November 23, 1963

November 23, 1963 August 13, 2012

(This is a follow-up to this. Neil Gaiman did it first and did it better, but if we let that stop us, we’d never write anything.)

She heard the news on the radio the night before, and wept.

In the morning she rushed out to the street to buy the paper. “Kennedy Assassinated” the headline read.

And back in her London apartment, she wept again.

The handsome young American leader had always reminded her, somehow, of her own brother. Another great leader cut down before …

She rubbed her eyes. That wasn’t quite right. Her brother had not been a great leader, but only a schoolboy when he died. And then it all came flooding back, the horrible accident at the train station, the three caskets at the funeral. And she wept again as she tried to absorb what the Daily Mail described as “the Great American Agony.”

There had been something inspiring about John F. Kennedy, something regal. “Camelot,” all the newspapers had said. Camelot or Cair … Cair …

She reached for a name and it receded. It seemed terribly important somehow. She almost glimpsed it for a second, but then it was gone.

Her hand shook as she reached to turn the page.

She stared at it. An ordinary hand — the ordinary hand of an ordinary woman. Not quite so ordinary, perhaps, for how many single women could boast of founding and managing a successful London bookshop before the age of 33? Yet sometimes she would glance at her hand, or catch a glimpse of her reflection sideways in a mirror, and there again would be that tantalizing half-memory. Sometimes in fantastical dreams she had seen her ordinary hands doing extraordinary things.

And sometimes not in dreams. A week before she’d walked through the park and something about the movement of the crowds triggered a sleeping reflex, beautiful and disturbing. Her hands had remembered what she could not of another crowded field, and her fingers had twitched, feeling again the deadly thrum of a bowstring.

She turned the page of the newspaper and saw the photograph of the vice president being sworn in, his hand raised as he stood beside the slain president’s beautiful young widow. She couldn’t bear to read this now.

She turned another page and another. It seemed strange that there should be other news on this day. It seemed almost disrespectful to the fallen president and to his grieving wife, the high lady of America.

But the newspaper showed that life goes on. And death, too. Here was the news of some beloved author and radio personality who had also died the day before. She vaguely recalled hearing him a few times on the radio, droning on about miracles and the efficacy of prayer. But she had never read his books. The death of this Oxford don meant nothing to her beyond a trivial footnote on a tragic day.

She was startled, then, to hear her own voice, and to realize that she was suddenly speaking aloud.

“Well, professor,” she said. “It seems that now I will never get a chance to forgive you.”


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  • Termudgeon

    What, you couldn’t work Aldous Huxley in?

  • *applauds*

  • Excellent!

  • Tonio

     Only if she meets Helmholtz Watson. I first thought of Bernard Marx but he seemed too whiny at times.

  • michael mcshea

    That’s two Jacks that died on my birthday.  I felt so guilty at such an early age. BTW What did Jackie Kennedy get for Christmas in 1963? A Jack in a box. (don’t say it – droll) (grade school humor)

  • Vermic

    I guess I’d always assumed that the real world and Narnia had ended at the same time — God wrapping up all the cosmos at once (the train crash being part of the prelude of London’s own apocalypse).  Not that this was based on anything, it was just my personal interpretation.  It seems strange, after all these years, to imagine Susan and London continuing on.

  • Beautiful.

  • One thing i’d add at the end:

    … Sighing, resigned, she turned to the telly listings. There was some new science fiction serial starting tonight that looked like it might be distracting.

  •  It doesn’t seem Lewis intended that since he said:

    “The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in
    this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly,
    conceited young woman. But there’s plenty of time for her to mend and
    perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end… in her own way.” Lewis’ Letters to Children, 22 January 1957, to Martin

    I think Susan’s fate ties in to Lewis’s soteriology. He wasn’t a Calvinist and he didn’t believe in Sola Fide, a lot of his Christian readers were and did. Susan’s fate is aimed at them.  (And I’ve seen a heck of a lot of fanfic by Christians in those traditions basically erasing the whole point by having Aslan turn up to comfort her and pontificate about salvation not being something you can lose.)

    Nitpick: Also there should have been five caskets at the funeral since her parents died.

  • Termudgeon

    Nice. She’d never say “telly,” though.

  •  It even had a character with her name…

  •  Also now I want to write a fanfic with Susan Pevensie ending up as a companion to The Doctor.

