Saturday, March 3, 2012

Susan Is Not a Problem

I am a fan of The Chroncles of Narnia and I even got the opportunity to play the White Witch in a play about the second book "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe".

Recently I've been reading about the controversy surrounding Susan. WARNING: If you have not read the "Last Battle" stop reading now, because there is a major spoiler ahead.

In the "Last Battle" C.S. Lewis does the unthinkable. He kills off all his heroes. All but one.

To some, those who only see death as a finality, it's a horrible way to treat characters you've learned to love over seven books. They think of the carnage involved with the train crash and poor Susan, the only remaining one, left to deal with losing her entire family. Indeed perhaps having to identify the bodies.
To other readers, Lewis showed a glorious afterlife where worries and pain cease to exist. Where they can live in Narnia forever. Narnia itself dies and is reborn, just as one day the earth will die and be reborn.

But Susan is left out of this. As others go to heaven, Susan is apparently destined for hell.

Many readers quote Jill Pole, "Oh Susan! She's interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up."

JK Rowling, an author I much admire stated in a Time Magazine interview, ""There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She's become irreligious basically because she found sex," Rowling says. "I have a big problem with that.",9171,1083935,00.html

She isn't the only one who criticizes Lewis for his treatment of Susan. Many are left scratching their heads over how lipstick and nylons keeps Susan out of heaven.

What they overlook are what the others say about Susan. Peter says "My sister Susan, is no longer a friend of Narnia."

Eustace adds, "Whenever you try to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says 'What wonderful memories you have! Fancy you still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children."

Aunt Polly states that "I wish she would grow up.She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now and she'll waste all her time trying to stay that age."

It isn't about the nylons and the lipstick. Lewis wasn't saying that wearing nylons and lipstick were bad things. They are rights of passage in many girls lives. Lewis was stating that the problem lies when they become the most important things. Susan left Narnia behind. Even denied the existance of Narnia and Aslan. She turned her back on them and instead concentrated on the things of the world. Invitations became more important than school work and becoming a better person. Vanity took the place of character.

It isn't that Susan grew up, as Rowling states. It's that she didn't. Growing up isn't about what you wear but about taking responsibility and setting goals and doing the right thing.

The Chronicles are an allegory. Lewis needed to have a character that didn't make it because in the end not all of us will. He needed a character that would be important enough to the readers so that it hurt.The Pevensies were the strongest characters and the most loved. So it had to come from them. Lucy was the Faithful, Peter the Hero, Edmund the Repentent. That left Susan who out of the four of them was the weakest character. It was Susan who always held back. Further, she and Lucy were the ones who witnessed Aslan's resurrection. Her denial of Narnia and Aslan makes it all the worse.

Susan represents those who know Christ and turn away from Him. She represents those who grew up with religion and then become athiests, denying everything. She represents those who have put God on the back burner in favor of cars and boats and prestige.

However, Lewis did not sentence Susan. Susan simply didn't get to join the others in Narnia at that time. She wasn't ready. There is nothing to say that Susan couldn't at some later time recognize her folly and embrace Narnia and Aslan again.

Although as readers we would have liked to have seen all the Kings and Queens of Narnia together, sometimes as a writer you have to do the unpopular decision to do the right one