Is Susan A Problem? – Stuff You Like Extra

The Chronicles of Narnia, the Problem of Susan Pevensie, CS Lewis, and ‘adult’ as a term of praise.

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23 comments

  1. Yes! Thank you for this Jill 🙂 I’m so glad you picked up on this, and as usual your comments are insightful and thought-provoking.

  2. Frankly my problem with the Last Battle isn’t just Susan not going to Narnia because she’s an adult, (or even that her mistreatment also seems sexist as well) but also the fact that all the main characters dies tragically at the end just so they can be in Narnia/Aslan’s Country; I don’t know, I don’t think it was intended but the ending does look like it implies the notion that “Death is much better than life!”

    Of course I could be wrong and that may not be the intent, but it does look that way.

    • That’s not unintentional. That is what Christianity teaches. Heaven is better than Earth. That’s not to say you should be in a hurry to get there (as God has a task for you on Earth), but, that, when you do, everything will be even better.

      My main issue is that they died off screen, just so he could have his message about heaven. Why not have them die fighting for Aslan against Tash?

      I get that you want Aslan to be the one who defeats him, but you can do that after they fight and die.

    • Susan did NOT grow up; That is the whole point. Susan is concerned ONLY with things like “lipsticks, invitations and nylons”, not the very adult things of imagination, compassion, intelligence and empathy. She is the antithesis of what makes a decent and healthily grown-up person. She “spent her whole life wanting to be the age she is now and will spend the rest of her life wanting to stay that age”. Susan, in the modern era, would be on Real Housewives. That is not someone to be emulated.

      I AM very much interested in “lipsticks and invitations” but they do not rule or define me; Love and imagination come first.

      I am glad that Lewis, in his heart, intended that Susan would one day grow up and be a good person.

  3. I think it’s fair to judge media for children from a modern standpoint. Of course that should only ever be the first step, before examining the historical context. But it can help to determine how much adult support is necesarry to make sure a child profits from the medium in question. As an adult you can assees what the meaning of the segment about Susan in The Last Battle, but a child might get the wrong impression if they don’t have the opprtunity to discuss the book with an adult. Therefore I think it’s fair to call said segment “problematic”.

    • I was a child when I read it and I understood. I don’t think it’s really that complicated. Susan valued material things over what mattered.

      • Me, too.

        I mean, I sympathize with the idea that Susan’s life is more tragic, and I’m sure she’s gonna think everything is unfair and horrible.

        But, seeing as Lewis even let the Atheists live, and the Muslim get into heaven, it doesn’t bother me.

        I’m far more concerned about some of the anti-Arab/Muslim Tropes, when it come to explaining things to kids.

    • I was 9 when I read the Narnia books and it took me the 3 seconds I read the passage to understand it. Susan became a spoiled, selfish, young woman. It’s not exactly buried in subtext.

    • AmbrosiusAurelianus

      I agree in theory; you’re right that adults should be cognizant of what children are reading, and much literature aimed at children contains material that the loving adults in their lives should be aware of and discuss with them. However, I don’t think this segment really qualifies as “problematic,” in the sense that it could be “dangerous” for children to read without adult guidance. I DO think the passage can lend itself to extremely beneficial discussions between child and adult about superficiality, materialism, faith, learning from one’s mistakes over time, and not being dismissive of people who think differently than you (as Susan becomes dismissive of her family and friends who are Narnians). But when I read the books (several times) as a boy, it was always very clear to me this passage was a warning to all people, especially children, to not fall into the trap of materialism and superficiality. And none of my other Narnian-reading friends ever expressed an issue with the passage. My understanding of the passage has matured as I have grown, but even as a kid, I got the basics without any adult help.

  4. Heck, I’m in my early 20’s and I still don’t know what being an adult means. To be honest, I sometimes wonder if it’s possible for me to be both an adult and happy.

    • That’s another vibe I got from that ending, it’s like it implies that we shouldn’t grow up, we should always stay young and ignorant, even if it means sub-coming to a bitter end; though like I said that’s probably not the intent.

      • But the whole point is that it’s not “young an ignorant.” It’s “young and open-minded.” Susan closed off her mind to the idea it could have been real.

        It’s the whole “come as a child” concept in Christianity, combined with Lewis’s belief that even fictional stories were true in their own way.

        He considers being an atheist, as Susan had become, as being closed-minded and concerned only with the material world.

        Though, remember, the atheists still got in. They just didn’t know it. They were oblivious to the splendor of Aslan’s Country.

        • Okay, fair enough. But why not have all the Pevencies die when they are older, let them grow up and have kids of their own, then succumb to old age and return to Aslan’s Country as their younger selves? That would have made for a better ending.

          (I speak as a response to your first post to.

      • Susan spat on the lessons of childhood, as vain and selfish people do, and, therefore, did not grow up. She is only concerned with the concrete (lipsticks and nylons) and the fleeting adoration (invitations) of people, not the beauty and warmth of love and imagination. Susan is determined to stay in the perpetual state of selfish adolescence that maturation is supposed to dissolve.

        Susan chooses to stay ignorant and is denied the joy that comes from a rich and beautiful soul.

