“The Problem of Susan”, Neil Gaiman

While I’m in a talking-about-C.S.-Lewis groove, I might as well review this short story.  I reread it yesterday because I was thinking a lot about C.S. Lewis and Aslan and God, and leaving Susan behind when everyone heads into Aslan’s country.  And here’s what I came out of it with: This story hurts my feelings.  On C.S. Lewis’s behalf, my feelings are hurt by this story.

The main body of the story isn’t the problem.  I think the story is great actually.  It’s essentially a young reporter interviewing a professor of children’s literature, who (it’s very strongly implied) is the grown-up Susan Pevensie.  She’s talking about her life after her siblings all died, how she had to identify their bodies, and how she didn’t have much money following the death of her parents, and so forth.  There’s this tone of bewildered melancholy, and weary anger, which I thought was excellent.  These are points which I think need to be made about Susan from The Last Battle, because even making the argument that her crime was caring too much about girly things, and no longer believing in Narnia – even making that argument, the passage comes out damn sexist, whatever Lewis intended.  So hurrah for Neil Gaiman, putting a face on what Susan would have been going through back in the real world, while everyone she loved was frolicking around merrily in Aslan’s country.  (The other three Pevensies didn’t seem to bother much about her either.  I expected better from Lucy.  And Edmund, actually.  Their big sister!)

But, oh, the bits in italics, which framed the main story, hurt my feelings so much.  (Even though I can see how the story would have been incomplete if he had just taken those bits out.)  I’m excerpting a bit, which is rather explicit, so don’t read it if that’s going to bother you.  Aslan and the White Witch have made a deal to divvy up the Pevensy kids, the boys for her and the girls for him:

The lion eats all of her except her head, in her dream.  He leaves the head, and one of her hands, just as a housecat leaves the parts of a mouse it has no desire for; for later; or as a gift.

She wishes that he had eaten her head, then she would not have had to look.  Dead eyelids cannot be closed, and she stares, unflinching, at twisted thing her brothers have become.  The great beast eats her little sister more slowly; and, it seems to her, with more relish and pleasure than it had eaten her; but then, her little sister had always been its favorite.

The witch removes her white robes, revealing a body no less white, with high, small breasts, and nipples so dark they are almost black.  The witch lies back upon the grass, spreads her legs.  Beneath her body, the grass becomes rimed with frost.  “Now,” she says….

And when the two of them are done, sweaty and sticky and sated, only then does the lion amble over to the head on the grass and devour it in its huge mouth, crunching her skull in its powerful jaws, and it is then, only then, that she wakes.

Not something I often say, and not something I really ever want to say, but shut up, Neil Gaiman.

At first this was just a kneejerk reaction.  As an adult I recognize that sometimes Aslan is a bit smug and aggravating, but still there is this huge part of me that just finds him safe and comforting.  I identified really strongly with Lucy when I was a kid – I think because when you’re a kid, people often don’t listen to you, and nobody would listen to Lucy about Narnia – so I also identified with her relationship with Aslan.  Also, when I went and woke up my parents with nightmares, they would tell me that Aslan would blow my bad dreams away.  You know, like he blew away Eustace and Jill in The Silver Chair, most terrifying Narnia book ever; and that’s what I would imagine when I was falling back asleep.  In fact I still do.  So I was never going to take kindly to something like this.

However, on an intellectual level – and, disclaimer, I don’t know if this response is any fairer – but this business with Aslan and the Witch just seems mean-spirited.  Not because I mind things in which God doesn’t come out too well – for a while I was absolutely entranced by the His Dark Materials books, so much so that I bought all three of them, in hardback, right after I finished The Amber Spyglass; and Angels in America is one of my favorite plays ever (brother’s from the homeland!), as well as being one of my desert island movies.  (Hm, I seem to have Angels in America on the brain – could be my subconscious signaling me to read it again.)  I’m Catholic, but as a trend I really don’t mind when God is portrayed negatively, when it reflects the author’s beliefs and attitudes about the world.  I figure, God is tough.  God can take it.

“The Problem of Susan”, to me, is a whole different question.  It’s not an assault on God; it’s a specific, personal assault on one specific person’s affectionately rendered depiction of his beliefs.  C.S. Lewis wrote Aslan to reflect his experience of God, and as I’ve said, that man loved God like nothing else.  Whether you agree with him or not, he wrote Aslan with such absolute sincerity and love.  I think it is unkind to take such an honest expression of someone’s religious devotion, and do this with it; no matter how much you disagree with him, or find his beliefs about women/God/whatever, to be damaging.  It makes me feel all yucky to read this part of the story – a reaction I don’t think I’ve had to something I’ve read since this horrible book I got for my eleventh birthday, the contents of which I don’t remember at all, but which upset me so much I hid it under the couch and still couldn’t sleep knowing it was in the house so I got up and threw it in the trash and poured wet coffee grounds on top of it.

I’m not pouring wet coffee grounds on top of “The Problem with Susan”.  I just wish Neil Gaiman had been more respectful of C.S. Lewis.  And I say this as a girl who likes dressing up pretty with stockings for parties, and has been from a young age completely displeased with how Lewis dealt with Susan in The Last Battle.  (Y’all should see the sexy, sexy yellow dress I got for Christmas.  You know how hot Kate Hudson was in her yellow dress in How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days?  This dress is just like that.  But my hair is longer.)

Okay.  This marks the end of my C.S. Lewis apologetics.  You will not hear another peep out of me about C.S. Lewis.  I am reading his letters but I won’t say a word.  Coming soon: more Sandman, more Shakespeare, the seventh Harry Potter book for heaven’s sake, the interesting book about virginity I am reading, and hopefully some Susan Hill, since every book blog on my blogroll seems to be reading Susan Hill recently.  But no more of the Sally Lockhart books.  I’m tired of them because everyone died, and the Eleventh Doctor has pretentious hands.  Also maybe some science fiction.  I feel myself getting into a very science fictiony mood.  We’ll see how that plays out.

224 thoughts on ““The Problem of Susan”, Neil Gaiman

  1. I feel disturbed just reading what you shared about this book. If I ever see Gaiman’s the Problem with Susan, I know I’ll never be tempted to pick it up now. -shudder-

  2. Oh, well, I feel guilty now. It’s not a whole book, just a short story; and the bulk of the story isn’t like that, so I feel I’ve been unfair excerpting only that one bit. When Neil Gaiman’s other books are so lovely. But yeah, I think you’re okay to give “The Problem of Susan” a miss.

  3. i actually like the story,
    but I also thought that last part was a little extreme.
    It wasnt till i sat and really thought about it that it started to mean something to me. The dream at the end to me symbolizes Susan being thrusted out of Narnia, having to witness or at least deal with the death of everyone she loves (which like it or not was allowed to happen by God or Aslan or whoever you want to talk about) and she was forced to live her life, learning adult problems ,living in the dark, twisted real world, only to have the lion come back, in her sleep as an old woman, to finish her off.

  4. I know – I get what he was trying to do. And as I said, it’s effective in a lot of ways. It just seems terribly sad to me for C.S. Lewis to have written the character of Aslan with all his love and admiration for God, and then for this story to take that image of the divine and twist it this way – I don’t know. Mean-spirited, as I said.

  5. ‘K the part you put up is… disturbing, really disturbing.
    But surely it is not all like that, are there not better bits of it? I get what the writer was trying to do (Like Derek pointed out). Is it worth reading anyway?

    :=)

  6. Well, it’s a short story, so not terribly long to start with, and the bits round the edges bother me so much that I generally skip this story when I’m reading Neil Gaiman’s short stories. But the story is interesting – so yes, I’d say it’s worth reading, if you haven’t read it before.

    And Neil Gaiman as a writer is very, very, very well worth reading; despite what I’ve said here, he’s one of my most favorite authors in all the world. He has this fantastically rich and frightening imagination – love it.

  7. I read this story in a collection of short stories last night, and I agree that Neil Gaiman, however much I admire and enjoy his writing, did a very wrong thing with this, on a number of levels. I was disturbed enough about this to look it up on the web, for comments such as yours.
    I don’t look at it so much as a betrayal, though, as a cheap rip-off and dirty trick.

    • I don’t think it’s a betrayal, and of course Neil Gaiman can write whatever he wants. But I do think it’s mean. If I were C.S. Lewis my feelings would be hurt. Neil Gaiman’s short stories are kind of hit and miss for me, but this one just bothered me specially. I guess because it was nearly a hit! And then such a catastrophic miss.

  8. I conisder “Fragile Things” to be the best book I’ve read all year… but this story wasn’t one of Gaiman’s best. The ending is the only really special thing about it, and while it has shock value, it’s not enough to justify the story as a whole. Kind of a shame, because Gaiman has written stories that are both more disturbing, and considerably better.

    • I so agree. I feel like I am about to embark on a Neil Gaiman binge, and I think I’m going to start with his short stories. It’s been years, years, since I read Smoke and Mirrors, or (the rest of) Fragile Things, and I miss that Dorian Gray story about the couple who get married and get a story for a wedding present. I really fancy reading that story again, and reminding myself of the other ones too. :)

  9. You have a legitimate argument, Jenny. I agree that the dream is disturbing, but I think that was Neil’s point. (He admits that in the introduction after explaining his bout of meningitis.) The story was deliberately irreverent because it wants to remind everyone that Narnia is, at heart, just a story. At the same time, it shows the power of children stories, especially with the Mary Poppins dream.
    “The Problem of Susan” is more about security, or the loss of it. Susan as an adult no longer feels secure; that’s why she dreams of Mary Poppins, who is the ultimate form of security. She rescues the Banks children from constant mishaps and manages to keep the household running and stable, even when she leaves.
    That said, I think the story could have been done better. It’s like the Graveyard Book could have been done better with the plot. But I keep rereading both of them because Neil’s style is freaking beautiful, sad, and addicting.
    We should email each other. This was a fun article.

