In Defense of Susan Pevensie

I read the Chronicles of Narnia over again and again and again as a child. My dad read them aloud to us, and we read them to ourselves, and then we acted them out in the woods, creating wooden swords and bows and going on adventures. The oldest four of us, two boys and two girls, took on the roles of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. This meant that I was Susan.

I felt very conflicted about being Susan. On the one hand, I loved Susan – strong and beautiful and brave, one of the kings and queens of Narnia. I wanted so badly to be like her. And on the other hand . . . Susan eventually turns her back on Narnia. She stops believing and exchanges it all for “lipstick and nylons.” This never felt fair. Or true, for that matter. It felt fake and wrong. And I have to say, I was slightly mad at C.S. Lewis for it.

Which is why I was thrilled to see Fred Clark address exactly this in a post titled Redeeming Susan Pevensie.

To this day, 40 years after first meeting her in the first sentence of the first book-book I ever read, I still have strong feelings about Susan Pevensie.

Not strong feelings for her — I don’t mean a reader’s crush — but about her. Anyone who has read and loved Lewis’ Narnia books has encountered the problem of Susan. Her story ends poorly. What happens to Susan is just wrong.

Lewis, it seemed, had one more Lesson he wanted to teach, and he chose to make Susan the victim of that lesson. What he does to Susan isn’t fair. Worse than that, one can’t help but think that what he tells us about Susan isn’t true.

One finds oneself defending Susan against the author, protesting that he doesn’t understand. The condemnation of Susan at the end of the Narnia series misses its mark, circling back around to fall on the author instead. C.S. Lewis mistakenly wrote that Susan had turned her back on Narnia, but what it really seems is that Lewis had turned his back on Susan.

If you’ve read those books, then you know just what I mean. If you’ve read those books and you somehow don’t know what I mean, then I’m liable to be cross with you.

We don’t need to discuss this in greater detail here because Ana Mardoll has been exploring the Narnia books with great depth and insight. She’s on Prince Caspian now, and whether you are a friend of Narnia or, like Susan (allegedly), “no longer a friend of Narnia,” you’ll want to read Ana’s entire series on Lewis’ Chronicles.

You should also read this very agreeable disagreement on “The Question of Susan,” in which Hapax and Kit Whitfield try to make sense of Lewis’ damnable damnation of Susan.

And then there’s Neil Gaiman’s melancholy and strange short story, “The Problem of Susan,” wherein he confronts the problem and, in a sense, compounds it by pushing the happy ending poor Susan deserved even further out of reach.

All of these remind us that the problem of Susan exists only because Lewis succeeded before failing. This only happens when a good story takes a bad turn. He gave us Susan Pevensie and made us care what happened to her, and then he told us that what happened to her was something implausible and unpleasant. We’re upset by this because she mattered to us — mattered too much for her to be discarded and punished just for the sake of another Lesson.

If Lewis hadn’t made us come to view Susan as a real person, we wouldn’t have minded so much when he stopped treating her like one.

That’s why Gaiman’s story — or even just the idea of his story — is so evocative. It reminds us that Susan is still out there. She didn’t die at the end of these books, after all. She, alone, didn’t die.

World War II was a long time ago, but she was just a child then. I suppose she’d be almost 90 by now. But then we read, over and over, that there was something in that Narnian air — air that she breathed for a whole other lifetime. So I suspect that even now she doesn’t look or feel quite like what one might expect from a 90-year-old woman. I suspect that if you met her now, you’d guess she was several decades younger than that.

And I suspect that if you had the chance to ask her, she’s have a few sharp thoughts about Mr. Lewis and his version of her story.

So, Ms. Pevensie, your highness, if you’re out there, I hope you’ll weigh in on this discussion. Most of all, though, I hope you’re well. And I hope you’re happy.

I’m so glad it wasn’t just me who felt that Susan got the short end of the bargain. I absolutely agree with Fred – “C.S. Lewis mistakenly wrote that Susan had turned her back on Narnia, but what it really seems is that Lewis had turned his back on Susan.” So much this. So very very much this. I, too, want Susan’s side of the story. Because you know what? What Lewis said about Susan is probably very similar to what my parents would say about me. Not the lipstick and nylons necessarily, but the leaving for frivolous reasons, the betrayal of childhood beliefs, the being led astray by [insert here]. But that’s so far from the full story.

I’m glad I always played Susan as a child. Because in some sense, I am Susan. I too grew up. I too moved beyond my childhood. Lewis didn’t tell Susan’s ending correctly, I think, because he couldn’t understand her. But somehow, somewhere inside of me, I do. I feel a sort of kinship for her, and I think I always well.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Maddie

    This has always bugged me too. It bugged me so much I wrote a story about what had actually led to Susan’s loss of faith – interestingly enough, in writing it, I realised that there are very good reasons for Susan (or anyone else) to lose their faith in Aslan, in much the same way that there are very good reasons for people (like you or me) to lose their faith in Jesus. Every time Aslan shows up, it’s for war. He abandons Narnia completely in between times. They’re expected just to trust him because…everyone says he’s awesome. The problem, of course, is that Lewis (and his other characters) didn’t lose faith, and so Susan’s loss of faith is seen as a betrayal. And more than that, as you say, written off to trivialities, rather than respected as a (possibly) difficult and painful process. The churches I went to when I was younger always used to talk about people “falling away” as though it was easy, like falling off a log. What I actually found, when I started to “fall away”, was that it wasn’t a fall, it was a climb – a hard, painful, stumbling climb that exhausted and bruised me. But once you start climbing, the view starts getting clearer, and you just can’t go back down, however hard the climb is. Obviously, Lewis wasn’t prepared to grant Susan this possibility, so he wrote her off to feminine frippery (insulting in itself). But I’m right there with you – Lewis didn’t understand her, but I do.

    Thanks for the link – I am really looking forward to reading Ana Mardoll’s take.

  • Meyli

    I can see the parallel..that’s something I never really thought of!
    But the thought of Susan leaving it all behind, like she was far too grown up for such silly childish things, still makes me sad :(
    She was a queen, she could have done almost anything she wanted in Narnia, but instead she turned her back and she can’t EVER go back.
    Actually, I think I’m just jealous of Susan. Who wouldn’t love to venture into Narnia?

    • Maddie

      But the thought of Susan leaving it all behind, like she was far too grown up for such silly childish things, still makes me sad :(
      She was a queen, she could have done almost anything she wanted in Narnia, but instead she turned her back and she can’t EVER go back.

      But we only have the word of Jill, Polly and Eustace that that was her reason. Admittedly, that’s apparently what Lewis was blaming it on, but it’s not something Susan ever says HERSELF, and even her siblings don’t say it. Even if on the surface that’s what it looked like, it’s impossible to say that that’s the entirety of her motivations. We never see Susan again, so she can’t defend herself – all we get is other people’s assessment.

      Also, she wasn’t actually queen any more – she’d been kicked back to being a child after growing to adulthood as a queen, and returning to Narnia the second time might have made her a titular queen again, but it didn’t return her to being an adult or to her actual ROLE as a queen, because they spent the whole time making Caspian king, with no indication that the Pevensies were even invited to stay longer, let alone in their previous roles. And then they were, in fact, kicked out again and Susan (as well as Peter) was told she couldn’t return because she was “too old”. She couldn’t REALLY do anything she wanted, because she’d been banished – twice! – from the place. She had no reason to think she COULD go back at any point, so why wouldn’t she try to enjoy her life in the real world, even at the cost of putting their time in Narnia behind her? The life they had in Narnia was never, as far as Lewis seems to have been concerned, their “real” life, or they wouldn’t have been returned to England, and certainly not to their childhood. It seems that Lewis decided he needed/wanted (who knows why?) someone to turn their back, but he decided not to bother with exploring what would actually make them do so, or else he concluded that nothing would be sufficient explanation because Narnia was JUST THAT AWESOME, so frivolities would have to do. Maybe she didn’t really enjoy being in Narnia all that much – she had quite a lot of personal drama there in The Horse & His Boy. I can’t imagine being under threat of kidnap and forced marriage would exactly endear a place to you, and I can’t imagine that returning to childhood after becoming an adult who was old enough to have a number of marriage proposals would be anything other than incredibly difficult. She certainly doesn’t seem happy to return to Narnia in Prince Caspian.