  5. The only Neil Gaiman thing I actively hate is his “The Problem of Susan” in which he seems to deliberately misunderstand to an extent that it becomes unbearable. I’m so happy I can now send people who have a “problem” with Susan to this video, which clears things up splendidly!

    • Yeah, that thing was really messed up. The idea that Susan would be troubled by what happened is one thing. Thinking about the story from Susan’s perspective, it’s not nearly so “happy” an ending, really.

      But the stuff with Aslan and Jadis coming to take her? Forgetting that Aslan said he would be there for her? Forgetting that Lewis made it clear that even an atheist would get in?

      He turned the whole thing completely sinister.

    • AmbrosiusAurelianus

      Completely agree. And to think, that was one of the first Neil Gaiman stories I ever read! The only reason I gave him more chances was because he’s one of the favorite authors of a trusted friend. I forgave him for that short story once I read “Neverwhere,” although “The Problem of Susan” remains a black mark on his oeuvre. It’s absurdly malicious and willfully ignorant!

  6. I am actually shocked that this is a thing. I had read somewhere that J.K. Rowling thought this and my reaction was ” You cannot possibly be that dumb; You’re a smart woman. What malfunctioned?”

    It isn’t rocket surgery to figure out what’s going on with Susan; It’s pretty much the lesson of almost every book and show ever aimed at kids: People who are only concerned with the beauty of the face, not that of the soul, and the empty admiration of others, are not very good people. Lewis just adds on the very real description of this being the mark of someone who is not grown-up.

    We teach children that so they can grow up to be decent, strong, compassionate, people.

    Adult is as adult does and Susan treating 20, and a very bad, selfish, definition of that she does have, as the epitome of life is the very mark of arrested development: She lost her childhood wanting to be an “adult” and therefore did not spend the time to grow up; She’ll waste the rest of her life trying to be young. Susan, in the everyday, will lead a shell of a life and, when the shit hits the fan, Susan is the one who will break down because she does not have the strength and maturity to be strong.

    As someone who is currently wearing makeup & nail polish, loves to dress up, takes pride in her appearance, and grew up around an industry that is based on looking your best, may I say that someone missing this point, openly stated in “The Last Battle”, has taken one hell of a leap off the cliff of basic logic.

  7. AmbrosiusAurelianus

    THANK YOU so much. It’s troubling how many respected authors choose to be willfully ignorant and malicious against Lewis regarding this issue. I had a December blog post discussing this very issue, as part of a book meme started by some female bloggers. They shared the same opinion on the matter as you and I. I was going to explain more of my view, but the comments here do a pretty excellent job treating the issue in greater detail. Also, thanks for the extract from that letter — I didn’t know about it, and it’s neat to hear of.

    I’ll close with a reminder that, when in Narnia, Susan had been known as “The Gentle.” That suggests that in her 10 Narnian years she had grown into a young queen of wisdom and maturity, beloved by her subjects for her attentiveness to their needs. Upon rejecting belief in Narnia and Aslan in our world, she is also rejecting her own character development and personal history. It’s a terrible delusion. I’m glad Lewis left hope for her, though.

  8. Thank you for making this. I have been very irritated with the very shallow and inaccurate reading of Susan’s fate. It was very clear to me that Susan’s belief in Narnia was the critical point and that rest was a critique on superficiality and not true maturation. I don’t know if he was the first, but Pullman’s very particular critique on the series has become widely popularized and is a great hinderance to understanding the story. Half of the new critiques, I sometimes wonder if they have actually read the story and are not merely parroting Pullman’s own distaste.

    • I read the book first, and after having read Phillip Pullman’s criticism, I still see where he’s coming from; why did the kids have to die at all, never mind Susan’s fall from grace.

      And even putting aside the ending altogether, some of Pullman’s other criticisms are at least partly understandable, because as good a story teller and philosopher he may have been, I have to say CS Lewis was not only a product of his time, but was also rather rigid in his social views; at least from what I gathered, the man was kind’a sexist and even bias towards people of other cultural or religious backgrounds, some of which he even considered heathens to society, so he was kind of a bully for his day as apposed to his colleague, JRR Tolkien who was more open.

      Incidentally, since you brought up Pullman, what did you think of his work?

  9. I’m waaay late to this discussion, but I’ll chime in anyway. One of the other CA reviewers, not sure, might have been Todd in the shadows, talked about Disney child stars trying to break away from the stereotype of young and innocent by making songs and music videos that were all about drugs! and sex! and I’m not kid anymore! As that reviewer pointed out, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll are not what being an adult is all about, it’s what a child THINKS being an adult is about. I think Susan fell into the same trap. I think the death of her family would really serve as a wakeup call. I believe, and I think C.S. Lewis would agree, that the entire book of Job is to answer the question of why bad things happen to good people. Job, in all his self-righteousness, stands and argues and debates with his friends until finally everything is taken from him. Only then does God answer him, because only then is he open to hear the answer. God exposes Job’s ignorance and his answer is (paraphrasing), “I had heard of you, but know I see you and I repent in dust and ashes.” Trials and tribulations make us open to see God in ways that ease and comfort do not.

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