    • Hm – I’ll have to read the introduction over and see what he says about it.

      To me the problem was that it’s a nasty way to treat someone’s religion. I understand disagreeing with aspects of someone’s faith, you know? But I am bothered by the way this story is so ugly about Lewis’s. Lewis wrote this books with such sincerity and love, and I think that that, if nothing else, deserves more respect than Gaiman gives it.

  10. I’ve just read the short story for the first time today. I adore Neil Gaiman as a writer, but similarly to other commentators, I was very upset and disturbed at this particular story.
    Jaya, I really like your point about a loss of security, and Jenny, yours about the expresiso/depiction of religiouss entiment. Perhaps, Neil Gaiman has in fact pulled a grandiose trick on us readers, especially those with religiouss entiment and a special affinity for the depiction of God in the Narnia books by twisting this image of Azlan the Lion so much that it could not possible be offering any sense of comfort or security. And perhaps part of the experience of reading the story is working through the process of responding to this loss of security in a depiction of God.
    Reading and thinking about your post and the comments has really helped me work through my (for me) extraordinarily strong response to this short story, so thanks to all of you.

    • I’m glad it helped – that’s one of the things I love so much about book blogs! When my feelings about a book are really complicated, it helps me to read what other people thought. :)

  11. I agree with many of the other commentators here that the ending of the story is very disturbing – that was also my first reaction and I must admit I was very nearly “put off” by itm wanting to fling the whole thing back in the author’s face. How COULD he possibly be so irreverent?? I remember reading somewhere that Gaiman became disillusioned with some of the religious content of the Narnia books as a 10-year-old boy, and I thought I heard this boy lashing out now.
    But then I stopped a moment to think if “What does this ending tell us about Neil?” is the wrong question to ask ourselves – rather we should ask ourselves what it tells us about Susan. The way I read it, this ending, is so much over the top that it shows the raw anger and pain that Susan is feeling, and that causes her to lash out even at Aslan in this way (not unlike the way many people rage against God because of the misfortunes and losses in their life), picturing him as being in league with the White Witch. It shows an anger that does of course have to do with losing her siblings and everyone she has ever cared about in this terrible way, and having to identify their mutilated bodies, and being left out of Narnia – but I have the feeling it started earlier than that.
    Now I have not read all the Narnia books, just The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian and The Last Battle, and I do remember that at the end of Prince Caspian, Susan and Peter are told that they can no longer come to Narnia because they are too old now. I remember that in the movie, Susan asks whether she has done anything wrong (but I cannot remember whether this is also in the book, having read it AGES ago), which hints that she sees not being allowed to come to Narnia any more as kind of a punishment, and even after Aslan tells her that this is not the case she does not seem to be convinced. So maybe – and perhaps this is the tacit point at the core of Gaiman’s story – Susan already feels deserted at this point, and her caring “too much” for “nylons and lipsticks and invitations” has something to do with that.
    Of all the Pevensie children, Susan always came across to me as the most “sensible” one, the one most firmly grounded in “reality” – and therefore as the one who needed Narnia the most.

    • Hm – interesting point. I feel like Neil Gaiman says it’s a story about the way adults view children’s fiction, which certainly goes to back up your point. Like I said, it’s hard for me to sort out how much of my reaction is purely emotional (kneejerk defense of books I love). The idea of the story being, I guess, that the adult world is so much more messy and complicated than children’s fiction would have you believe.

      But still. I do not love the Aslan/White Witch business.

      You should read the others! You are missing out on all the best ones – The Horse and His Boy, The Voyage of the Dawn Trader, The Magician’s Nephew…esp. The Horse and His Boy. Utterly my favorite one of them all. It contains Lazaraleen!

  12. jenny:

    i read this story today and was wondering what other people were saying about it which is how i found your blog. and reading through the other comments here, i find that the collection it comes from is “fragile things”. i haven’t read any of it except this story, but if the others are anything like this one, it seems like an aptly chosen title.

    i’m not trying to talk you out of your reaction to the piece because i think it’s a valid interpretation of it—one that gaiman certainly had to have known was inevitable. and i don’t particularly mean to come to gaiman’s defense. i can’t say i’m very familiar with him or his work.

    but as someone who has obviously given a lot of thought to this story, i’d be interested in knowing what you think of another take on it.

    to me, the nightmares aren’t attacks on the idea or character of aslan, but rather susan’s confession—and, presumably, gaiman’s as well—about how she’s come to perceive him.

    i know it’s a very subtle distinction—maybe an irrelevant one. but the difference to me is that the conversation is still open.

    to be sure, susan and gaiman largely have their minds made up. but in the context of the story, susan looks over the ruin that is her life, the enormous mess of trauma, loss, guilt, fear, and nightmares. she’s put it back together as best as she knew how and she’s proud of the result. but the dreams persist, niggling doubts that seem almost to be questions, invitations to the reader to respond: how else could i have lived my life? what else could i have believed?

    it’s a delicate, fragile thing, this story—half a confession, an admission of guilt so brittle it threatens to shatter before it fully inhabits its true shape. and as awful as the imagery is, i just get the sense that it’s still a story that yearns for a happy ending.

    i don’t think that gaiman intends for this feverish nightmare of aslan to be normative. i think the grown-up susan feels guilty for remembering him that way. so i think it’s gaiman challenging us to tell him—and susan, too, for that matter—a better, more satisfactory story than the one that c.s. lewis was able to tell; one in which susan might ultimately be redeemed.

    the passage i’m drawn back to again and again is the professor’s final dream, the one in which she reads her own obituary. she finds in that dream all the people she’s met, loved, and lost in her life—”even the people she had forgotten”. there’s a sense of reconciliation there, or at least a deep desire for it. between herself and her lost siblings, certainly. and perhaps, if we are to believe that the professor actually is susan, maybe aslan as well.

    • I haven’t replied to this because I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I like your interpretation better than mine, but I’m not convinced that makes it un-mean for Gaiman to handle someone else’s character this way. When it was written with such love and sincerity. Food for thought, though, certainly!

      • hi, jenny. i was really surprised when i checked my e-mail this morning to discover notifications of a flurry of activity here on this thread.

        i hadn’t thought about it for a while, but this morning after a bit of an absence from my mind, as it sometimes happens, i suddenly made a random connection i’d missed the first time around. i remembered another neil gaiman re-interpretation: the screenplay to robert zemeckis’s adaptation of beowulf.

        to me, gaiman’s interpretation of beowulf was sort of a neat trick, but ultimately kind of insipid. it seemed like something he didn’t really consider particularly deeply—just a little trinket he threw together and then discarded after it had brought forth the limited amusement a thing of its sort is capable of producing.

        i remember reading beowulf for the first time in college and being deeply moved by it. of course, there’s that cultural/historical barrier that modern interpretations like gaiman’s immediately seize upon: yes, from our perspective beowulf is kind of a jerk. but at its core, it’s a deeply tragic story.

        i suppose what initially caught my attention was the idea that some christian monk chose this pagan story of a savage, brutish king to preserve and that it had survived all these long years in the hearts and minds of a culture that bore little resemblance to the one it originated in. what, i wondered, did this monk see in this story?

        and i thought that perhaps it was this sense of tragedy, that beowulf, this norse ideal, saved and protected his people with the strength of his arm and his will, eradicating both terrible monsters and human invaders until the day that, as we all will eventually, he grew old and infirm. and finally he died in battle, giving his life to fend of one last threat to his kingdom.

        but then the poem concludes with a few lines about an invading army, even now sailing toward his mourning subjects. and though he was great—perhaps the greatest hero to ever walk amongst men—who would be savior and protector now?

        so i thought that perhaps this was what that monk saw in beowulf’s story: a culture of fatalism in which hope was a tiny island that was never far from being totally subsumed by terror, tragedy, slavery, and death. in the context of a culture like that, i can imagine that a christian monk might hear a story like beowulf, be moved to pity, and imagine how the christian story of hope and deliverance might intersect with it.

        i guess i mention all of this, first to wonder whether gaiman maybe just isn’t very good at re-interpreting other literary works—although personally i think “the problem of susan” is much better. but also, i guess, to say that i think in some way i can understand your frustration with gaiman’s handling of aslan.

        to gaiman, aslan is, primarily, a symbol. he represents god in the context of narnia, so gaiman makes him behave in the way consistent with the way he sees god.

        but to you, aslan isn’t just a symbol, he’s a character. and as such, his character—that is, how he behaves and what motivates him to behave that way—is what matters.

        i don’t know if i agree completely, but i think i get it. to me, beowulf isn’t the story of beowulf. it’s the story of some anonymous monk who remembered the story. so the reason i didn’t like gaiman’s interpretation of the work wasn’t because it was kind of pointless. mostly, it was because it didn’t seem to me that he ever stopped to consider what makes the story meaningful.

        • I haven’t seen the film of Beowulf, and I absolutely – oh dear, a terrible confession here! – hated the poem when I read it. I can’t make any kind of comparison between this story and the film. I don’t think Gaiman failed to think about the story before writing it. I don’t like how he did it, that’s all. :P

    • a better, more satisfactory story than the one that c.s. lewis was able to tell; one in which susan might ultimately be redeemed.

