received that Edmund evidences, and the need to be responsible for our actions, so clearly shown in the character of Peter. Susan wasn't singled out because Lewis didn't like older girls who were discovering their womanhood - she was singled out because she cut herself off, and not without hints of this eventually taking place. Susan let her own self-importance and her own logic separate her from the important tendencies all believers must maintain to remain true to Aslan. - Morganna

FF said...

"No, Lewis doesn't send Susan to hell."

Actually, from what I see he does. There are three levels to it. The first is the Other Narnia/London deal which is Heaven, the second is the old destroyed Narnia, which is Earth, just as the Book of Revelations says that the Earth will be destroyed, so is the Earthly world of Narnia by it's God, and finally Hell is the Earth that Susan finds herself left behind in. It only makes sense, Narnia was a perfect place compared to Earth, yet Aslan's real Narnia is a perfect place when compared to the old Narnia.
Heaven - Real Narnia
Earth - Old Narnia
Hell - Earth

Anonymous said...

Susan is the 1950's version of Pink's "Stupid Girl". It's not because she she likes lipstick, nylons and invitations, it's because as Jill puts it "She's interested in NOTHING nowadays EXCEPT, nylons and lipstick and invitiations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown up"

Polly adds: "I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she'll waste the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race to the silliest time of one's life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can."

Also those who accuse C.S. Lewis of racism, seem to conveniently forget that Lewis writes what is one of the first (if not the first) biracial marriage in Children's Literature, in Aravis and Cor (Not to mention the failed romance of Susan and Rabadash).

Anonymous said...

I only had one thing to say when reading this, and it might have already been said, but it couldn't have been one of the Pevensie boys that fell away. Edmund was redeemed at great price, and to lose him would be to lose the story, and Peter is archetypally a King, he couldn't be lost either. Who does that leave? Eustace? He is the way into the story, and also has the same issue as Edmund, so it's just GOT to be one of the girls and then it has to be Susan.

Spherical Time said...

I have to agree with FF's interpretation. If I recall correctly (and I might not, I don't have my books for reference), Aslan's Kingdom is presented as timeless, perhaps outside of time.

If Susan isn't there now, she'll never be there.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if anyone is still reading this, but the last comment really needs a reply. The idea that Susan could not get to Aslan's Country because it is timeless so someone not there to start with could never be there is absurd. By that logic Peter and Lucy and the others could never get there either as they were not there in the beginning. Lewis does not say it is timeless, just that time there is different from that on earth.

As for the idea that our world is hell, have you read The Magician's Nephew.In the wood between the worlds there are many pools leading to different worlds of which our's and Narnia are only two

Lewis was not writing a simplistic allegory as some imagine. Our world does represent hell or Narnia earth or Aslans Country heaven. Lewis imagines a whole series of other world's beside ours, in one of which, called Narnia (and maybe in the others as well) the Son of God also becomes incarnate and dies and rises again. So there is no allegory as such. Our world is our world, Narnia is Narnia; Aslan's country IS Heaven or rather the Narnian name for it.

Anonymous said...

Lewis doesn't send her to hell, he leaves a way for her to get to Aslan's country possibly on other terms, it was Peter who said she was "no longer a friend of Narnia" not Aslan. Peter does not yet know all. Poeple claim sexism because he "sacrificed" Susan, what difference would it have been if it had been one of the males? That's a cop out, so get over it!
brad said...
I think that all who love Narnia are upset at the Damnation of Susan Pevensie. Only those who--like C.S. Lewis--see Narnia as a means to make some broader point can swallow it with equanimity... Those who think that love their own ideals more then they love the story. The writer is subject only to his or her own imagination and purposes when writing a story as to how that story is told. So the writer can't sacrifice a story to make a point. the story is their point, their thoughts, beliefs, dreams ect... put to ink and paper. Like it or not, it is not right nor wrong, it is simply that persons story, and as such can be told any way that person pleases. Don't like, don't read it! What one person wrote said it best: "Anything that Narnia offers can be taken from you in an instant."
"Replace the word Narnia with the word life and you still have an accurate sentence - one that is often the reason people stop believing in God (Aslan/Narnia). Susan's disbelief, whatever the cause, is the problem - not that she is a young woman. At least that how I read The Last Battle.
I haven't figured out why determined Athiests, like Pullman, care that Susan isnt redeemed at the end. Do they think that if she is, they might have a chance too - despite their disbelief?"

Anonymous said...

That would seem to 'fit' in the story if it were Susan. It would seem (to me at least) that Susan was trying to push her Narnian experiences away from her to make her more comfortable rejecting it. Often when someone rejects or refuses to see something, they twist it around in their minds until they actually see it the way they wanted. Susan seems to be someone who would do that. After all she calls the experiences "those silly games we used to play."
Those who loved The problem of Susan, if it was so horrid of a place and the dreams were the real Narnia why were they all so willing to go back, only she had cause to quarrel when told she couldn't (not understanding it was for a time only), instead of coping as Peter had done (or the others for that matter), instead she twisted it all in her mind to lose belief and that is why she didn't go back, she couldn't, she no longer believed. She became embittered by it over time and twisted memories even more. Lewis didn't "damn" her because she was a growing woman interested in lipstick and so but as one blogger wrote: "She's interested in NOTHING nowadays EXCEPT, nylons and lipstick and invitiations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown up". The new grown up Susan back from America was most likely a completely different person then the young girl who left. From there the chasim just got wider. As one writer put it: "That would seem to 'fit' in the story if it were Susan. It would seem (to me at least) that Susan was trying to push her Narnian experiences away from her to make her more comfortable rejecting it. Often when someone rejects or refuses to see something, they twist it around in their minds until they actually see it the way they wanted. Susan seems to be someone who would do that. After all she calls the experiences "those silly games we used to play." I say this too as a person who had wonderous experiences (though nothing like entering into an alternate realm and ruling for years into adulthood and being thrown back into childhood thereafter), but because of some disallusionment or another (several others actually) was willing to competely disbelieve many things in my life and many people in my life to what my child mind first thought. Long story short I lost hope for a while and almost lost all. I have since gained new knowledge and understand why things happened the way they did and have found hope again and peace. You see, Susan lost hope and unfortunately never gained it back, she allowed herself to become totally turned over to bitterness, drowned herself in her reality to disprove reality of the actual situation and thus if she was damned (and that is only if you take the story of The Problem of Susan as the end all) then if anyone damned Susan, it was Susan. Lewis even said there was hope yet (I'll take the stories creator theory over others, but that's just me). Other seem the feel the same way (see Companion To Narnia). Lewis himself explicitly left that avenue open for her.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Right. This comment thread has become a dumping ground for rants by people who have clearly read neither my post nor the Andrew Rilstone post I link to. The internet is full of places where this argument can be rehashed, but this is no longer one of them. If you have a comment to make that doesn't rehash my own words or put words my mouth, please e-mail me directly.