      I guess I don’t really feel the same as you do about Narnia – it would probably be lovely to visit for a few days, assuming that you don’t get involved in any danger or political drama (and, let’s face it, no one ever goes to Narnia and DOESN’T get involved in danger and political drama), but I wouldn’t want to live there.

      • Rosa

        Yeah, I always thought Susan just grew up. Just like her brother. Only the little kids have no respect for women, so they think her grown-up self is worthless.

      • Meyli

        I guess Narnia is just too nostalgic for me – I forget about all the drama! And you’re right, Susan never says herself why she left for good.
        It might be worth saying also that I didn’t read the books knowing they paralleled christianity in some ways. To me, it was just a fantastic childhood tale…

  • Mike

    So I read the whole series when I was much younger and never noticed the biblical overtones(!), but the funny thing is that when I read the bit about her leaving I didn’t see it as an abandonment, I just thought she’d grown up and stopped what was obviously playing pretend with the other kids.

  • Jendi

    Good article. Yes, CSL had an annoying misogynist streak. It’s most evident in his “Perelandra” sci-fi trilogy for adults, where he uses instances of so-called feminine vanity (basically, wanting to see one’s self in a mirror and take care of one’s appearance instead of having men dictate what one should look like) as paradigms for sin. I see this as emotional immaturity on his part.

    • Anonymouse

      I was given the Narnia books when I was a child, and I hated them. It was obvious to kid-me that Lewis was a misogynistic ass. Then again, the church we attended was full of people just like him. I never liked the Narnia books and I never bought into the idea that women were lesser.

  • Falls Apart

    I never thought that Susan got “the short end of the stick” at all. The books never say that she’s a bad person, just that she doesn’t believe in Narnia anymore. They never say that she went to hell, just that she hasn’t died yet. They never say that she’s turned her back on her family or her morals, just what she thinks of as a part of her childhood. It doesn’t even seem to be about religion; after all, her change is never mentioned as being related to Aslan, just Narnia. And plenty of people–plenty of good people–do turn their backs on things they see as “childish” in an effort to seem “grown-up”. It’s sad, maybe, but not unrealistic; many, if not most, teenagers I’ve known strive, at least on some level, to separate themselves from their childhoods. If there was a Lesson to be taught, its moral was simply that there are good things to be said for remembering, and not being ashamed of remembering, what it’s like to be a child. I think that’s a worthwhile lesson, and, although many may disagree with me, I don’t think Susan was an implausible vessel. What happened with her was sad, but that doesn’t make it unrealistic, and it doesn’t mean that she couldn’t be a very happy person without Narnia.

  • Marian

    I don’t know if that is quite a fair assessment of Susan. After all, the Pevensies’ experiences of Narnia and Aslan are not at all like human experiences of heaven and God. They have concrete, real experiences that they can remember. It’s not about faith or belief any more. It’s about turning your back on your own remembrances and deciding that it didn’t really happen that way because… because whatever Susan decided was more important (because I, too, believe it’s about more than just nylons and lipstick.)

    I don’t think it’s inconsistent with Susan’s character as Lewis presented it in the previous novels, especially Prince Caspian, where she’s presented as the most skeptical and the most likely to be seduced by creature comforts instead of following Aslan, who, again, is very concretely real as the Narnia stories are written, and therefore it’s a little difficult to compare the stories with Christians’ experience and expectations of God who however real or not He may be, is certainly intangible.

    That being said, I’ve always felt very sad for Susan myself. She has experienced a tragic rejection by her brothers and sister, has probably been estranged from them for quite some time, and then they all die in a train accident, and Lewis doesn’t even see fit to leave her her parents for comforting, instead killing them off in the train accident as well. It wasn’t really mentioned, but it’s worrisome to think about her dealing with all that tragedy, all alone! (Especially when you consider that Aslan PROBABLY actually CAUSED that railway accident.)

    • Eamon Knight

      After all, the Pevensies’ experiences of Narnia and Aslan are not at all like human experiences of heaven and God. They have concrete, real experiences that they can remember. It’s not about faith or belief any more.

      That’s one of the obnoxious aspects of The Last Battle. In fantasy literature, magic, the gods, etc, are taken as *real*, so there’s no excuse for the character to not believe in them. Nonetheless Susan comes to “disbelieve”, as do the dwarves who insist they are still trapped in the stable while on the threshold of Aslan’s country (and there are similarly stubborn characters in The Great Divorce). It’s just the tiresome apologist’s reply to the skeptic: The evidence for God is clearly seen! You don’t believe because you don’t want to believe!

  • Karen

    I never felt anything for Susan. I read her as having turned into a vain debutante, who gave up not just Narnia but all of her imagination so tha the could fit the feminine ideal of the time. Lots of Susans were at last week’s Republican convention. I think Callista Gingrich is what Susan became, and I can’t find it my heart to care for her.

    • Angelia Sparrow

      Yes, exactly how I read it.
      I read this in my early teens, when all the girls around me were giving up all the aspects of their personalities except the empty-headed giggling that the boys liked
      I saw my own mother trying to hang onto her teen years into her thirties and forties. And I saw the same in my grandmother, who would have been about Susan’s age.

      The part about “rushing ahead as fast as possible to the silliest time in her life and stopping there as long as she can” was playing out right in front of my eyes. And I had no sympathy at all for Susan, because I had none for the girls and women around me.

  • Amethyst

    C.S. Lewis had no sisters, no daughters, and for most of his life, no wife. His life as an Oxford don was lived in a very masculine environment. According to J.R.R. Tolkien’s biography and letters, Lewis disliked both Tolkien’s wife Edith and the fictional character Tolkien secretly modeled after her, Luthien. Edith Tolkien was evidently both very strong-willed and very femme. Contrast Tolkien’s White Ladies, who are usually morally grey but ultimately a power for good, with Lewis’ White Ladies, who are usually evil witches.

    All that to say, it seems like Susan was essentially punished for becoming a woman. She was a victim of an early 20th century English bachelor’s ignorance of female adolescent development. Lucy was the favored daughter who stayed Daddy’s manic pixie tomboy, and Susan had the audacity to grow up.

    • Alex

      I’ve wondered sometimes whether Lewis was a closeted (or, perhaps, so repressed as to be unaware of it himself) homosexual. If so, it would imply that Tolkien was the love of his life, and his dislike of Edith stemmed from jealousy.

  • Eamon Knight

    It seems rather odd to be arguing over what “really” happened off-stage to a fictional character. Susan was whatever the author made her to be, whether or not we like that image, or find it consistent with the on-stage portrayal (even generally good writers sometimes write badly). Lewis elsewhere (see the Wikipedia article on “Susan Pevensie” for the full reference) wrote:

    She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman.
    (Think: Cordelia from first-season Buffy).

    As noted upthread, such women (and their masculine equivalents) certainly exist. But I agree with those who put this portrayal down to a misogynist streak in Lewis, and his general stick-in-the-mud conservatism. I don’t think he could imagine truly modern, independent, self-defining woman (at least at the time — one wonders if his later marriage to Joy Davidman, who seems to have been an assertive personality may have changed his feelings).

    • Anat

      It seems rather odd to be arguing over what “really” happened off-stage to a fictional character.

      I find it strange you find it strange. Much of a story is composed by the reader.

      Susan was whatever the author made her to be, whether or not we like that image, or find it consistent with the on-stage portrayal

      No. What an author says about their work outside of the fictional universe is ‘serving suggestion’, it isn’t a ‘fact’ of the fictional universe. It is for the reader to fill the gaps, continue the story as they see fit. The author is ‘dead’ from the moment the story is completed.