      Since the Chronicles of Narnia end with the destruction of Narnia, whether Susan was saved or not and how is not in the story, as for LB, the relevant passage is where “the real England” and their parents are waiting – we are not told Susan was not waiting behind.

      Lady Polly’s words are about her recent behaviour on earth.

  13. I actually just finished reading “The Problem of Susan” for the first time and was deeply perturbed by it, as I am by a lot of Gaiman’s work.

    When people talk of the disturbing second dream of Aslan and the Witch they seem to forget it was dreamt by Greta and not Professor-Susan. At this point in the story Susan is co-currently dying or dead in her sleep. Susan’s dream is about reconciliation at the end of her life, mending together her horror and pain with the innocence and security of her childhood ideal of God. Susan may even see herself as Mary Poppins, now a creature apart from God (“I didn’t create her. She’s Mary Poppins.”) but recognized and loved by Him.

    Greta is no where near that kind of reconciliation. After their interview, Greta learns how Susan wasn’t just left behind to be jealous of her family in Paradise – she experienced terrible and traumatic realities as a result of her contact with Narnia.

    Greta comes to see Aslan as a feline monster who intentionally destroyed Susan’s family to punish her vanity & non-belief. The second dream is more reflective of Greta’s outrage on Susan’s behalf, albeit in the incendiary way Gaiman intended (from the Introduction, “I suppose I wanted to write a story that would be equally problematic, and just as much of an irritant, if from a different direction, and to talk about the remarkable power of children’s literature.”)

    The coupling of Aslan and the Witch may be Greta’s assumption that there is no difference between Good and Evil, only a bargain between them, and thus the character’s own feelings of mistrust or betrayal in God.

    I do see your point that Gaiman intentionally made Aslan into a base animal – all predation and sex, removed from spirituality – and how upsetting it would be for a ardent fan of the character to see him depicted thus. But I don’t think Gaiman did it carelessly, without reason, or to be shocking. As stated, I believe it’s to depict Greta’s feelings of betrayal over what Aslan did to Susan.

    What happened to Susan wasn’t fair. When Susan’s loyalty wavered she was punished beyond her crime by an until then forgiving God. While she as a character may see the full value of her life as well-lived, readers fixate on her cruel punishment and the one who punished her.

    In “The Last Battle” the perspective of Aslan changed from an entirely beneficial God to a punishing deity to reflect Lewis’s beliefs about certain women and his disdain for them. Though Lewis’s God was one of love he was also one of judgment and probable misogyny, and so this too was sadly reflected in Aslan.

    • You’re not saying anything I don’t agree with – about the story or about God. It’s not the not forgiving God that I mind, truly. When I read Joseph Heller’s God Knows, I don’t think there was anything in the portrayal of God that offended me. There was one line that really struck me, where King David says “God had relented and forgiven us. But I had not relented and forgiven him,” which I think is such a chilly, understated way of expressing his soul-deep anger with God. When people write God stories where God’s a jerk, it’s completely fine with me. As I say, God can take it.

      What bugs me – and it bugs me regardless of the interpretation I put on the story – is that C.S. Lewis wrote Aslan to match his experience of God, and I think this story was not respectful of that. What Lewis had lived of God, he wrote into Aslan. Greta’s dream is the bit that closes the story, and that’s what we’re left with, and it’s ugly and unkind. I get what Neil Gaiman was doing and I respect the attempt, and it’s of course not my business what he decides to write – but I think it was mean.

      • I think the big problem here is the belief that God is all-powerful and responsible for everything, and that thus he is responsible too for creating or allowing the tragedies that befall upon people.

        If people simply released their rigid belief that God must be all powerful, that God is all-loving and indeed very powerful but not all-powerful and all-responsible-for-everything, that would solve a lot of the God-angst that “the Problem of Susan” story is getting at, and indeed what Christian apologists like CS Lewis was trying to address in his writings on faith or what Neil Gaiman feels disillusioned with CS Lewis’ conception of Christianity in the Narnia books.

        Simply put, Gaiman feels anyone (in the real world) in Susan’s shoes, going through what CS Lewis (in the form of Aslan) puts his original beloved character Susan through, would feel such a deep sense of anger and betrayal over the grief caused and the long history and relationship that Susan had with Aslan.

        I am curious how CS Lewis, if given the chance, would have rewritten the Narnia stories on how he dealt with Susan, given 5 years after the publication of the last battle, CS Lewis also went through his own crisis of faith and his own grief with the loss of his wife, Joy Gresham, to cancer. You should read his book, A Grief Observed, which I would say is CS Lewis’ own version of “The Problem of Susan”, with him now being “Susan” dealing with his own grief and loss. I am quite sure CS Lewis would have written something to deal with the unresolved question of Susan if he had enough time (he died about 6 months after his wife died) given his additional human experience.

  14. Came here to see what others thought of this story which deeply disturbed me, as I am a devoted fan of CS Lewis and have been since I was nine years old. In truth, I’m no fan of Niel Gaiman’s. For me there is something hard and soul-less at the heart of his work that undermines the magic and humour. As a child I had a fairly clear view of what happened to Susan and I still hold to that despite just about everybody else’s opinion. I did not think she was judged or damned by Aslan, though her family evidently had some bad feelings about what they considered her desertion. Quite simply she no longer believed in Narnia and had chosen a materialistic life over a spiritual one. This is in line with free will as granted to humanity. We may choose or not choose a life founded on belief in God. As a child, it was obvious to me that Susan was allowed this choice. I did not for a moment assume that she would be punished for it. It was simply her choice and her loss. I didn’t see her there in the crowd who turned away from Aslan at the very end (mind you, not a part of Christianity I accept. It’s a direct contradiction of an all-loving God. I believe all are forgiven and redeemed). I also assumed that she would eventually be reunited with her family in the afterlife, though she would have her own path to tread beforehand. As for Gaiman’s depiction of the White Witch and Aslan having sex: writing it as a dream doesn’t hide his own delight at presenting such an image. I’m reminded of Edmund drawing a moustache on the stone lion. A little boy’s treatment of something he doesn’t understand.

    • I can see your point about Susan – I’d like to see it that way! I want to love C.S. Lewis completely! But given some of the other sexist stuff he said in his life, I’m not sure that’s what he intended. I don’t think Gaiman’s being childish with the way he portrays Aslan. It upsets me, but it doesn’t strike me as what you describe, an immature graffiti-ing of something iconic. The story’s about growing up, coming back to children’s stories as adults, and the White Witch/Aslan thing is part of that – Greta’s dream, as Abi notes, in contrast to Susan’s dream of reunion; not necessarily the truth.

      (But I still don’t like it. I wish he hadn’t done it that way.)

      • I think that the point Gaiman was making was that it all depends on one’s point of view how one views the Narnia chronicles, including the Last Battle and Susan’s role in it. Susan’s first dream was one of uncertainty in which she conflates two memories of LWW: Aslan parleying with the White Witch after Edmund’s rescue, and the battle of Beruna which started whilst Susan, Lucy and Aslan were rescuing the White Witch’s captives.

        In Gaiman’s story, Susan doesn’t really understand the bargain the Witch made with Aslan over Edmund, and that Aslan would die in his place. She doesn’t seem to remember the bits between the parley and the battle As in LB there is a lot she has forgotten, that is, if she was the real Susan, which I doubt.

        Professor Susan does remember those who lay dead on that battlefield, even wondering about how centaurs mate. And she also gets a horrible experience when she finds the mouse’s head whilst preparing for the interview with Greta, and also in reading the obituary of a man she had once had an affair with. She is also recognising that she, too, has grown old.

        Greta’s interview should have been about Professor’s book on chilcren’s literature, a scholarly work applicable to library science, teaching and psychology. But Greta is the one who has the real problem with Susan, and so with little hesitation starts delving into the family Susan Hastings has lost years ago in a train wreck, and Susan’s pre-train wreck use of cosmetics and nylons, disregarding that the train wreck, itself, would have changed Susan’s circumstances considerably.

        Not that Greta is hostile or that Professor Susan is anything else but polite. But it is impertinent of Greta to assume that Susan Hastings was Susan Pevensie, which I thought was unlikely, whatever the initial similarities. Even if Greta’s identification was right, the years since then would have changed Susan utterly, something C.S.Lewis also suggested in his letter about her.

        That night the Professor dies, experiencing closure and reunion, as you say. Greta, the materialistic, irreligious, journalist, is the one who has the nightmare, a dream in which there is no good and evil, only power and those too weak to pursue it. As gross as the dream is, I can’t help feeling that it says a lot about Greta’s atheist attitude to life.

        And I think that is the point of Susan Pevensie staying alive. Living people have the capacity for change, to relocate, unlike those who have died. They have already gone to their true home.

  15. I was always, always hurt by what happened to Susan. I could not reconcile my feelings of loss at the end of The Last Battle (dang it, why couldn’t she die a fiery death like her siblings!?). Periodically I think of Susan and imagine what might have happened to her.

    I have no desire whatsoever to read “The Problem with Susan” now after reading your review. (It might drive me to drink for petes sake)

    I do find comfort in one thing that Lewis left for us in his books. He does say “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” He uses very definitive, clear cut language there. The door to Susan is never locked forever.

    Maybe Susan is like one of those people that once has faith, drops out (the number of teens that turn atheist/agnostic/pagan/angsty emo) but in later life re-discovers their belief in god. That clause is there so that when she is ready to come back/able to come back the door will be open.

