Is anyone else tired of the 'problem with susan'
One thing that puzzles me is that, whenever Aslan tells a character from our world that they will not return to Narnia, he also says that he exists in our world and has another name - but this is never followed up. I think it was quite deliberate that Lewis did not spell things out with no room for interpretation, otherwise he would have been accused (quite rightly) that he was using his stories to preach. But there's no indication in what the Seven Friends of Narnia say that when they got together to talk about Narnia, Aslan-With-Another-Name was with them. What if Susan had been with them to begin with and was expecting Aslan-With-Another-Name to be there, and when he wasn't, that fuelled the disenchantment and doubt?
That's an interesting thought, although the end of Voyage is the only time we're given Aslan's exact words to those who wouldn't be returning to Narnia — when he tells Peter and Susan at the end of Prince Caspian, it happens "offstage" and there's no indication of what Aslan actually said. We're only given Peter's account of it afterwards, and when Lucy asks him if he can bear it, he just responds "Well, I think I can... It's all rather different from what I thought. You'll understand when it comes to your last time."
We can definitely assume that Aslan did tell Peter and Susan they would need to learn to know him by his name in their own world (although first-time readers of PC who hadn't yet read VDT wouldn't know that) and Peter is trying to fathom what that means — and from the fact that he's so calm about it and tells Lucy she'll "understand" some day too, I'm wondering if he's already at least starting to realise who Aslan is. But we're never told at all how Susan took that last conversation with Aslan or what her response was, so that might be significant. The implication could be that unlike Peter, she hasn't grasped anything of what Aslan meant and this is a further hint that she's already starting to pull away from Narnia and its influence on her.
I don't think we're ever told in detail what the Seven Friends of Narnia said or did at their meetings (it's a while since I last read The Last Battle), but I wouldn't imagine them as being like a private religious meeting where they would expect Aslan/Jesus to be literally with them in person. Lewis was a fairly conservative Anglican and I'm guessing his idea would be that his young characters, once they'd realised who Aslan is in our world, would become regular churchgoers as Lewis himself became after his conversion. But as you say, he deliberately doesn't spell it out and risk sounding preachy.
I guess in the end it's also left for us to imagine what exactly put Susan off Narnia, or rather led to her convincing herself that this other world (where she had actually reigned for years as a Queen!) was only a silly childhood game. I don't get the impression it was any one thing that triggered it, but rather a gradual process that we can already see beginning in the earlier books. But as Lewis himself wrote to a young reader, "there is still plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get to Aslan's country in the end — in her own way." Which I've always felt she did do, at last.
"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
I do think it's unfair that some people put the blame entirely on Susan herself, as if to say she was simply a Bad Person. We don't know what happened to her over the years, or what she may have been thinking "inside" while telling her siblings "Fancy you remembering the games we used to play as children". Just like Lucy's friend who told an older girl that she didn't much care for Lucy (while Lucy was "spying" on her using magic on Coriakin's island), she may have been saying things she did not mean but she was afraid of what others might say - her parents, her peers, possibly even a potential fiance.
If there's an out-of-universe reason for Lewis' decision to write Susan out, I think it may have been more to do with Lewis criticising the emerging Fifties' youth culture and the rise of the teenager who was neither child nor adult. If the Pevensies had been Peter, Simon, Edmund and Lucy, Simon may have been more interested in motorbikes and guitars and rock 'n' roll.
Well said, King Erlian!
I didn't exactly warm to book Susan, when I first read the books in my late teens, but it was a shock to find she had abandoned Narnia. Later I realised that Lewis had not finished Susan's story, merely her connection to Narnia. As anyone reading to the end of LB sees, the Real Narnia is only part of Aslan's Country, and Aslan is not only found in our world, with another name, but his true self does not look like a Lion.
Susan has the rest of her life to rediscover the 'faith' of her older childhood, but to discover Aslan by his other name in her own world. If she was in her early 20s when her brothers and sister and parents disappeared from her life, perhaps she lived into her 80s or 90s, and had so many years to refind her faith.
There are Susans everywhere, and the complaint that Lewis excluded her is invalid, since he gave her up to another 70 more years to refind Aslan (under his Other Name) in our world.
Well said too, @coracle. For Susan to lose her entire family at a stroke — parents, brothers, sister and cousin — is a horrific tragedy, but I often remind myself that Lewis was writing this only 10-15 years after WW2. Plenty of people in that time, including some of his readers, WOULD have lost family members suddenly and horribly in real life, in the armed forces or in the Blitz. Susan of course is a fictional character and Lewis left the rest of her story open for us to think about, so I often wonder what her reaction to that terrible loss would have been. Did she discard faith altogether at the time — how can there be a God, or at least a good God, if He would let this happen? That would be a very natural and understandable response. But maybe as the years went by and her life went on, I imagine she might find that resistance eroding away, however gradually, and maybe she started to remember something she'd pushed to the back of her mind and told herself over and over that it was only a game they used to play when they were little, it never actually happened, it couldn't really have been true, could it... could it...?