  • Karen

    I think we have to remember that Lewis experienced a truly traumatic abandonment when his mother died. His mother graduated from college with honors in math and logic, in the Victorian era. She must have been a remarkable woman. Within a few weeks of her death, his father shipped him and his brother off to particularly brutal boarding school, where he was neglected, starved, and beaten. He was ten years old. I can’t help but think that his opinion of women would have been very different had she survived, and I still hurt for the poor little grieving kid shipped off to a prison for the privileged.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Yep, all that is true and then he was in World War I to boot. Nobody can argue that the guy came by his fucked-up-ness honestly, but that still doesn’t make what he did to Susan any less fucked up.

      • Anonymouse

        Agreed. Lewis CHOSE to hate women.

    • Anonymouse

      So, his mother died and his FATHER and other men mistreated him…and your response is that it’s logical he hated women? That makes no sense.

      • Christine

        No, it does, because it’s not working on logic. His mother “abandoned” him, and then his life got miserable. It must be her fault.

  • Rosa

    When your dad read the books to you guys, did he comment? My mom read them to us, but we didn’t talk about them as allegories, just as stories (what’s going to happen? How did they feel? etc. No Lessons.)

  • Stephanie

    I’m so glad to see this post! I’ve had very strong feelings about Susan for a very long time – her ending made me so incredibly angry, even as a child. When I still believed in heaven, I used to daydream about meeting C.S. Lewis and approaching him angrily and asking him why on earth he would do something like that.

    Susan was always my favorite of the Pevensie children. My dad first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe aloud to us when I was around 6 or 7. Maybe I bonded with her so immediately because she was the oldest daughter, like me, but I also loved her intelligence, practicality, and archery skills. I saw a lot of myself in her. (Meanwhile, I always resented Lucy. She was this unrealistic perfect child! Looking back, I can articulate my dislike more clearly: no faults, just perfect faith. Anytime anything happened to her, however she felt about it was real and trustworthy. It was utterly ridiculous.)

    When I got to The Last Battle, I was completely betrayed. You articulated it perfectly – what happened just felt wrong. I worked it out fairly quickly that C.S. Lewis wanted to throw that message in there about somebody and, well, Susan was the most expendable of the four. He couldn’t throw Peter or Lucy under the bus – his golden children – or the redeemed Edmund. So Susan it was. And frankly, it felt like he was throwing me under the bus along with her.

    I spent a long time in my childhood holding out belief not only in God, but in some strange hope of fantasies and other lands. I wanted so badly to prove that I was someone unlike what Susan became. But you can only take rejection for so long before your wounds begin to heal over, stronger than before. You have to move on.

    I still don’t accept how Lewis made her this strange youth-obsessed female with her ‘lipstick and nylons’, but maybe Lewis got it right when he recognized Susan moving on. After all, that’s what we did – we picked her out as our favorite at a young age, and here were are now. I just hate how she gets the blame for it. If the Narnia she ‘rejected’ was real – a Narnia that subsequently ignored her and told her her time was done – and the world I similarly ‘rejected’ was real, despite no signs or feelings of its existence – I would hope they could understand what they did to us. What they put us through. Instead of just spitting us out as failures for the crime of not being Lucy. “Once a queen of Narnia, always a queen of Narnia” – whatever happened there?

    At any rate, I’ve still got a lot of emotions brewing over Susan – it’s incredible how stories can do this. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Ah yes, the problem of Susan. I never did forgive Lewis for that. Although, frankly, I never forgave him for the entire horrifying end of the “Last Battle” which disturbed me beyond all belief. For me, Philip Pullman was the first to express my feelings for me in this essay (towards the end).

    I don’t agree with his every criticism of Lewis but I certainly think he’s right on the money about Lewis’ disdain for female sexuality coming out in his punishing of Susan for her “lipstick and nylons” AND about the idea that I, as the reader, was supposed to be happy about my beloved heroes being slaughtered in a trainwreck being just plain twisted. I will say this in Lewis’ defense though: He is one of the only writers ever who has created a series of children’s classics that are read by boys as often as girls, where both boys and girls are lead characters and equally heroic. Not that many authors have managed that. Generally books about boys are read by boys and girls, whereas books about girls are read only by girls. Well, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe featured a girl as its lead and nobody considers it a “girl book.” For the most part, the girls in the Narnia books were true heroes, not one-dimensional sidekicks who spent all their time getting themselves into fixes, the better to provide the boys with opportunities to be heroic rescuers. And the are loved by everyone, male and female (and anything in between.) I’ve got to give him credit for that. That’s a pretty big deal.

    Otherwise, yeah, the guy’s got a lot to answer for. Why did he have to go mess it all up with “The Last Battle?”

    • Karmakin

      I think the books generally speaking get worse and worse over time. The first 2 are really good, the third one I think is quite good as well, but past that the books get…ugly, I think. It’s actually one of the things that really had me questioning my religious beliefs way back when, in that I could see how vile and nightmarish The Last Battle was.

      Why did I want to believe in that?

      • Mostlylurking

        I so agree! I remember eagerly devouring each book, but getting more and more dissatisfied as he got more and more ham-handed with the allegory. The last two books are simply awful.

        Am I the only one identifying with the dvarwes? I see them as what Lewis thought of atheists. It annoyed me no end!

  • http://jw-thoughts.blogspot JW

    It seems some people take movies more serious than others. I have seen the first 2 of these movies and new a little background on them. I liked both of them and focused in on the special effects of them because I thought they were great.

    It reminds me of the ‘Hunger Games’ sort of. I thought that movie was a bit much but I kept asking myself why do teenagers (girls) like this movie so much and it dawned on me – the romance. Yep, I get it now. And yep, there was some of that in this Narnia stuff as well. I suppose it is a good tie in for the story.

    I am left with a question for those who attribute themselves to feminism. When watching a movie do you watch for the enjoyment of it or do you watch to critique it from a feminist perspective or maybe do both during the movie?

    I usually watch for enjoyment but if it is a serious movie I will watch for more than that. ‘Hunger Games’ I watched for more because I was trying to understand the popularity of it. Why would teenagers be so into teens killing each other? But when I saw the romance build in it then I understand what was going on. I liken it to ‘Twilight’ though I have not seen that movie. I can’t get into vampires. Saw ‘Queen of the Damned’ and while the music in the movie was good the story line and such was not my cup of tea.

    Just my thoughts

    • Christine

      The Narnia movies aren’t serious enough to read in this light. Just because they used the books as a source doesn’t mean that they tell the same story. I must admit that I missed where the film added romance in.

      And I’m not sure how I can watch a movie and not critique it from a feminist perspective. As a feminist (i.e. someone who thinks that women are people too), any critique I give will be from a feminist perspective. And it’s not like I’d watch a movie and not critique it. If it’s that stupid a movie that there’s nothing to think about, why would I be watching it in the first place?

    • cass_m

      in this case people are talking about the Narnia books – specifically The Last Battle – which I don’t think has made it to movies yet.

      As for the Hunger Games. If you saw the movie you know that the field is manipulated to kill the contestants if they do not act to kill each other – only one has traditionally been allowed to survive. There was actually very little violence and the romance was for show to get points with the contest viewers. What teenager girl wouldn’t want to see a movie where the main character is a girl who, through selfless acts and strength changes the game (2 survivors) and wins.

    • Saraquill

      I find your conclusion that teenage girls like a particular book largely due to the romance to be mildly insulting. It wasn’t too long ago that I was an adolescent, and I sought out books for their quality and interesting ideas.

      • http://jw-thoughts.blogspot JW

        Ok. please tell me why ‘Twilight’ and ‘Hunger Games’ are popular among teen girls if Romance isn’t the glue?
        Girls are into vampires? Girls are into the kill mode for story lines? Guys usually are into that stuff.
        Your interest in book and ideas will most likely be much different from teenage girls who like the tales of romance. Your tastes in books and movies would probably be in the minority. Why do you think boy bands are so popular? Certainly not because of quality music, is it? It is all about the the love songs and the dancing that follows which gets the girls screaming for more. This can cause you to feel insulted as a woman but they are the facts. How many parents of teen girls simply roll their eyes over it? I know I would, lol.