    • I’ve completely stopped reading The Last Battle. When I reread the Chronicles of Narnia, I just stop with The Silver Chair, because I know that The Last Battle will just suck away all my happy feelings. But yes, I definitely try to tell myself that Susan does come back to Narnia, and C.S. Lewis pretty clearly leaves the door open to that possibility. She has to, right?

      • But when?

        She has survived Narnia.

        It’s a bit like asking if Alboin and Audoin Errol can get back to Numenor, isn’t it?

        It is not Narnia that is Heaven. It is The Real Narnia which is one part of Heaven a k a Aslan’s Country.

  16. Pingback: Review: The Magicians, Lev Grossman « Jenny's Books

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  18. The Narnia books were deeply meaningful to me as a teenager. Now I’m 41, and inspired by my first viewing of the BBC videos, I started to write a story from Susan’s point of view… only to then learn about the Gaiman. Damn it!

    Distasteful though it might be, now I have to read it… Hrm. (That’ll also be the first time I’ve read anything by him, believe it or not.)

    • Well, listen, if you’re not crazy about this story, don’t give up Neil Gaiman as a bad lot. He’s written loads of things (books, poems, short stories, graphic novels) that I think are absolutely brilliant, and I’m a massive fan of his really.

  19. I read “The Problem of Susan” a fair while ago, but I absolutely loved it. I thought it the best short story I’d read to that point. I actually found this blog post because I was looking for the text of the story to share with some friends at uni (who I mentioned it to breifly, and who thought that a Gaiman take on Susan would be dark, disturbing, and oh so interesting).

    I read the Narnia books as a very small child – I was given TLTWATW for my 5th birthday by my big brother, and I read it over about 6 weeks from that day. I never really related it to my religion, though I remember thinking that the world had very weird nonsensical magic that demanded blood for betrayal, and gave it as a reward to the being that encouraged said betrayal. It wasn’t until I was losing my religion a few years ago that I connected that piece of nonsense with the equivalent that some Christian churches preach to be reality.

    I read The Last Battle at about age 7, and it was the first one that really crashed home to me as a representation of my religion of the time – it was also the first time I ever read anything that I could interpret as sexist without help (and the last, for about 15 years). Funnily enough, it wasn’t the treatment of Susan that struck me as sexist – hers only struck me as grossly unfair and unreasonable. No, it was the bit where the Calomene (sp?) had gone through the doorway and was speaking to some dogs, who had objected to him classifying himself as one of them. They then said that they call naughty pups “boys” to shame them, and then one of the pups giggles and says “Or girls”, before being shushed for swearing. Even at 7 that seemed to be saying rather explicitly that to be female was much, much worse than to be whatever the equivalent male thing is.

    Gaiman’s short story gave me some sense of closure, on a series that I had hugely mixed feelings about. I had the fond memories of the story as a child, but I also had the memories of the unfairness, and the more recent belief that the unfairness was deliberately attempting to condition children to accept that sort of unfairness as right and proper. The dream sequence with Aslan and the White Witch was hugely disturbing – but also incredibly cathartic. It gave me an ill feeling to read, but left me feeling cleansed and purified from all the vaguely ill feelings the books had caused in me for years.

    I don’t know how clear I’m being, here… I know it’s an old post, and the conversation has died, but I just wanted to share why the story resonated so strongly for me. I can understand why you’d find it disturbing, and why, without the catharsis I felt, you’d see no value in it. But for me, well, it made a difference.

    Thank you for the opportunity to air my feelings.

    -Anon
    (Demographic info: athiest, Australian, female, uni student, mid 20s, new to feminism)

    • Thanks for sharing that story. It makes me see how writing “The Problem of Susan” must have felt cathartic in that same way to Gaiman. I just stopped reading The Last Battle. I don’t think I’ve read it for at least a decade now. I always hope Lewis felt ashamed of being such a prat in it, later on in his life, after he met his wife and everything. When my mum read it to us, I remember we talked about the stuff we didn’t like in it, so my feelings of discomfort with it were brought out in the open straight away.

  20. Hi Jenny,

    I just (belatedly) came across your fascinating observations while trying to find out more about Neil G’s relationship to CSL.

    Yucky and disturbed (and kind of dirty) were how I felt on reading this story too! But then suddenly it reminded me of something:

    “And he stood there gloating over the stone lion, and presently he did something very silly and childish. He took a stump of lead pencil out of his pocket and scribbled a moustache on the lion’s upper lip and then a pair of spectacles on its eyes. Then he said, “Yah! Silly old Aslan! How do you like being a stone? You thought yourself mighty fine, didn’t you?” But in spite of the scribbles on it the face of the great stone beast still looked so terrible, and sad, and noble, staring up in the moonlight, that Edmund didn’t really get any fun out of jeering at it. He turned away and began to cross the courtyard.”

    I wonder if Mr Gaiman has just given us a (slightly) grown up version of the same thing?

    By the way, on Lewis’ general attitude to heaven(Narnia) and hell – have you ever read “The Great Divorce”? It gives a fascinating complementary vision to that provided in the Last Battle. You should get hold of it.

  21. Susan’s not believing in Narnia and worrying instead about frivolous things is supposed to reflect losing belief in God and worshiping materialism instead.
    It isn’t any more “sexist” than Edmund betraying his family over Turkish Delight. They both represent a very (overly) simplified form of selfishness, which is the root of sin. And Susan is not lost.

    “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.” – C.S. Lewis

    • There are a few reasons I think it is sexist. One is that CS Lewis was clearly rather contemptuous of women’s concerns – you can see that in his letters for years and years. Another is that Susan is the only (“good”) character that we see left behind – everyone else gets to go to heaven – and her family sneers at her for having girly concerns like nylons and parties. If a guy character had got left behind as well, I might feel differently. Another reason is that we never see Susan get redeemed. Edmund, yes; awful Eustace, yes; Susan, never. Arggh, it makes me cross.

      • Edmund and Eustace still ‘believe’ where Susan does not…
        I think that was the point, rather than Susan is being punished. I don’t think it makes a difference that she is a female either. It could easily have been a male left behind who cares for nothing but hair gel and video games. BuI think the important point is that Susan has stopped believing and that is why she didn’t get to Aslan’s country.

        • That’s a point, but I think what upsets people is that the person who was left behind was a girl, and the reasons they give for her change are girl things. That’s what’s upsetting to me. :(

      • Sorry, I don’t think so. The times were different back in 1940 & 1950. It wasn’t until after 1963 that people really took stock of how they regarded others. That also might mean stockings, and a few years later we all switched with relief to pantyhose, tights, slacks and jeans. By that time, a career of any sort for a woman was far more acceptable and reasonable, and Women’s Lib was in full swing. In the old days after WW2 women wore those wretched lined nylons, the sort that had a seam up the back of your legs. My sisters-in-law and others have told me what a pain it was trying to draw a line up the back of one’s own legs so as to pretend they were wearing these American luxuries, donated by visiting American servicemen.

        And I also think that both Neil Gaiman, a whole bunch of others, maybe even yourself, read Susan wrongly as a result of not fully understanding social conditions in UK, especially during WW2 and afterwards.

        I also don’t buy what you say about Eustace. I am beginning to think that perhaps the undragonned Eustace was almost the masculine version of Susan, and that to say much more about Susan than Lewis did would be to change the Chronicles of Narnia to the Chronicles of Susan, and to introduce characters he wanted nothing to do with. Just my thoughts.

  22. I so hate the last book….i read it and I was crying…And everytime I watch the movie Chronicles of Narnia or read some parts with Pevensie children I cry…..Because she do not deserve to lost her all family…Aslan said to her that she woudn t back In Narnia-Princ Caspian…so what she can do?maybe her memories of Narnia was painful to her for remember…it it true that she choose the wrong way…but She,Lucy,Ed and Pete are the kings and queens and i found wrong to left anyone of them behind….to left her alone in real world is SO BAD AND WRONG…and Lewis said that her story is not over yet.So maybe he wanted to wrote a story about her finding the right way and entering Narnia.I really want to think in that way,becouse I feel so bad for Susan…I love her so much…and to me is so stupid that Lu,Ed and Pete did not even care about her,when they enter real Narnia…That is more then wrong,they together enter Narnia first time and they together had adventures,she is THEIR SISTER no important what she did…

    • I know! It’s so mean! Even if I were completely estranged from one of my sisters, I wouldn’t just skip off into a brave new world and leave her behind, not knowing if she’d ever be able to join me there. So mean.

  23. I haven’t read The Problem of Susan yet, probably put off by what I have heard about it (and to be objective, should read it and form an independent opinion). My take on Susan was that she – like the dwarfs – disowned what she knew to be real, and would not let herself remember Aslan or Narnia . And as to what happened to her next, it would be as Aslan often put it, “someone else’s story”, and not to be meddled with by other authors.
    But I am reading Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” and came upon this surprising sentence in Chapter 4: “If Bod had been smaller he would have wanted to put it into his mouth.” Which is identical to this from The Magician’s Nephew, Chapter 1, “If Polly had been a very little younger she would have wanted to put one in her mouth.” Gaiman is a knowledgeable enough writer not to do this, to lift both the idea and the phrasing (and certainly he knows the books well), and I wonder why he or the editors left this in.

    • I don’t think it’s a specially original idea or way of phrasing – that’s true of little kids, they like putting things in their mouths. If he did have the phrasing from Narnia, I doubt that he noticed he had, and in any case, it’s such a small thing I don’t think it matters.