  • Isabel C.


  • I do believe it’s been discussed before, but I don’t think anyone actually wrote it.

  • That  was lovely.

    And for no reason other than the “hands” connection, I’m reminded of the part early in McKinley’s Deerskin where the young princess looks at her hands and wonders, for the first time, what they might do.

  •  It should be done.

  • Rissa

    There are several of those to choose from too, if you’re looking to read as well. This is probably my favourite.

  • SisterCoyote

    Brilliant, Fred.

  • Hilary

    When I read these books as a kid, all the stuff about Aslan as Christ went right over my head so it didn’t bother me.  I loved them – Reepicheep rocks! – but what really got me in Lion/Witch/Wardrobe was the ecology.  How could it be ‘always winter, and never Christmas’? If there had been winter for 100 years, or even say 10-20 years, where did the wheat for bread, and berries and sugar for jam come from?  Trade outside of Narnia’s borders?  How could a temperate, forest ecology not come to a grinding halt without seasons? Wouldn’t all the broadleaf trees just die after a few years? There must have been non-talking animals to be prey for the predator-carnivore talking Animals, but they would have been herbavores and with no growing season for plants . . . . ?   Did the snow stop at a national boundary? 

    And what’s the big deal about ‘never Christmas’? Couldn’t people (or whatever) just get together and celebrate?  And if there was no Christmas, why not celebrate Hanukah?  Yeah, that’s a perfectly logical point for a Jewish kid to point out.  I think Hanukah would have been a perfect holiday for Narnia at that time. Lets see, we have guerilla rebellion against an evil occupying force, celebrating increasing lights as more candles are lit each night, the small standing up against the strong to defend their homeland, deep fried potatoe pancakes and doughnuts for extra calories in subzero temps. If any of the White Witches minions came to check if they were rebelling against her, what was there to see but some candles lit (of course it’s dark out) food (for dinner, naturally) and kids playing games with spinning tops (they’re just playing a game for pennies, thats all). 

    And hey, we can still get presents! 

    I hadn’t thought of it before, but there is some real potential for a religious re-write here. 


  • Amanda

    Well, as for the ecology, Narnia is Magical.

    It’s been a while since I’ve read the books, but I always assumed that the citizens of Narnia were having a pretty rough time with the whole thing, and were probably living off of food stores that would eventually dwindle away. Which I think makes the Beaver’s hospitality more significant. That might have been the last bit of food they had left.

    As for Never Christmas, well, we’re talking about a world here where Father Christmas is a real person. There’s that scene where he finally shows up, saying the Witch had been keeping him out. So I assumed in Narnia, Christmas was more than “getting together for a celebration,” but some kind of mystical/magical happening, and required Father Christmas to be able to *physically* come to Narnia, at the very least. The animals might try to celebrate some sort of Christmas-like thing, but it wouldn’t be the same, and was probably illegal under the Witch’s rule anyway. Plus Lewis probably thought Christmas is the one nice thing about winter, so of course the Witch would take it away, and the whole idea of Christmas goes against everything the Witch stands for.

  • Jo Walton

    I originally posted this on Making Light.

    The Pevensie Funeral.

    The worst of it was that she’d quarrelled with them
    And now they were dead, all dead, her parents too,
    Nobody left but her awful aunt and uncle,
    Their faces collapsed like their future.
    Still she stood at the graveside, calm, composed,
    Pale-faced, with folded hands, her shoulders back,
    She’d been a queen once-in-a-dream,
    She might be bereft but she knew how to behave.
    If only they’d not quarrelled in these last few years…
    They’d called her shallow and she’d called them babies,
    They had not wanted to grow up: they never would.
    She, more than ever, knew she had no choice.
    The service droned, but something — she looked up
    Saw cassock, surplice, and a lion’s eyes.

  • Appropriate, since November 22, 1963 is also the day Britons watched two teachers follow a pupil into a junkyard, where they meet her grandfather, inside of an old police box.

  • Jessica_R

    I think how Susan got treated is also part of why Nolan’s treatment, and Hathaway’s performance of Catwoman please me so much. Selena likes her nylons and her diamonds, she’s angry and has a cruel streak. And yet the narrative treats her with an expansive sympathy and grace. We see the environmental factors that molded her into who she is. And we see that as capricious and uncaring she can appear to be there is a spark of something wild and courageous in her. That she is capable of acting on it, without having to go through any false pretenses of giving up her taste for luxuries either. 