      • ArachneS

        The Hunger Games is a dystopian novel about finding a way to resist a system that controls your life. It’s about keeping your identity vs. just surviving. It is not a Romance story. It seems that if there is a female lead, that is the only part of the plot you pay attention to. Projecting much?

        As another who has been reading dystopian/sci-fi/fantasy novels since I was a 12 or 13 yo girl, it does feel like you are trying to insult young adolescent girls by saying that all they care about is lovey dovey romance books with lots of boy drama.

      • Christine

        JW, I’m going to take you at your word that you aren’t trying to be offensive, and assume that it’s just coincidence that you have managed to pick one of the most offensive and sexist ways to phrase your question. Macleans did an excellent piece, for all of you people who have managed to forget what being a teenager was like:

        You have to remember: the majority of the commenters here are feminists. It might be novel to you that women are people just like you, but we take it as a given. You might think the viewpoint is wrong, but if you try to look at the questions from that perspective you’ll probably be able to figure out what we’ll say.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Mildly insulting? I find it very insulting! Teenage girls aren’t some hive mind that responds to simple stimuli: Romance! Cute boys! Pink! ZOMG!!! They are individuals who probably get lots of different things out of a story that is particularly well-told and exciting. In the case of “The Hunger Games”, I don’t know much about it, but I gather it is a story in which girls assume dynamic, heroic, complex leading roles and those are in short supply–that seems reason enough for why girls would be so into it. Boys have loved stories about characters of their own sex that are full of violence, high-stakes excitement and adventure for generations and nobody’s scratching their heads trying to figure that one out! But when girls do the same thing, people have to sit there and puzzle out the Mysterious Ladybrain? To hell with that.

        Girls are people. Just think of them that way, and this will all get a lot less confusing.

    • Jaynie

      Twilight and the Hunger Games are very different novels that appeal to different people. Twilight is a romance (albeit an awful one) and its readers are largely into that. The Hunger Games is a dystopian fiction mostly about survival and morals, with a teensy tiny smidgeon of romance in it that to be honest I had damn nearly forgotten about (though I’ve only read the first one). Even though I wouldn’t say it was amazingly well written, I liked the Hunger Games because it explored an interesting premise with a dose of teenage-appropriate philosophy and featured several multifaceted, strong, intelligent female characters that I could relate to — I would have been thrilled to read it as a teen. Likewise, I loved Harry Potter as a child because of the plot, not because I just couldn’t wait for Ron and Hermione to *squee* get together!!111 Most of the women I know found the romance-angst in that irritating rather than appealing.
      If you stop being sexist, the actions of Womenfolk will start to make a lot more sense. We like books for the same varied reasons men do, not because our daft little girl brains go all fuzzy when people kiss.

      • Saraquill

        JW, you say that females of a certain age only care about romance and boys, and say this is “fact,” but we only have your word for it. If it as true as you say, provide evidence, and not of the “Bob’s Website” quality. Present a recent (5 years or younger, not 1950s or Victorian) peer-reviewed academic work on the subject, and I may give that statement of yours weight.

      • Saraquill

        Addendum: This comment is stuck over here as I could not find a way to directly respond to JW’s last comment.

      • Lindsay

        To say nothing of the “females of a certain age” who are suddenly discovering the charms of romance and girls

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        Well said!

    • Anat

      JW, FYI my daughter despises Twilight and loves The Hunger Games. Why? Because Bella is passive (and Edward is creepy) while Katniss is a character with initiative who kicks ass. Romance? Who cares. It’s added flavoring that is acceptable if it doesn’t clash with the main ingredients. So stop stereotyping teenage girls. They are real individuals.

      • Anonymouse

        It’s also telling that JW can’t believe some women like vampires, so therefore they must only be in it for the romance. Clearly JW has not done much thinking about actual women, but only accepted the anti-women dogma he’s being fed from some source.

    • Anonymouse

      That you can liken The Hunger Games to Twilight shows that you have no understanding of The Hunger Games. The female character in The Hunger Games finds herself in a situation where the odds are stacked against her, and uses her brains, her cunning, her strengths to survive. She takes responsibility for herself and her actions and is devastated when those she cares about are in danger and/or die. Twilight, in comparison, is the story of a self-centered, idiotic passive-aggressive doormat who has no problem lying to her parents and alienating those who try to friend her in her quest to be with a creepy, much-older stalker who can bring her nothing but ruin, which she eagerly embraces because she’s an idiot.

    • Alex

      I’m going to venture a couple of guesses about you, JW, based on your comments: first, you’re a teenaged boy; second, your intelligence is no better than average. If neither of those things is true, you need to work harder at thinking through what you write before you post it, because you’re projecting the image of a not-too-bright highschool boy here.

  • Anise

    The problem of Susan also bugged me when I was a child. It did not strike me as true that Susan would stay behind; however, I guessed at why C.S. Lewis did it, which made me angry that he would sacrifice a loved character for such a petty reason. My immediate thought was that C.S. Lewis wanted seven travellers from our world to be there because seven is the number of perfection and completion in the Bible. However, since the characters always came to Narnia in pairs, C.S. Lewis had to sacrifice one character. He couldn’t sacrifice either Jill or Eustace because they were already in Narnia. He couldn’t sacrifice Digory or Polly because they were the first ones to enter, and Digory was the professor. He couldn’t sacrifice Lucy because she was the closest to Aslan. He couldn’t sacrifice Edmund after Edmund’s story of redemption. And he couldn’t sacrifice Peter who was his special high king of Narnia. The only one left was Susan. So he sacrificed her, and picked on the reason why Lucy and Edmund had been so jealous of her at the beginning of Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

    There are so many other reasons to believe that C.S. Lewis was sexist (for example, all the major evil magic people were women, and the *actually* magic men were not), but I’m not sure Susan’s exclusion is one of them.

    • Esteleth

      I think you’re onto something – but Lewis so easily could have shucked Polly, with a one-line comment about how she’d died in the interim. After all, if she was 10 (or so) during the events of The Magician’s Nephew (circa 1890), then she’d been in her seventies by the time of the events of The Last Battle, which is sometime in the 1950s. And she appears – in fact or in reference – only in those two books.
      Maybe even toss in a few sentences about how she was a good woman, etc., etc., let’s honor her in Narnia.
      Problem solved!

  • Rae

    Yeah, what confused me as a child was the “Once a King or Queen of Narnia, always a King or Queen of Narnia” line… so it just suddenly didn’t apply to Susan? I knew, on one level, what Anise said, that Lewis wanted there to be seven and not killing off Susan at the end was the convenient way to do it, but I still felt like it was a very poor “cop-out” kind of an ending for her character.

  • Nea

    JW, I hope you didn’t mean to sound as dismissive as you do. The people here are not talking about the movies, they are discussing a series of books that we all read as kids and had a special relationship with. (In my case, it was discovering the books in the library and realizing that I could read the books my parents read to me *for myself any time I wanted.* Heady stuff for a story-loving kid.)

    If you had read the Narnia books, you would realize that none of them are about “the romance” — they are about children having adventures that require bravery, strength, faith, and loyalty. Absolutely none of the girls or boys are paired off into romantic partnerships as part of the plot. Edmund learned the power of redemption, Lucy showed the power of faith, Peter showed the powers of leadership and wisdom, and Susan, after having been shown as being both a voice of logic and a valiant fighter in war, was rewarded three times over with rejection – twice when Narnia turned its back on her; once when she turned her back on Narnia. Of course we’re all horrified to discover that her creator, the very one who made her logical and strong and a figure to look up to, dismissed her as vain and silly, traits we had never seen or heard about her previously.