      If you think you’re not going to care for “The Problem of Susan”, I don’t see anything wrong with giving it a miss. I kind of wish I had. :/

  24. An interesting column. Susan never seemed that complicated to me: I imagined that convincing herself Narnia had never really existed was much easier than living with the memory of it and knowing she could never go back. Some people really would rather love and lose than never love at all; some people would rather not love than have to live with the memory of a love that’s lost. I’d rather not go to Narnia than have to live remembering it and hoping against hope that another door would open, even though I’d been told it wouldn’t.

    And it seems people fail to notice that one of the commenters about Susan is Polly, who is at an age when any interest in the opposite sex or the rituals of courtship or marriage is viewed as a cross between lunacy and a complete waste of time that could be used to do much more interesting things. She reminds me of Leslie Caron in ‘Gigi’, singing I don’t understand the Parisians…’: Polly might have found her viewpoint changing as she got older; it certainly happens to the rest of us. The other characters say that Susan stopped believing in Narnia, but no one, including Aslan, suggests that she’s never going to return, much less that an interest in romance or sex is enough to justify her eternal exclusion. I think Lewis just used Susan to acknowledge that another choice than following Aslan was possible, and that choice would have different consequences.

    As to Mr. Gaiman, I read Good Omens and thought it was the funniest thing I’d read in years; I promptly purchased The Anansi Brothers and thought it was the most boring thing I’d read in years. I don’t know the man, but I’ve noticed that many of the people who deride religion are seriously annoyed at the thought of something somuch their moral superior as to be entitled to judge their behavior: NOBODY is going to tell them what to do. Since his annoyance at Susan’s being ‘judged’ — in the sense that she doesn’t enter Narnia with the rest of her siblings — resulted in his attempt to replace the image of Aslan as heroic and self-sacrificing with the image of him doing the horizontal mambo with the White Witch (with snacks of raw child before and after), it seems reasonable to concede it’s possible.

    As to Lewis’ much-commented upon misogyny: he was a person of his times, with the attitudes of his time. While his various writings do contain comments that we would or might consider sexist now, they weren’t considered so then. If we’re willing to accept that other writers were products of their times, we should be willing to extend the same courtesy to Lewis.

    • I think Lewis’s choice of Susan as the character who chose something different, along with the reasons he gives for her choosing something different, do tend toward sexism. If that were the only instance of sexism in his books I’d be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on that score, but it’s not, so I’m not. :p

      And I really don’t buy the “person of his times” argument in Lewis’s defense. In all times, there have been people who respected women more and people who respected them less, and Lewis (at least until he met his wife) was one of the ones who respected them less. Being born in a specific time doesn’t mean you have to subscribe to all the common knowledge of that time.

  25. I might have done better to say he was a Englishman of his class at that period. So was Tolkien and his characters also reflect that: Aragorn and Gandalf expect obedience even when they don’t condescend to explain themselves: they, being aristocrats, are entitled to tell the lower orders what to do. It’s particularly evident in his portrayal of Sam, who’s more like a serf than an employee. At one point he tells Frodo “It’s your Sam”, as if he were Frodo’s dog.

    I don’t think Tolkien was particularly respectful to women through his characters, either, despite the paeans of praise invariably sung to LOTR. Arwen embodies wonderful qualities, but she isn’t human. Eowen is as capable as any of the male warriors, but has to go to battle in disguise: she’s told point blank by her brother that battle is not for women — and in the end she gives up her dreams and ambitions for love and marriage. Galadriel is beautiful and far wiser and stronger than the men around her, but she’s not human either, and to all intents and purposes, she’s caged in Lothlorien. There isn’t a single female character in the entire series who’s human, intelligent, strong, capable and free to act as she sees fit.

    So I agree that Lewis’s attitudes toward girls and women weren’t what they should have been, but I don’t see them as any worse when they’re his than they are when they’re Tolkien’s or those of any other writer of the period who kept girls very much to the sidelines.

    I don’t think the character of Susan was chosen for a different ending simply because she was a girl. Otoh, I think to Lewis her gender disqualified her for High King, since he didn’t approve of women priests, and Lucy was the personification of childish innocence, a stage which a person Susan’s age would have outgrown. So there were only Susan and Edmund to split the options of ‘grew up after causing disaster’ and ‘chose to close the door on Aslan and Narnia’. Lewis might have chosen by pulling the names out of a hat, or he might have thought a boy would be more believable as greedy and self-centered than a girl would be. However he chose which of the two characters would be which, to me it made the story better that there was at least one who didn’t finish up as expected: it kept TLTW&TW from being as predictable and unrelentingly sweet and uncomplicated as as a Hallmark movie, which you know in advance is going to end with everybody living happily ever after.

    But perhaps that’s just a matter of preference. Did you ever see ‘Touched By An Angel’? I saw it a time or two and always wished just once someone would say “So what? How does God loving me solve my problem?” Susan doing something other than what her siblings did, to me, was for more intriguing and thought-provoking than having her go with the rest. If you see what I mean?

  26. Fair comment, Darrin. But I think it might also be important to remember that both Tolkein and Lewis were consciously not *wanting* to be men of their times. They were Romantics who hated modernism and harked back to a Chivalric idyll.

    This goes a long way to explain their attitude to a host of things including beauty, gender, noblesse oblige, and the differential greatness of human beings. Lewis is quite explicit on this last point: humans are not equally great:

    “But the function of equality is purely protective. It is medicine, not food. By treating human persona as if they were all the same kind of thing, we avoid innumerable evils. But it is not on this that we were made to live… Authority exercised with humility and obedience accepted with delight are the very lines along which our spirits live…”

    C. S. Lewis, “Membership” in various anthologies.

    This sounds bad to our modern ears (and it might have problems!), but we also need to see what Lewis’ alternative is. He thinks that calling people “equal” is impoverishing because we are made to be “gods”. On this reading, Susan’s “sin” is triviality (nylons?) – being satisfied with the every day when her true nature is to be a queen. Lewis puts it like this in his amazing essay “The Weight of Glory”:

    “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer
    of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

    Read the whole thing here:
    http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/weight-of-glory.pdf

  27. found this while looking for “in the end” (also found in fragile things) and couldnt disagree with you more.
    susans nightmare isnt meant to reflect gaimans views on the narnia books (which he read and reread through his life) but to portray the nightmares of one who had been so abandoned by the god figure, and for what? susan wasnt a bad person, and never did anything besides survive, and grow up.
    the imagery was meant to be scary.
    it was a NIGHTMARE. nightmares are terrifying, and he obviously described it wonderfully.

  28. I’m working my way through the Chronicles of Narnia as an adult for the first time (just finished The Silver Chair), and in trying to work out the publication vs chronological order, I found a reference to the Neil Gaiman short story, and your post.

    Coming at these stories as an adult, I find myself a bit too grownup and critical of how Lewis tells his stories, which is funny, because that’s a bit how Susan became.

    Lewis kinda painted himself into a corner with the Pevensies because they reigned so long in Narnia, thus very little of that world is unknown or surprising to them. It surprised to me that Susan had become so radically difficult in Caspian, after the lovely happy ending of Wardrobe.

    It seems like Lewis picks on Susan in Caspian because Aslan has already reformed Edmund, and practical, sensible Susan was a fitting target (a jab at irreligious grownups who think that you have to give up magic/belief in the unknown to live in the real world). For the next story, Lewis needs new characters to reform, which is why the even more vile Eustace is introduced. After Dawn Treader, I think Lewis realized that he had gone too far with Eustace as far as obnoxiousness is concerned, so he brings in Jill, who is less difficult but still troublesome.

    Susan gets short shrift in Dawn Treader, being written off in a few sentences to anonymity by being called the “pretty one” and “no good at schoolwork”, but her time in Narnia seems to have left a lasting impression because “she’s far older than her age” (thanks to having been a queen for decades). I expect that phrase could be read that she’s far too sensible and grownup in comparison to the others.

    I haven’t read The Last Battle yet, but from the summaries, it’s a shame that only Susan is ostracised. That her time as a queen of Narnia and her final experience with Aslan at the end of Prince Caspian wasn’t so powerful and moving as to remain embedded in her. That’s unsatisfying.

    As for what way that Gaiman has written her, I’m not surprised. He likes the grim, cruel descriptions of old fashioned fairy tales where that are often nightmarish: people are eaten up, characters lie down with the enemy, and horrible visions are seen. He likes to “ground” fairy tales by using very frank, disturbing imagery.

  29. Andrew, thanks for the link. Although when I read it, I took it that Lewis was warning against the danger of seeing others as somehow less worthy than ourselves because of what we perceive as their lacks in looks or manners or intellect, not endorsing the concept of social rank reflecting personal merit. Unlike Lewis, I’m incapable of seeing the code of chivalry as anything but rules of etiquette that applied solely to members of one’s own social class. And having been raised in a classless society, the only superiors I recognize are my moral superiors, and they have to have demonstrated themselves as such, not merely presumed themselves such. So my response to someone who waltzed in and said “I am the King. I order you to do thus-and-such” would be “Good luck with that, Fred.” Very little of the romantic about me, I’m afraid. (wry grin)

    One thing none of us seem to have taken into consideration is that when Susan’s sure that Aslan was there but doesn’t say so and can’t explain why, Aslan tells her that she was afraid — listening to her fears, I think he says — and breathes on her to restore her courage. Lewis doesn’t explain what she was afraid of: perhaps he didn’t think he had to. I can see her being courageous enough when she was fresh from Narnia, and then changing as time passed and the little teeth of uncertainty nibbled away at her: it was all so improbable, so impossible; it’d only happened to them; there was no proof; perhaps she had just imagined it…

    Perhaps for Susan being a queen in her own world was just too difficult when there was nothing but the memory of Narnia to hold on to? Easy enough to do good in the bright certainty of belief, but it’s a sight trickier when that certainty dims.