  • LOVED the new Catwoman.  The only good treatment of Catwoman in a movie in…ever.

    On a more serious note, I find it impossible to discuss Lewis without appealing to biography.  Reading both his fiction and his nonfiction, I cannot help but see a man who never got over the attitude of a 12-year-old boy: girls are icky and gross and weird and icky.  And no girl who was interested in “girly” things would ever be allowed inside his fort…er, Narnia.

  • Susan Pevensie takes the gold in woman’s archery…aw, crap, there wasn’t woman’s archery in that time range at the Olympics?  Drat.

    Oh!  Perhaps the greatest switch of all: Susan Pevensie goes West, across the ocean to Valinor. 

  • Nomuse

    I dunno what it was but I “got it” right about the mention of the railway accident and the three caskets.

    For some reason I remembered a production of “Narnia” I worked last year.  Ghastly play, but the production was decent.  Our Susan hated the way the character was written.  One mic check she went off on a rant about how her character was such a wet blanket and did nothing but complain.

    A few nights later, Aslan missed an entrance.  The entire cast kneeling in wait, the big entrance fanfare…and no lion.  And our Susan, bless her, ad-libs into the dead air, “I’ll bet this is all my fault.”

  • LMM22

    I’m reminded of a quote from the theology panel at Readercon, in which one of the panelists said (paraphrased) that, when they were told that Aslan was Jesus, they insisted that the person who informed them was mistaken. He was *clearly* Mithras.

  • Well, hello!  I was about to post a link to your story “Relentlessly Mundane,” (I was one of the articles editors for Strange Horizons at the time it was published), and here you are posting in the thread yourself!  I love that story; very few fantasy writers who use characters from our world ever think through the implications for those characters’ lives when they have to come home and become ordinary again.  The only one I can think of offhand who evaded that problem was Joel Rosenberg — his characters in the “Guardians of the Flame” series decided that what they could do for the cause of freedom and justice on the Other Side dwarfed anything they could hope to accomplish in our world, and so chose to stay and make their lives there.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Don’t put yourself down, Fred, this doesn’t have the creepy Aslan/Jadis scene that Gaiman has.

  • Diona the Lurker

    A really wonderful Narnia / Torchwood crossover fanfic is Threads That Are Golden Don’t Break Easily:

    Susan joins Torchwood, and we discover that she has a very good, and very heroic, reason for denying the existence of Narnia.

  • EllieMurasaki

    That’s –your link’s missing the final L. *reads*

  • Wingedwyrm

    I’m having visions of young children returning to their nice, normal world where things act like they should, fearing that nobody will ever believe that they went to a world where all children are taught to read, all children can grow up to be the leader of the entire nation, all children can strive… no, best not even to admit such thoughts exist… not openly, not at first.

  • Ouri Maler

    Reminds me of “Amakusa 1637”. It’s a manga where a bunch of Catholic Japanese high school students are somehow sent back in time to Amakusa, just before the 1637 purge that killed 30,000 Christians there.
    The locals quickly come to believe that they are envoys of God. There’s one scene, early on, where some kids ask one of them to describe the place they come from, thinking it’s Heaven. As one of the time-travelers describes it (“We have light even when the Sun is out, we all have enough to eat, we can keep warm in the winter, and we are free to worship as we want”), another one tears up, thinking “I’d never realized we lived in Heaven.”

  • Selcaby

     A wardrobe door closes.  A TARDIS door opens.

  • mirele

    I thought Helmholtz Watson was the only really brave person in Brave New World. He didn’t come unglued like Bernard and he didn’t kill himself like John.

  • Jenora Feuer

     I’m reminded of the XKCD comic ‘Children’s Fantasy’, ending with the protagonist being sent home.  “Well, I guess I spend the rest of my life pretending that didn’t happen or knowing that everyone I love suspects I’m crazy.  This’ll be a fun 70 years.”

    And The Fionavar Tapestry had most of the characters stay as well… though admittedly, some sacrificed themselves for the land, so it wasn’t as though they needed a place to stay afterward.

  • phranckeaufile

    Too soon!

  • I said November 22 instead of 23.  Oy.

  • firefall

    That pretty much covers the attitude of the male upper class (at least officially), in the period he grew up in.