    I do “attribute myself to feminism” — or more accurately, I am a feminist and proud of it. Does that inform how I view movies (or read books, as we are discussing books here)? Of course it does. While I may pick up a book or rent a movie for enjoyment, how else am I supposed to react if the women in that story are relegated to being just something to fight, something to have sex with, and/or something to ignore and dismiss? It’s not that I’m going in to critique it, but that I’m not going to laugh at insults to my gender when they’re thrown in my face, nor stop objecting when dismissive attitudes are waved off as “can’t you take a joke?” It would be like going to a really great restaurant, being served a very tasty meal that gave me food poisoning, and then having people say “You’re just being too sensitive; I loved that restaurant. And besides, it was hilarious how you turned green and pale.”

    • http://jw-thoughts.blogspot JW

      I have only read the first Narnia book and that was it and then saw the 2 Narnia movies.

      My words may be out of place on this particular discussion because the discussion seems to be coming from a feminist POV. Since that is the case maybe I shouldn’t post anymore replies on this blog. I just know that when I watch movies, read books even, I am not critiquing them so hard unless something doesn’t make sense. Even if the woman appears weak or strong it makes no difference to me for it is a story. Some people like it and others don’t.

      Just like the show Nikita in the CW. She is a very strong and smart woman but it is the whole journey and how each side outsmarts each other to ‘win’ in the end. It isn’t about how a woman’s role is or a guy’s role is BUT I suppose under fundamentalist circles these things could be scrutinized more which is just silly to me yet I realize there is a reality there as well,

      Ok. I will shut up about this whole thing and go away.

      • Noelle

        Your words are not out of place because you suddenly found yourself surrounded by women who disagree with your current impression of girls. They are out of place because the literary character described here is from books you have not read. It requires a full reading of all the Narnia books to understand this particular thread. The movies are not close enough to the books, nor do they cover the entire series. If you would like to take place in a character discussion from a series of novels, it is best to first read those novels.

        Go on, they’re short. We’ll still be here.

        If it is the “feminism” that bothers you, oh dear child you do need some help. Really, the more time you spend trying to understand, the better. This is not the thread for it though, as it requires book learnin. My favorite books as a young girl and adolescent were not so different as most boys, I assume. Reading Stephen King’s The Shining during a blizzard is enough to give anyone the chills. I do encourage you to explore the threads that do not require homework. And keep an open mind. Be willing to learn something. Maybe we’ll even teach you everything there is to know about women (impossible, of course. But we’ll try)

    • Squire Bramble

      JW is very obviously the adult version of the reckless student who thinks he can pass his English exams by watching the film adaptation of the set novels. He is also confused by the terms ” feminist perspective” and “feminist critique” as they are used in literary study. Anyone can adopt a particular perspective to critique ( deconstruct and analyse) a text; one does not have to be a card carrying member of the Communist Party to offer a Marxist critique of, say, Smollet’s fiction. This is a discussion of a particular novel, and one might feel more comfortable contributing to the thread if one had actually read it.

      On to Susan – count me as another who feels that her punishment is most unjust. Just what was she expected to do when banned from Narnia? The Pevensies were upper-middle class; surely there was some pressure from her parents or social set to make a “suitable” match? How was she to achieve this goal without resorting to the use of the despicable lippy and nylons? Fiona MacCarthey records how rare it was for young women of the most influential and wealthy families to attend university. Susan is literally damned by one world or the other, whatever choice she makes.

      • Nea

        Susan is literally damned by one world or the other, whatever choice she makes.

        So very true, and it breaks my heart. Besides, what in particular is inherently wrong about lipstick and nylons and having fun, especially for someone who has come through the deprivations of war? Is the very act of dressing up and enjoying the company of one’s friends actually “silly” and “childish” as Narnia dismisses it? Especially as all of the celebrations within Narnia involved those very same people putting on nice clothes and going to a feast with their friends?

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      “JW, I hope you didn’t mean to sound as dismissive as you do.”

      Ya know, after reading many of JW’s posts I really think he DOESN’T mean to. He just can’t help himself…

      • Alex

        Yeah. He doesn’t come off as particularly misogynistic, just profoundly ignorant. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that he’s fourteen years old; I would be shocked if he were over twenty.

    • Squire Bramble

      IIRC, Susan is taken to America by her parents because they believe that, as the prettiest child, ” she would get the most out of it ” or something along those lines – they cannot afford to take all the children. As an adult, I read this as the family pushing marriage (and adulthood, and the dreaded lipstick and nylons) onto a girl in her mid to late teens, possibly with a view to improving the family fortune: this mirrors her experience in Narnia in TH&HB where her siblings are discussing a marriage with the Calormene prince with similar unconcern for her feelings about the match.

      The men who courted Susan would factor into this as well – they would most likely have been officer class veterans of a recent war. Can you imagine entertaining a suitor recovering from the horrors of a Japanese internment camp in the parlour while your brothers and sisters keep pestering you to rejoin them in fantasy play elsewhere?

      It’s a testament to Lewis that he could create living characters like this, that we can easily give histories to; but his misogyny has interesting theological implications. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for an adult woman to become a Christian, unless she is completely asexual. She is banned from achieving salvation in Narnia or the real world, and in either is at best a piece of property to be bartered away for the benefit of her family.

      • Esteleth

        I think the ostensible reason for Susan going to America is pretty simple, actually:
        -Peter had to study for that special exam, so was staying with Kirk, who was tutoring him.
        -The parents could not afford to take all three, and judged Edmund and Lucy as too young to get anything of value out of it. It is their YOUTH that is cited as the justification.

        As for TH&HB, I read the situation a bit differently. The Calormerne prince shows up out of the blue and woos Susan. She seems smitten, and the other three are polite, not objecting out of hand (he is, after all, the heir to the throne of a powerful neighbor). He then invites her back to his city. She agrees, and Edmund comes with. There, she sees that the prince is an ass and gets over her crush.

        The Aravis plot of TH&HB has a subplot featuring Aravis’ childhood friend, who is depicted as bubbleheaded, giggly, and very femme. She’s introduced around the time that we see Susan for the first time, which – to me – sets up a deliberate parallel. Susan is also quite femme, but she is clearly NOT bubbleheaded.

        Of course, the blatant racism of that book makes everything quite problematic.

  • Michael Busch

    My gripe with Narnia – the second time I read them, since the first time I was maybe eight or nine – can be summed up by the wisdom of Randall Monroe:


    _None_ of the main characters act as how real people (even relatively young children) would act if they had actually been transported into another world. Remember the Nostalgia Filter? A similar thing applies to how Lewis describes living in Narnia. Think of what it would actually be like: a land without modern medicine (less that one vial of miracle-cure), no well-designed plumbing, largely patriarchial and heavily classist/racist/specisist societies, and so on. Not the nicest place to live. And how can the Pevensies nearly forget England, even after fifteen years in Narnia? Lucy was 8, which might explain some fuzziness on details, but the others were old enough to remember a lot (and presumably to try and introduce innovations such as basic hygiene).

    And once they get back, they don’t act like people who’ve just accumulated months or years or decades of experience and skill. The Pevensies may be excused somewhat, since they don’t have a reliable way back or any physical evidence of where they’ve been (since Aslan/God magicked away all of their Narnian clothes and gear when he rejuvenated them), but why don’t Peter and Edmund immediately become fencing/swordfighting prodigies; and Susan the best archer in any primary school in England? They’ve just had fifteen years to practice.

    Digory and Polly, though, don’t have that excuse. Yes, the Wood Between The Worlds leads to some nasty nasty places, like Charn (although Charn is now empty since Jadis is gone), but it also leads to some much nicer ones, like Narnia. And there are many many other worlds out there. Andrew Kirke may be insane, but at the end Digory and Polly still have the linking rings. Why don’t they use them to go _back_ to Narnia and to more worlds? Find some intelligent and responsible scholars, and disappear and re-appear in front of them. They’ll start testing things and analyze the magic until it becomes a technology. The whole plot of the series then unravels (and Jadis is no longer a serious concern, because while she may be strong she can still be shot).

    • Rae

      At the end Diggory and Polly buried the linking rings – presumably to keep them away from Andrew Kirke, which as children, was probably the best they could do given the situation. But as adults, they’d still know the rings were there… which leads my train of thought to the “what if someone dug them up later and was like ‘ooh, pretty rings’ and put one on?”