    Or perhaps Susan is just Lewis’s version of Martha, who was so caught up in the immediate that she lost sight of the eternal? We see her being told that she’s focusing on the wrong thing and that Mary’s focusing on the right thing, but all we get is the moment of the lesson. There’s nothing said then or after that implies that Martha didn’t get to heaven afterward. (Or, for that matter, that Mary did, despite her having made the right choice at that one point.)

  30. Hi darrin,

    Thanks for reading that and for your stimulating comments here and earlier (btw isn’t this a great thread!, kudos to Jenny).

    You are right about Weight of Glory, I was probably less than clear about its significance; not the differential greatness of humans (the essay “On Membership” will supply that) but the supreme greatness of all humanity. These are different strands in Lewis but he would say they go together: Joe the butcher has less greatness than Napoleon (greatness isn’t the same as goodness) but even Joe is “great” and on his way to becoming a “god” or demon.

    I like your observations about fear, forgetting and Martha-ness. I especially liked “little teeth of uncertainty” :-)
    Just on that, remember that Lewis thinks that sin and denial are so great that they can withstand anything. Remember the dwarves in TLB – in [heaven] itself but so fearful of being fooled again that they see it as a filthy stable.* This is something we should bear in mind here; if Susan *will not* see then Aslan simply cannot make her see.

    But your reminder of Aslan’s breath is fascinating here. Clearly this is the quickening of the Holy Spirit as far as Lewis is concerned. Is it irresistible or merely sufficient to remove this self-imposed fear and blindness? Lewis, I think would say the latter – but then theologians have been arguing about that for centuries.

    * We see this self-imposed blindness with uncle Andrew in TMN too.

  31. The change in Susan’s nature and her separation from her family are foreshadowed in the earlier books. There is conflict between Lucy and Susan in Prince Caspian over whether to the former has seen Aslan, and Lucy is resentful of Susan’s patronising tone.

    Susan, as she appears in The Horse and His Boy, plays into the hands of violent and unstable man because he initially flatters and admires her. It’s not her fault Narnia is at risk because of his infatuation, but couldn’t she have been a bit more discerning?

    The relationship between Lucy and Susan is explicitly troubled in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Lucy reads a spell that will make her more beautiful and admired than Susan and is tempted to perform it. Lucy isn’t punished for her envy of her beautiful sister, but is distracted by Aslan’s appearance and then feels ashamed for being tempted. Lucy rejects the materialism that has already tempted Susan.

    I don’t think Lewis is punishing Susan for maturing into a sexual being, but she has developed into a rather silly and vain person.

    It may not even be her fault, at the start of Voyage we’re told Susan is going on holidays with her parents to the US because “Grown ups thought her the pretty one of the family and she was no good at school work…” By the sound of it, she may not be responsible for her own vanity, it’s the adults around her who are shaping her image of herself.

    Polly sums her up best “She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. 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.”

    I don’t think she’s the victim of sexism, I know of many people, and yes they are women, whose lives are dedicated to maintaining a permanent faux youth. Pop culture is full of them, magazines are dedicated to them, botox was invented for them. Think Posh, Madonna, and the entire WAGs phenomenon.

    I agree with CS Lewis, there’s always time for Susan to find a balance and rediscover the wonder and joy of simpler pleasures.

    And I don’t think Aslan cause the train crash that killed the others, it happened and it caterpaulted the others to Narnia, albeit at slightly different times in the narrative, because the passage of time is so different between this world and Narnia.

    • Thank you ever so much. By the way, I think that Susan got where she was because she was Miss Conventional. What Susan Pevensie most wanted was to be safe, and to have a home of her own. And so she was never at home in Narnia, where she was always wrongfooted. However, she chose to forget that time or to ridicule it before the accident, for whatever reason, so who knows how she spent the rest of her life? C.S.Lewis wasn’t up to doing an eighth story, or so Douglas Gresham, his step-son, said.

      Knowing what I do about UK society during the post-war era, I think that as enjoyable as Gaiman’s story is, that he, or rather Greta the journalist, got Susan Pevensie completely wrong, even though he showed amply and satisfactorily how ‘Professor’ Susan Hastings did in fact repent of any silliness she could have afforded to indulge in prior to the train accident.

  32. I just want to say that I loved the Narnia series as a child and I enjoyed the story “The Problem of Susan” by Gaiman as well. What I’m finding interesting about all of your comments is this…

    You are claiming that you find C.S. Lewis’ portrayal of women as sexist, yet also identify yourselves as Christians. Have you read your bible?? It’s extremely sexist. Women are supposed to keep silent in church, always defer to their husbands, isolate themselves before, during and after menses because this natural part of being a woman is “unclean” and are taken as slaves, forced to share husbands with many other women…and more.

    Compared to how the bible portrays women, Lewis is a feminist!

    • Have you read the Bible, firsthand?

      It is sexist, only in the way that the male and female people are different. Nowhere does it say for women to share husbands. As for the menses, instead of having to work/cook/clean with cramps, they are allowed to live separately and take care of themselves. Biblical Law did not force women to hide their nature, but to preserve themselves. If I were to make graphic descriptions: think spotting on clothes, think men taking advantage of the time to sleep with women who are then unable to prove her virginity, in cases.

      People were taken as slaves for various reasons, but it never ever states that “women should be slaves” or that women were meant to be slaves.

      A counterpart to the isolation from community: men were the ones to clean up dead animals, or dead bodies, and they had to undergo a similar week in isolation/purification.

    • In the Old Testament of the Bible of cource woman went through a lot of crap, and deserved it. Men went through their own kinds of crap to “Thorns and thistles” “Toiling in the dirt until death”. I believe woman went through so much trouble because they were cursed for being more than half responsible for the down fall of the human race and the world by disobeying God’s, One and Only, command, at the time. Thankfully, we who choose to except it, have Christ now, who took all of the curses of the world on him self. If you read the New Testament carefully, woman are not only servants to their husbands anymore, men are required to treat their wives with respect also. Even though we who choose to be are forgiven of our sins through the sacrifise of Jesus, we still most of the time have to live with the consequences of sin. It is only when we go to heaven or when God makes the world new that sin and it’s consequences will be forever ended.

  33. Hey. I read your website. Stumbled upon it when I googled “The Problem of Susan” in a fit of fury about her fate. (Try to say that 5 times fast!) I too felt very bad for her, almost to a silly degree knowing that she’s a fictional character. It’s a comfort to know that I’m not alone in this- I’m sure there was an outcry when the book first came out, and I hope CS Lewis himself felt guilty about how he treated his beloved character.

    I guess perhaps the best way I can see it is that maybe the experience of going to Narnia, growing up there, and then being sent back to the land before any of it happened, back to the body of a child, and then back to Narnia for another voyage, and finally being told she cannot come back, was sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m sure the year of her life between LWW and PC never felt real, perhaps she felt like Narnia was her only home and that it had abandoned her. How could she, the sensible one, make sense of all of this? A world she swears she remembers in which she was a Queen, was supposed to always be Queen, but is no longer welcome to enter? Perhaps this was the only way she could cope and adjust to the only world she had now, to try to invest herself fully in it, until she’s not sure Narnia ever really happened. Maybe then her only crime was being unable to balance it all, of caring *too much*?

    If that’s the case there are no doubts of what will happen to her. The deaths of her family, dealing with the aftermath, knowing that the last thing she said to them was disdainful… she would realize that this world pales in comparison to Narnia, a world she knows with every fiber of her being to exist. She’d yearn for it, and the material things that brought her comfort would be of no use to her. Until she finally passes, maybe even from her own hand. And then she’d see her family again, and she’d be returned to Narnia and childhood innocence, maybe eventually she’d even forget the interim and block out what she saw and went through.

    But then I can’t help but think- here we are in the real world, with no Narnia to escape to. Maybe that’s why I never fancied religion, to me it always seemed like a false promise.

    Anyway, I don’t know if this is on-topic or not, but I know I have to write a paper now and I can’t do it when I’m crying. You seem like a pretty cool person. Feel free to email me, my email is superaarthi@gmail.com, or you can just search Aarthi Arunachalam on Facebook, I know I’m the only one of those who attends Washington University.

  34. Like many, I was curious about the Gaiman short story and found this discussion. I enjoyed reading it through.

    Anyone who says that Lewis isn’t sexist needs to read his sci-fi trilogy. Productive of his time, maybe; sexist, without doubt.

    I actually hated the way Susan was treated in the first book! Susan, the sensible one with reasonable questions–she basically has to learn to shut up and be supportive, and in the end, she gets to be Queen Susan the Wise? No. Queen Susan the Knowledgeable? No. Queen Susan the Discerning? No.

    Queen Susan… the Gentle. Except that gentleness wasn’t part of Susan the way she was portrayed from the outset. Instead of playing to Susan’s strengths and tempering them to be stronger (the way that Lucy’s acceptable innocence was exalted), Susan had to essentially change who she was to fit Lewis’s notions of female exemplars. Her strength was in asking questions, being sensible… and I always wondered if she didn’t do well in school because her time in Narnia had driven the ambition and belief in herself as smart and capable right out of her!

    If I understand Jenny correctly, her primary objection–although she is sympathetic to Gaiman’s displeasure with the way Susan is treated–is that Gaiman is disrespectful to Lewis’s reverent conception of God.