Lewis himself, of course, started to lose his own childhood faith when his mother died, and was a committed atheist by the time he was a young adult — and in later years he readily admitted how unknowingly conceited and prideful he was at that time of his life — so there's no way he would have wanted to imply that Susan was lost forever. When critics like Pullman or Rowling claim that Susan was "sent to hell" or "lost to Narnia" for liking lipstick and boys and so on, it only goes to prove they haven't actually read the book, or at least not very carefully. But unfortunately, because those critics are famous in their own right and very vocal about things they don't like, these total misconceptions keep getting rehashed, and so "the problem with Susan" goes on...
"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
A lot of the criticism of this plot point seems to be that people feel like the message is that growing up is bad. I remember in the book, Wild Thing: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult, the author (Bruce Handy) makes a big deal of Lewis "flattering" children and portraying them as superior to adults. (He really likes the books BTW. He doesn't intend this as a harsh criticism.) I really don't understand where he (and Philip Pullman and J. K. Rowling) get this idea. (To be fair, maybe they're thinking of things Lewis wrote that I haven't read.)
I mean it's true that adults in Narnia are portrayed as inferior to kids in some ways. (Lucy tells Susan not to "talk like a grownup" in Prince Caspian. Lewis says that some adults would have been too fussy to eat Digory and Polly's toffees.) But growing up is also portrayed positively in several places. The main character are all described as becoming more adult in their abilities thanks to the air of Narnia. Eustace is described as looking "like a man crying" as opposed to a boy crying in The Silver Chair. We're supposed to be happy to hear about the Pevensies growing up at the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Shasta and Aravis growing up (and getting married) at the end of The Horse and his Boy. At the end of The Last Battle, the characters are portrayed as not being exactly young or old.
I guess some people just can't take any criticism of adults whatsoever.
For better or worse-for who knows what may unfold from a chrysalis?-hope was left behind.
-The God Beneath the Sea by Leon Garfield & Edward Blishen
Good observations, @col-klink. There are good adults in Narnia!
I’ve heard this observation of children being superior or “better” than adults in Paul F. Ford’s Companion to Narnia, under an entry titled “ADULT(S)”:
Throughout the Chronicles, Lewis uses “grown-up” as a synonym for narrow-minded, unimaginative, and too practical thinking...Perhaps the main complaint children and youth have against grown-ups is that they they have lost their imaginations...[The good human grown-ups] have in common their honesty and care for others...The foolish and wicked faults share a total contempt for things childish. In fact, it is a dead giveaway of wickedness in the Chronicles for an adult character to identify things children hold dear as “fairy tales,” “old wives’ tales,” or “impractical,” and they usually pay for their nonbelief in the end.
Ford goes on to note that few of the children (aside from the Pevensies and King Lune’s sons) in the Chronicles have good relationships with their parents or other adults. Ford cites Lewis’s own rocky relationship with his father and the early death of his mother as the reason behind many of the grown-ups’ portrayal.
That said, I do find it extremely ironic that J.K. Rowling of all people would level the criticism of “portraying the children as superior to adults” at Narnia, especially when the Harry Potter books are filled with instances of children “thinking that they know better” than adult figures (pick one—Snape, Dumbledore, the Dursleys, the Weasleys, Umbridge, Fudge, Lockhart, Slughorn, Hagrid, McGonagall). In the end, the children (particularly Harry, Ron, and Hermione) are usually vindicated, showing that they were right all along (thereby making the adults around them seem inept and stupid). I would also hazard a guess that it is the same with the His Dark Materials books (even though I have not read them and they were written to be the “anti-Narnia”). Books with children as protagonists will naturally favor that point of view. It think there is something to be said for a book series that emphasizes the childlike (not childish) joy of imagination and discovery, curiosity and integrity without having to be “dark,” “edgy,” or angst-filled all the time. I just find it frustrating that there are many middle-grade and YA books that would fall into the “flattering children” category, yet Narnia is singled out.
"I am,” said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
Susan was “Susan the Gentle” so how could she have been all bad? It never really says that she was permanently shut out of Narnia. It seems more like she hasn’t learned how to be mature and certainly Aslan wasn’t ready to give up on her. I am tired of people who try pass judgement on her. It doesn’t matter if she is a fictional character since to me her situation could be the same in real life. 🙂