      And I agree that as a child even, I would have tried to introduce some modern concepts. Definitely basic electronics, at least, as well as ideas like bathing and gender equality. It’s sort of like how in Harry Potter, I find Arthur Weasley to be one of the most interesting characters, because he’s the only one who’s curious about Muggle stuff. Everyone else is either “We have magic. Why would we want to try to deal with Muggle things? Magic is better” or “I was raised in a non-magical world, but I’m not going to ask questions about why the only advance in the past millennium that these wizards seem to have figured out is bureaucracy.”

    • kisekileia

      “Think of what it would actually be like: a land without modern medicine (less that one vial of miracle-cure), no well-designed plumbing, largely patriarchial and heavily classist/racist/specisist societies, and so on.”

      YES. This is why I felt so much sympathy for Eustace at the beginning of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, even as a nine-year-old when I was being read the books by a father who, while very intelligent, seemed to accept their point of view somewhat uncritically. Most people who really stopped to think about the implications would be unhappy if they were taken out of the modern world and dumped into an unfamiliar ocean, only to be “rescued” by people from a medieval-esque society who were sailing off into unknown lands. That’s a mature, reasonable perspective, for all it goes against the adventuresome spirit of the Narnia books. I remember feeling like I shouldn’t sympathize with Eustace as much as I did, and I’m not sure how happy I was when we got to his conversion.

    • Alex

      This seems like as good a place as any to plug Less Wrong’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality — not that I ever need much of an excuse to do that. It starts from the premise that Harry’s Aunt Petunia married a professor of biochemistry instead of Vernon Dursley, after Lily did her a magical favor that erased most of her resentment toward her sister. Harry thus grew up with two loving adoptive parents, in a house stacked floor to ceiling with science and sf/f books. Magic comes as a greater shock to him than it did to the canonical Harry, who had probably never heard of the Laws of Thermodynamics, but then he’s determined to apply scientific experimentation and reasoning to figure out the laws by which magic operates — laws which the rest of wizardkind simply take for granted.

      There’s an interlude called “Alternate Parallels,” which gives samples of what other works of fantasy might look like if given the Less Wrong treatment. One of the works referenced is The Chronicles of Narnia:


      With a critical eye, Peter looked over the encamped Centaurs with their bows, Beavers with their long daggers, and talking Bears with their chain-mail draped over them. He was in charge, because he was one of the mythical Sons of Adam and had declared himself High King of Narnia; but the truth was he didn’t really know much about encampments, weapons, and guard patrols. In the end all he could see was that they all looked proud and confident, and Peter had to hope they were right about that; because if you couldn’t believe in your own people, you couldn’t believe in anyone.

      “They’d scare me, if I had to fight ‘em,” Peter said finally, “but I don’t know if it’s enough to beat… her.”

      “You don’t suppose this mysterious lion will actually show up and help us, d’you?” said Lucy. Her voice was very quiet, so that none of the creatures around them would hear. “Only it’d be nice to really have him, don’t you think, instead of just letting people think that he put us in charge?”

      Susan shook her head, shaking the magical arrows in the quiver on her back. “If there was really someone like that,” Susan said, “he wouldn’t have let the White Witch cover the land in winter for a hundred years, would he?”

      “I had the strangest dream,” Lucy said, her voice even quieter, “where we didn’t have to organize any creatures or convince them to fight, we just walked into this place and the lion was already here, with all the armies already mustered, and he went and rescued Edmund, and then we rode alongside him into this tremendous battle where he killed the White Witch…”

      “Did the dream have a moral?” said Peter.

      “I don’t know,” said Lucy, blinking and looking a little puzzled. “In the dream it all seemed pointless somehow.”

      “I think maybe the land of Narnia was trying to tell you,” said Susan, “or maybe it was just your own dreams trying to tell you, that if there was really such a person as that lion, there’d be no use for us.”

  • ArachneS

    I never really liked The Last Battle in the Narnia series. The end was supposed to be some kind of “happy ending” where they got to be in a Narnia land forever and ever, but it wasn’t happy to me. The Narnia that felt “real” was the one that was just destroyed, the one that Aslan never came to help during all the horrible stuff that was happening. While the Narnians were being enslaved and miserable and everything, Aslan was… waiting for everything to hit the fan so that he could end the world and remake it. At least the last king of Narnia was trying to help his people.

    Susan was never a favorite of mine in the series, I liked Edmund. But I still didn’t think it was fair to make Susan sound like the one missing out because she was doing normal things that girls growing up do. Not to mention, if someone invited me to take a train ride, and I declined, then I found out the train crashed and everyone died, I’d feel pretty damn lucky. Now with everyone else in the family on that train? That’s tragedy. I got a weird feeling, like I was supposed to wish Susan had listened to her siblings and got on the train- which would be like wishing she had died too.

    • Eamon Knight

      ….the one that Aslan never came to help during all the horrible stuff that was happening. While the Narnians were being enslaved and miserable and everything, Aslan was… waiting for everything to hit the fan so that he could end the world and remake it.

      This. I re-read the series after the TLTW&TW movie came out, for the first time in probably at least 25 years, and certainly the first time as an adult atheist. In addition to being repelled by what I now see as preachy moralizing and clumsy allegory, I realized a major dramatic weakness of the series: the presence in the storyverse of an omnipotent character. Aslan *could* have evicted the White Witch, or Miraz, or the Calormenes, any time, but he doesn’t, except then he does, apparently because that’s when he happened to get around to feeling like it (what the hell was he doing up until then — sleeping curled up like any lazy old cat?), but in the mean time the kids have been stumbling about in the woods wondering what’s going on and making all sorts of mistakes, and presumably a bunch of common Narnians have gotten killed in some battle they needn’t have fought at all if only Aslan had gotten off his leonine ass a chapter or two earlier. At least Tolkien’s gods have the narrative decency to stay aloof and uninvolved — everyone understands there’s no help to be expected from them (and theologians have lots of imaginative excuses for why the God of Western theism is likewise conspicuously AWOL when he’d come in real handy); the best Middle Earth can look to is powerful-but-limited demigods like Gandalf (and we on this earth don’t even get that). Sauron (being the same order of being as Gandalf) could, in principle, win — there’s real struggle, real dramatic tension, and real costs to be paid for reasons that are comprehensible. But when Aslan — understood to be an avatar of the omnipotent Christian God — shows up and just fixes the problem by roaring loudly, it rather makes the struggle that went before seem a bit pointless. There’s no *logic* to it.

      • ArachneS


  • dj pomegranate

    Glad to see that the treatment of Susan bothered other people as well! It really saddened me as a child, and I read and re-read Narnia almost yearly! But the treatment of Susan always bothered me: “Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can,” always struck me as unfair to the poor girl, especially when I was also such a girl! What’s wrong with nylons and lipstick, Lewis?! Can’t one wear lipstick and also believe in Narnia/Jesus? I mean, come on.

    I get that Narnia is a parable, and I get that this is a warning against loss of faith. But this isn’t good enough for me, because elsewhere in the series she is described explicitly as The Pretty One, whereas Lucy was “just as good as a boy”–when Lucy looked into the magic book of wishes in Dawn Treader, she wishes to be as pretty as Susan. So from this we know that Susan is 1.) objectively pretty and 2.) not as good as a boy. So it seemed to me like she was banished for being pretty and girly and into pretty, girly things. Like those pretty, girly things inevitably distract you from Truth. (Lucy, Polly, etc, were not distracted, and were also never described as being pretty or into girly things.) (There was another pretty girly one, Lasaraleen, but she was a Calormene, not Susan’s peer.)

    But this also irritated me, even as a wee lass, because Susan never acted like The Pretty One. She was always brave and practical. She could shoot things with arrows! She gave sound advice! She was Queen Susan the Gentle! So to me, a girl who very strongly identified with her character (practical + feminine), it seemed that Susan was being punished –by not being able to enter Narnia in The Last Battle– simply because other people acknowledged that she was indeed very pretty. This struck me as quite unfair. Still does. But I still like the books! (Except for The Last Battle, which is weird and mean.)