    The question is tricky. Lewis himself pokes at our mental conceptions of God in Screwtape (remember “God” in the corner of the ceiling?). I think he would be the first to admit that Aslan is not Jesus.

    For me, Lewis’s conception of God was a stumblingblock that kept me from understanding that God accepts me as I am. While I wouldn’t have put it as graphically as Gaiman did, in a way, Lewis’s Aslan spiritually violated me. As beloved as Aslan is to many people–as amazing as the character is, as much a type of Christ as he seems to be–this Aslan does not say to Mary that she has chosen learning, the better thing, and it will not be taken from her. Instead, Aslan tells Susan to shut up and stop asking so many questions and *thinking* so much.

    Jesus transcended His time and place to give more honor to women than was generally accorded. Lewis was bound by his time and place and did not react as Jesus did.

    For me, then, Aslan is tainted by Lewis’s flawed understanding. It’s all well and good to say that we all have flawed understandings and they should all be respected… until someone’s flawed view of God tries to put half the human race in an uncomfortable box.

    Then, perhaps, violating that image can remind us that the image is not the reality.

  35. I was hunting on the internet for an extract from Neil Gaiman’s “The Problem of Susan,” a habit I have developed before purchasing any book by an author who is unknown to me, when I stumbled across this blog. Finding the blog surprisingly well written, please take this as a complement, I read the entirety. I rather enjoyed reading it too!

    BUT

    Almost two decades ago, when I was a 6/7 year old child, I read The Chronicles of Narnia. This, for me, was before any concept of religion, Gods, Goddesses, sex and the subject of English Literature existed. Despite this I remember enjoying all the books, save the last.

    Recently, I watched the films, which prompted me to read the books (again), and (again) I enjoyed them-almost! But, this time round the treatment of the female characters was more obvious and reading the final book made me want to throw it in a fire!

    The blatant sexism, that compels me to perceive C.S. Lewis as something of a misogynist, has been excused through the phrase “he was a product of his time,” and J.R.R. Tolkein is cited as support for this notion. Lewis’ contemporary authors Arthur Ransome, Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl-arguably the greatest of all children’s authors- seem to have avoided this pitfall-despite being products of the same time?

    By age eleven I could see that Arthur Ransome’s characters –even the girly ones– were allowed to be far more capable than C.S. Lewis would permit. Most importantly they were all the more FUN & REALISTIC for this freedom.

    This little argument is intrinsically related to the manner in which C.S. Lewis treats Susan, and the reason for NG’s little tale.

    Suspend your disbelief, your Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Mr & Mrs Pevensie, etc. pick a character. Your sister, daughter or friend is all alone in another world and you just pass it off with a quip? That doesn’t seem right? The reason given is lack of belief? Well I know religion is supposed to be about blind faith, but if you’ve been to a magical land a few times, done really cool, amazing and really wild things and then get sent home-you’re going to be annoyed, “pissed-off” might not be too strong a phrase. Then have your family ripped from you in a horrible mangled railway crash? I think that would make you somewhat twisted.

    Given that, I can conceive imagining that the once great and magical lion, Aslan, could become the destroyer of your world-metaphorically speaking. Imagining your siblings and yourself being ripped apart by the beast, therefore, I think that the image is suitable in this context. I know it’s C.S. Lewis’ personal interpretation of God, but this is a form of literary criticism. Furthermore a fundamental part of my beliefs include freedom of speech, with the exception of those who wish to incite harm. However, the overtly sexual part of that text with the white witch is perhaps a step too far, not because I have a problem with the description, but, such a description seems to have been worked in for greater “shock value”. Possibly related to sales figures?

  36. Your initial post was a great discussion starter, Jenny, and I’ve really enjoyed many of the other posts as well.

    I read the Narnia books several times as a kid, and have been on a bit of a Narnia kick since seeing the Dawn Treader film (which was kind of terrible, aside from the marvelous acting, but at least it was fun). As a kid, I more or less accepted the problem of Susan since I saw it as more abstract or symbolic than anything, and because I honestly doubt that I thought about it that much — I mostly read them as adventure stories.

    As an adult (in theory at least), I find myself oddly less bothered about the problem of Susan, than about the others. Susan was clearly used to show loss of faith, and faith can always be regained. Furthermore, I’ve always found the argument “bad things happen therefore God doesn’t exist” to be incredibly shallow. What bothers me a lot more — and what I *think* I remember bothering me as a child — is that according to C.S. Lewis’ official timeline (which actually makes no sense whatsoever, Lewis’ talents being on par with J.K. Rowling when it comes to basic arithmetic), Peter was, at most, 22 years old when he died. Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace and Jill were, at most, 19, 17, and 16 years old.

    I admit that Lewis might not have seen the train accident as being caused by God (or Aslan, or the Emperor Across the Sea, or whomever), because he didn’t think that way IRL. However, the writer is the god of their own work, and what Lewis appears to be saying is that the real world doesn’t matter, growing up doesn’t matter, actually *doing* something with your life doesn’t matter. He could have easily had everyone return to Narnia after having had a long, fulfilling, and happy life in which they applied the lessons that they learned in Narnia. Which, incidentally, strikes me as a much better end to a series aimed for children — being a good person is something that can actually be learned and aimed for.

    Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the ending of the HDM trilogy. No wonder it’s considered the antithesis of the Narnia books.

    On a tangential topic, I think that part of the reason many people have problems with the Narnia books is that all of the characters were really pretty flat. They were more symbols than well-realized characters. (In particular, their dialogue never sounds particularly differentiated from each other.) I think that may be part of the reason that the films revitalized the fandom so much — the film characters are so much more well-realized. It’s partly the great casting and acting (sooo much better than the HP trio), but you can also see how they took the tiny bits of characterization from the books and ran with them (In LWW, at least — in PC, they went a leeeeettle bit off the rails). For example, if you read between the lines, you can see that Edmund is the more bookish one of the four, tends to verbally poke at people, and thinks as more of a strategist; the films made this a lot more explicit by making him snarky, referring to the chess piece found in PC as his specifically, and *showing* him to be a military strategist. I think perhaps that one of Gaiman’s points in “The Problem of Susan” (OMG, am I finally getting to the topic?) is to say, “Hey, Lewis, this is what you *really* did to Susan” — to treat her as a person, or at least as a character with depth, rather than a symbol.

    • Tekla says: However, the writer is the god of their own work, and what Lewis appears to be saying is that the real world doesn’t matter, growing up doesn’t matter, actually *doing* something with your life doesn’t matter. He could have easily had everyone return to Narnia after having had a long, fulfilling, and happy life in which they applied the lessons that they learned in Narnia. Which, incidentally, strikes me as a much better end to a series aimed for children — being a good person is something that can actually be learned and aimed for.

      I don’t see it as any different to what happens in Narnia. Remember Polly and Digory in Magician’s Nephew? They both lived long and worthwhile lives, Digory Kirk as the Professor who sheltered the Pevensie children, coached Peter through his final exams and remained one of the Seven Friends of Narnia.

      At the end of PC, neither Peter nor Susan could go back. A book later, Luch and Edmund were told that they must go back so as to know Aslan by another name. Eustace, who did go back in another adventure with Jill, was told that the next time he and Jill were in Narnia they would have come back to stay. In LB, both children decided they would prefer to die in action in Narnia than live to die in a ‘bath chair’ back at home in UK.

      Peter had wondered what would happen to him if he died in Narnia back in PC, when facing the duel with Miraz. And C.S.Lewis needed to close off the series, especially those characters most associated with Narnia. Apart from Eustace, the undragoned and Jill who nearly got him killed in Aslan’s Country the most likely people to be killed were Lucy and Edmund.

      Edmund was always going to be dead meat, sorry. His life was forfeit in LWW, and it was due to Aslan and Lucy’s cordial that he survived to live a long life in Narnia, where he had already been redeemed of his faults. He had shepherded Susan to Tashbaan, talked Susan out of marrying Rabadash, and on his return to Cair Paravel, rode with Lucy to the siege of Anvard. If Susan. Edmund also figured hugely in VDT, though rather less in the book than in the film. i

      If Susan was to get along in life she didn’t need Edmund to talk her out of any more stupid romantic decisions or for him and Lucy to mop up the mess these decisions created. Susan’s departure from the 7 friends of Narnia was also anticipated throughout the 7 Narnia Chronicles. Before she could stop being the patronising elder sister she always was she would need a lifetime of learning to be a bit more generous and compassionate to younger children, and to be able to learn not to be so vain and silly as to ignore what her siblings had to say. Especially when she at last learned exactly what it was like to be on one’s own without the family she disdained.

      As for Peter, he was the High King, wasn’t he? And to tell the truth, much as he could have completed career training etc so could heaps of boys his age who survived WW2 only to die later in Korea and heaps of other places, including in a train, bus or car accident.

      The only one I feel sorry for is Lucy, tempted by the beauty spell in VDT. She would have liked a life, I am sure, beyond being bridesmaid and maid of honour for beautiful Susan’s big moments in life. Her potential in life was shortened, not only by WW2. But she had known Aslan, and more than that, and, like Peter, might well have died anyway in heaps of other ways. At least when we see her at the Stable Door, we know she is happy and content with her afterlife.

      HDM’s conclusion does leave Lyra a life, I agree. But she can’t get together with her beloved Will and, like Will, she has to do without her daemon, Pan. After the big fuss in Golden Compass about intercission and what it means for a child to be separated from his/her daemon, I find it disappointing that in the end, in “Amber Spyglass” Lyra ends up as soulless as Billy Costa.