    • Rosa

      the thing is that in other places (in Eustace’s story especially the part at the awful boarding school) people who hate “silliness” are the bad guys. So I totally wrote off that mean little scene – as an adult I assume Lewis used “silliness” as a stand-in for “sexuality” but as a kid I just thought “Susan’s doing something they don’t understand.”

    • Anonymouse

      Lewis sent a very clear message that being a girl was a Bad Thing, and girls could of course never be as good as boys. If the girl happened to be conventionally pretty? Oh, the horror! Obviously someone whose genetics made them attractive *must* be inferior to other girls.

      • Christine

        As loath as I am to support the justifications used to judge women based on how they look, very little of being conventionally pretty is genetic. Sure, it can give some short cuts, but even if you have pin-straight hair you can look a mess. The conventionally pretty girl is the one who has her hair neatly brushed & braided, is wearing clean, frilly, matching clothes, and smiles. The conventionally pretty woman is one who knows how to do her makeup to her best advantage, keeps her hair under control, plucks her brows in the just the right shape, epilates her legs to their best advantage, etc.

        There is incredible social pressure to do all of this. (It’s perfectly socially acceptable to judge women who apparently don’t realise that there are cosmetics that will free them from having the curse of facial hair, or who can’t be bothered to care that they have stubble, or the wrong kind of makeup). The problem with Lewis’ condemnation of nylons and lipstick is that it says that choosing to be pretty is in appropriate – i.e. conforming to society’s expectations of women is an unforgivable sin. It isn’t a condemnation of the way people are born (nature vs. nurture aside).

      • Anonymouse

        Christine, keep in mind that Susan in the books is an adolescent girl, and as such does not perform any of the typical grooming an adult woman would do to be perceived as feminine or beautiful. I think you’re misinformed that people can’t be born attractive. Our species likes symmetrical, smooth features, and those genetically blessed with those features are perceived as attractive.

      • Christine

        I know that the symmetry plays a part, but given our standards, a “well-groomed” woman will look better than a symmetrical one. The whole trope that comes through in large parts of women’s culture is that of course anyone can be beautiful (the disgusting Dove ad campaign being a good example of it). I was referring more to the nylons and lipstick aspect of Susan being judged as being lesser (i.e. intentionally looking pretty). I’m not quite sure where the fact that she’s an adolescent comes in, as that’s the time that girls typically start trying to primp and preen.

  • Rilian

    What does this mean, he didn’t understand susan? He wrote her! And he wanted to have a lapsed-christian character, so he picked her. It was implausible though, because she actually saw narnia and lived there. He wrote her, that’s what the character did, but that’s a stupid unbelievable character.

    • Anat

      What does this mean, he didn’t understand susan? He wrote her!

      That’s a non-sequitor. An author can write a character and not understand it. That’s when readers say – ‘hey, that’s not how humans act, someone who underwent the experiences your characters did would think/react differently’ or ‘the behavior of the character in place X is inconsistent with what we learn about the character in place Y’ and so forth.

    • smrnda

      Authors sometimes do a bad job writing characters who aren’t similar to themselves. I think you pretty much get that because you mention that the character isn’t particularly believable but is more or less forced to act a certain way because it fits with the story the author wants to tell. Authors are people, and they often don’t do a good job understanding people who are different from them. It doesn’t surprise me that CS Lewis can’t write a female character who isn’t straight out of some fantasy and fairy tale cliche book. I think another problem with Lewis is that he’s not just setting out to tell a story but to make a point, and things like character continuity and plausibility get sacrificed to getting the point across.

    • Anonymouse

      Susan is judged less valuable by Lewes because she is analytical and practical (unlike the younger girls who are blindly accepting of everything), and he makes a point of putting her down BECAUSE she’s attractive, which she is during her stay in Narnia. Then he justifies her persecution by him by claiming that after she leaves Narnia, she becomes interested in nylons and lipstick (as many teenage girls and women are), so he and the rest of the characters clearly hold her in contempt.

      I’m still confused that you don’t believe that there are people who are born more attractive in the conventionally-accepted way than others. Why does that shock you? Some people, through genetics, are taller than others, some are shorter. Some are born with dark hair, some with blond hair. Some have symmetrical features, others do not.

      • Christine

        I haven’t read the books in a couple of years, so I’m probably filtering Susan. I agree that the Susan was judged for not being whole-heartedly accepting of everything (although at least Lewis avoided the trap of also having her be the one who decided that the White Witch had a good side of the story). I, however, had always seen it more as her never taking it very seriously in the first place, and then rejecting it for frivolity. The fact that it’s normal to start worrying about clothing and how you look doesn’t make it right, it just makes it normal. In fact, from a Christian perspective, the fact that it’s normal would quite possibly be a reason to condemn it. “Nylons and lipstick” always sounded to me as if Susan started to value looking pretty. It probably wasn’t fair to say something that nasty about her, but none of the defenses of makeup I’ve heard suggest anything different. There are women who wear makeup when they don’t have to – it’s not a job requirement (or interview), they aren’t trying to show respect for someone, etc. And yet, the only reason I’ve heard from or about these women, is that they like how it makes them look.

        I think my Asperger’s is coming through about the attractiveness – what I think I’m saying and what I’m saying are clearly two different things. As another way of phrasing: the things over which women have control can easily overshadow the aspects of how they look that are genetic. Yes, if two women under go the same processes (we’ll say by the same technicians too, to eliminate people like me who can’t figure out what we’re supposed to be trying to look like in the first place), the one who is taller, has more even skin (which is partially genetic, not 100% under control) and has more symmetrical features will look better. Actually, forget undergoing the same processes – if one of the women has pin-straight hair the other one can get her hair straightened. If only one of them has weathered skin, she can have foundation. However if the short woman with asymmetrical features wears makeup, does her hair, etc, she will be considered better-looking, in general, that someone who is genetically pretty.

        It could be true that this isn’t as prevalent in general women’s culture, that this is only happens in the parts that I get exposed to – back when I was a teenager, and women’s media. (The women I know all either don’t wear makeup, or view it as a necessary evil).

  • Sophelia

    There’s a wonderful book called “The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia” I am sure many of you would enjoy and relate to. There’s a whole chapter on Susan.
    Of particular interest re the movies is the observation that in order to fit with the family-centric new Right Christianity the movies had pushed family and the children’s parents into a much greater role than they ever played in the books.

    • Alex

      Interesting! I hadn’t thought about that reason for the emphasis on family; I just appreciated the fact that it gave the characters more depth than Lewis ever did in the novels. Unusual, for a film adaptation of a book to improve on the book’s characterization, but that’s what the first two Narnia films did (VotDT not so much), at least in the eyes of this beholder. I especially liked the added bits that fleshed out Peter and Edmund’s relationship in Prince Caspian.

  • Gordon

    I don’t think CS had any idea what it was like to see through the bubble and so he could not write a convincing de-conversion.

    • Rilian

      But she actually saw narnia! That’s not a de-conversion, that’s just denial.

      • Gordon

        and I’m sure that’s how ex-christians like me look to CS and others.

  • Rosie

    I loved the books as a kid and read and re-read them obsessively. Now I find the the things that always rather bothered me about the books are exactly the things that bother me about conservative Christianity in general. There’s a serious and obvious discomfort with the process of growing up, especially for female-bodied humans. It’s weird and a little creepy how the four Pevensies kind of grow up in Narnia, but then are kids in England again. Of course none of them could get married in Narnia; it would be weird and inconvenient for them to remember sex in Narnia, or heaven forbid have children of their own back there. The boys can maybe “grow up” by killing some evil critter, but the girls don’t really have that option. Even though Susan *can* shoot better than just about anybody. Her job as a girl is to be sweet and innocent and trusting, and Lucy does it better.

    I never did like The Last Battle much at all (though I read it several times for completeness, since I liked the rest of the series); the whole book made me uncomfortable. It’s obvious that death is a preferable option to living, once you see “inside the stable”, and that does make me wonder why bother with the struggle of living at all? What was the point of the whole thing? But looking at the teachings from the outside, it’s obvious to me that this is why the Catholic church made suicide a mortal sin. Because if you take most of the historical church teachings (in all traditions except the modern liberal, near as I can tell) without that, suicide is the obvious best choice for a good many people. Especially women. And of course Peter prefers the pretty fruit to thinking about Susan not being there; it wouldn’t be heaven if you could miss the loved ones who didn’t make the grade, would it? This is exactly the kind of weird and nasty contradiction that Calvinist-leaning conservatives have to come up with to reconcile their rejection of Universalism with their contention that God really is loving and Heaven really is a desirable kind of place to spend the afterlife (without which either their need to convert, or their carrot for conversion, falls flat).

  • Beau Quilter

    J.R.R. Tolkien saw through the shallowness of Narnia from the beginning.

    The Narnia books are popular because Christian evangelicals are always hungry for fiction that both satisfies a child’s craving for magic and adventure, while also preaching overt Christian themes. Hence the frightening popularity of the poorly written “Left Behind” series these days.

    Tolkien saw that Lewis’s Narnia tales were shallow and derivative, mixing Beatrix Potter styled talking animals, disparate mythologies, a father Christmas with American Santa Claus elements, etc. – a literal grab-bag of creatures borrowed for entertainment value. Thematically, his Christian analogies (as Lewis called it) or bad allegories (as Tolkien called it) were obvious, didactic and completely lacking in subtlety or depth.

    Those who still think fondly on the books – I challenge you to take a second look – as I had to do, before you recommend them. Ask yourself honestly: is this really good literature? Or do I simply like it because it’s pleasant and supports my previous religious assumptions?

    • Rilian

      I liked them because they were entertaining. That is to say, I liked them because I liked them. And I was an atheist when I read them. I had no idea that it was supposed to be referencing xtianity, and I don’t think you have to read it that way.
      What happened to susan didn’t make any sense. But it was the same with those dwarves or whatever. It was just a crappy last book.

      • Lindsay

        It was the same with me — I was even raised in a completely secular home, never having been to any church, or ever reading the Bible until I was much older and interested in its literary aspects.

        I liked the books because they were fun, exciting fantasy adventure stories, even if some were better than others.

      • Rilian

        Yeah, lindsay, my family was and is secular. so it was the same kind of thing for me.

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      I read the first 3 or 4 of them when I was child, but I’ve always being anon-believer, and I liked them too. I liked Bellatrix Potter’s books and Winnie the Pooh too. they were all magical interesting stories to me and I didn’t catch the subtexts being at most 8 years old when I was reading them.

  • Darryl

    Wow! For so long, I felt like I was the only one who was bothered by this. In fact, I’m having a fairly emotional reaction to finding so much written about it in one place. I’ve been angry at C.S. about this for a long time. Even as a kid, knowing that I was supposed to be reading these stories for their Christian messages, I felt like that ending as much as said, oops, Susan is going to Hell, mostly for growing into a normal adult woman.

    Well, I feel much better now. (A bit knocked out at how much a trivial matter about fictitious characters I read ages ago can still affect me.)

    • Matthew H

      It always bugged me too. It just felt so wrong!

  • Lindsay

    Lewis’s writing Susan out of the series bothered me, too — I also identified with her the most, and to me her reasons for leaving (as I interpreted it, she became shallow and boy-crazy) felt wrong for the character. When I was little I sometimes conceived of “growing up” as analogous to stepping into a magic box as yourself, and coming out a completely boring, generic adult. As such, I tended to fear and hate the thought that I would grow up. This was never a huge psychological problem for me — just an occasional anxiety I had as an older child, and one that completely evaporated once I *did* start to grow up, and see that you don’t actually become a different, less interesting person; you just add to the person you were. But I blame descriptions like Lewis’s (I doubt he is the only children’s author to do this) for giving me this depressing, reductive idea of what growing up is.

  • kisekileia

    I wonder, in hindsight, whether accepting Lewis’ take on Susan was a contributing factor to the probably-clinical depression I experienced at age 11, which was motivated by feeling like childhood had passed me by and I hadn’t lived it to the fullest. (I was a really early bloomer physically and intellectually, and the former really messed with me emotionally.) I was starting to like lipstick, clothes, and other adolescent girl things, and I felt like childhood was supposed to be better and I was growing up too soon. I didn’t connect the dots between my depression and what I learned about female adolescence/young adulthood from Lewis until recently, but I suspect there’s a link.

  • Noelle

    It’s sloppy of an author to suddenly and without reason kill off all his characters at the end of a story. This is just as bad as the it was all really a dream ending. I remember rereading that end a few times at 13 to make sure I got it right. Very unsatisfactory. His Susan story is also quite sloppy. He never developed her as a full character. Some of the books themselves read as basic morality tales, like an old Sunday school book. It’s disappointing really, because some things he does very well. The Horse and His Boy is good storytelling, and my favorite of the series. If we’re talking Susan, there is a side mention of a shady character who wants to force her into marriage. But she is only a helpless plot tool in this tale. We’d like Susan to kick ass, but Lewis refuses to give her the depth many would like to see. Sloppy writing on his part.

    I always wondered if the Pevenzies didn’t suffer some neurologic damage, being forced in and out of worlds, allowed to grow to adulthood in one and then shoved back into to childhood in the next. Maybe Susan did suffer enough damage that the memories of Narnia no longer felt real. Or maybe she “forgot”, in order to box away that part of her life and get on with the business of living a real one on her own.

    I’m glad she wasn’t on the train, though I don’t envy her grief at having her entire family wiped out so violently.

    • Christine

      Honestly, The Last Battle really fails in general. Not just because “oh, it turns out we all died”. (Or even because of the issues with Susan mentioned here.)

  • Reynold

    So this Narnia story was some sort of xian allegory? Was it supposed to help bring kids TO christ or something? Reading this it looks more like the opposite. Or that Lewis really dropped the ball.

    I admit, that I know nothing of this story beyond what I’ve read here and here: though hopefully the latter will help cheer some of you up.

  • Matthew H

    First of all I’m a guy, and even I was upset! I always thought of Susan as coming to Aslans country another way. Maybe she had to wait until she died of natural causes to go to Aslan’s country. Even if she did lose her faith in Aslan or Narnia it does not mean that she could not regain it when she was older. I don’t think that you could condemn Susan for eternity for something she did when she was in her early 20′s…a lot of people say and do stupid stuff in their 20′s myself included. So in short in my mind Susan did get to narnia again, but when she was a little old lady with 20 grandkids that she tells these really great stories to about a talking lion. sorry for ranting and I hope that it makes sense.

  • Lana

    I just re-read that yesterday! Even though i’ve always preferred lucy (sorry to the susan fans) it has still always upset me… except for when it made me terrified to wear makeup and nice clothes….
    But at least c.s. lewis did say elsewhere “perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end…in her own way.” Even if he did sacrifice her for a point he wanted to make (bad Jack! we love susan!)
    I would have liked for peter to whack eustace across the nose in defense of queen susan when he’s going on about how ‘silly’ she is. i mean seriously, she’s queen susan the gentle here. i thought ‘once a king or queen of narnia, always a king or queen’.

  • Joshua Belyeu

    The books never say whether Susan’s absence from the “new Narnia” is permanent, and Lewis said before his death that Susan’s story wasn’t finished. Its possible he intended to address it further, but didn’t get around to it.

    Those who say that Susan was exiled for “growing up” or “finding sex” are completely missing the mark. Peter, Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace were killed in a train wreck; that’s why they moved onward. Susan wasn’t on the train, so she survived. The remark about her no longer being a “friend of Narnia” could refer to her believing Aslan was just a childhood fantasy, which ties in with her over-logical nature in the other books. This implies that if she, like Lucy, embraced the “faith of a child” again, would join her siblings after death. I’d love to see a worthwhile author tell that story.