  37. This is true Susan favorite chacter but if think back she helps Narnia. – saves Edmund’s life – fights in Prince Caspain So if it was not for Susan Ed and Lu would be died. this is a true horrible event

  38. Well put Jenny. I typically love Neil Gaiman, but I walked away from this short story feeling like he called my mother a whore. Not cool Neil. Very not cool.

  39. What a lot of brain-washd would-be inquisitors we have here, sniffing around for sexism, unable to treat a story as a story. I wonder what they teach them at these schools?

  40. I think you’d find every author’s understanding was significantly flawed. Some of Charles Dickens’ female characters have sent me into gales of laughter for decades.(g)
    I can’t honestly see that it matters how old the Pevensies were when they died. There’s no guarantee that anyone’s going to live to a ripe old age in the real world, so it’d be a little ludicrous for authors to have all their characters live to be ninety. To say that a character dying young means a writer wants his/her readers to believe life isn’t worth living is like saying that a character being/getting divorced means the writer would have her/his readers believe they may as well give up hope of a strong, nurturing marriage.

    I don’t see anything sexist in ‘Susan the Gentle’: ‘gentle’, despite the number of people who seem to confuse the two, is not a synonym for ‘weak’. Ime, truly strong, wise people are gentle: for example, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama. And I don’t see ‘Susan the Learned’ as a more appropriate title: I can’t speak for Lewis, but I’ve made the acquaintance of very well-educated people who have all the kindness and generosity of raptors on steroids. And Susan the Practical mightn’t be an improvement: I once had to deplane via the slide, and while it would have been quite practical to make the pregnant women and women with small children wait ’til the rest of us had gone — they did slow things down, after all — I wouldn’t have applauded anyone who made the suggestion, and I doubt anyone else present would have, either. I’m as in favour of sound common sense as the next person, but there’s a limit to the kind and quality of practicality I want in my Queen, if ever I have one.

  41. It was not the fact that Susan was to much into girly things, It was that she placed herself and her loves and desires above her Lord and His teachings. She allowed herself to forget what was most important, we all do that from time to time when It comes to our God. I’m sure Peter, Edmund and Lucy and the rest became distracted by THINGS sometimes, but they all came back to what was truly important and repented of their waywardness and of cource were forgiven because Aslan was merciful, as God is merciful and forgives us for our waywardness when we come to him in repentance. Shame on Gaiman for placing a simble of Jesus Christ aka Aslan in his disgusting story. And Aslan is not smug.

    • brookes response is the reason why i cannot stand stories that are meant to be christian allegories. they are then subject to the rules and boundaries of the christian faith, and its pretty gross.

  42. The solutio ton “The Poblem of Susan: in very simple – a decent person would have nothing to do with it. That’s all

  43. JESUS CHRIST, THE SON OF GOD

    *In the beginning was The Word (a.k.a. Jesus Christ),
    And the Word(Jesus) was with God,
    And the Word(Jesus) was God.
    Jesus was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1-2)
    *Jesus created the heavens and the earth. (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2)
    *And the Word (Jesus) became flesh (human) and tabernacled (fixed His tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us; and we [actually] saw His glory (His honor, His majesty), such glory as an only begotten son receives from his father, full of grace (favor, loving-kindness) and truth. (John 1: 14)
    *There are Three who were present in the beginning: The Father, Jesus The Son(the Word), and The Holy Spirit;
    and These Three are One God. And there are three witnesses on the earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree [are in unison; their testimony coincides]. (1 John 5:7-8)

    (King James, New King James, 21st Century KJV, Amplified(Suggested for New Christians),
    Young Literal Translation, Wycliffe Bible(New Testament),
    Worldwide English Bible(New Testament)

    *On the first day God made light. (Genesis 1:3)
    *On the second day God made the sky or atmosphere. (Genesis1:6)
    *On the third day God made the plants and trees. (Genesis 1:11)
    *On the fourth day God made the sun, moon, and stars.(Genesis 1:16)
    *On the fifth day God made great whales, sea animals and birds.(Genesis 1:20-21)
    *On the sixth day God made the land animals, (Including dinosaurs @ Job 40:15-24 What animal, other than a dinosaur, moves its tail like a cedar?) and man.(Genesis 1:24 & 27)
    *The creation of the heavens, the earth, and everything in them was completed in six days by Jesus Christ.(Genesis 1:31 & 2:1; John 1:3)
    *God gave plants and animals the ability to reproduce, only after their own kind. (Genesis 1:11-28)

    Birds are not the offspring of dinosaurs and man is not the offspring of apes.
    The theory of evolution is false.

    *God created man in His own image and likeness; one male named Adam and one female named Eve. (Genesis 1:27)
    *God has made through Adam and Eve all nations and races of man to live on the earth. (Acts 17:26)
    *When Adam sinned by disobeying God, death passed to all men. (Romans 5:12)
    *That’s why it is appointed to man to die once, and after this the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)

    Since man dies only once, reincarnation is false.

    *God sent His Son Jesus from heaven to earth to save the world from sin. (John 12:47)
    *For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
    *Jesus, being born of a virgin, became human and lived among us. God was with us in human flesh. (Matthew 1:23; John 1:14)
    *As a child Jesus was obedient to His mother Mary and His adoptive father Joseph. (Luke 2:51)
    *Joseph did not have sex with Mary until after Jesus was born. (Matthew 1:25)
    *Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters, which were born of Mary and Joseph.
    (Matthew 13:55-57; 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21; Acts 1:13-14; Galatians 1:19)

    *Mary was not a perpetual virgin. (Matthew 1:25)

    *Jesus was in the world, and the world was made by Jesus, but people did not know Jesus as God. (John 1:10)
    *At age 30 Jesus began to heal the sick, raise the dead, and feed the hungry. (Luke 3:23; Matthew 11:5; John 6:5-14)
    *Jesus also walked on the sea, cast out demons, and calmed a storm. (Mark 6:47-50; Mark 1:23-28; Mark 4:35-41)

    *Jesus preached to many saying, “The Lord Our God is one Lord. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. And in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Mark 12:28-34; Matthew 7:12)
    *Jesus also said, “Repent (change your mind, turn from your sins and turn to God), because The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15)

    *Jesus forgave sins! (Matthew 9:2-6; Mark 2:5-10)

    *Young children and infants were brought to Jesus, that he might bless them. Jesus said, “let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:13-16)
    *It is the parents responsibility to introduce their children to The Lord Jesus Christ. (Proverbs 22:6)

    *Jesus always obeyed God The Father, even to the death on the cross. (Philippians 2:8)
    *Jesus died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose again the third day as prophesied and recorded in the Scriptures.
    (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
    *After Jesus rose from the dead, many people saw Him, touched Him, and talked with Him. Jesus was seen by more than five hundred of His followers at the same time. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)
    *They watched as Jesus ascended back into heaven. (Acts 1:9)
    *Jesus promised to return and take all who believe in Him to heaven. There they will enjoy their new perfect bodies, and will be with the Lord forever. (John 14:1-3; Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15)

    *All who believe in The Lord Jesus Christ have everlasting life. All who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ shall be cast into the lake of fire (hell), prepared for the devil and his angels. (John 3:36; Matthew 25:41)
    *There shall be weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 8:12)
    *What good will it be if you gain the whole world, and lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?
    (Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36; Luke 9:25)
    *The invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even God’s eternal power and Godhead, so that you are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
    *Do not be deceived. For by Gods grace you have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ, and not from anything you have done or not done. Salvation is a free gift from God not a reward or payment for doing good works, lest anyone should
    boast or brag. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
    *A man is not justified (saved) by doing the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. For by the works of the law no man shall be justified (saved). (Galatians 2:16)

    In other words; A person cannot get to Heaven by being a good person, but only through Christ.
    We should not try to be good people to gain salvation, we accept Jesus as our Savior and ask Him to change us. And then, when we receive His free gift of salvation we do good in thankful response for what Jesus did for us.

    *For if righteousness (salvation) comes through the law, i.e. keeping the ten commandments and/or doing good works, then Jesus Christ died in vain. (Galatians 2:21)
    *Jesus was asked, What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said, This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom God has sent. (John 6:28-29)
    *Jesus was also asked, How can we know the way? Jesus answered, I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE. *NO ONE comes to THE FATHER, but by ME. (John 14:6)
    *Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. (Acts 16:31)
    *God The Father raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10:9)
    *Jesus raised Himself from the dead (John 2:19-21; John 10:17-18)
    *The Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11).
    *Jesus did many other miracles, which are not written here. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is The Christ, The Son of God, and that by believing in Him, you may have everlasting life. (John 20:30-31)

    Evolution theory – The act or process of one kind of animal changing into a different kind of animal.
    As by this theory, innumerable transitional forms must have existed. Why do we not find them imbedded in the crust of the earth?

    Reincarnation – Continual rebirths in human bodies until the soul has reached a state of perfection. Reincarnation,
    resurrection, and resuscitation are not the same.
    Since man dies only once, reincarnation is false.

    Jesus was not reincarnated or resuscitated. Jesus was resurrected!

    Copyright © 1997 by Jesus Messiah Ministries. Permission is granted to link to, distribute, and copy this message.

    If you have never asked Jesus into your heart PLEASE DO IT NOW before it is TO LATE
    Pray this Prayer

    DEAR JESUS,

    I KNOW I AM A SINNER AND I AM SO SORRY FOR MY SINS.
    I BELIEVE YOU DIED FOR ME AND ROSE AGAIN
    ON THE THIRD DAY TO GIVE ME ETERNAL LIFE WITH YOU.
    I KNOW YOU ARE THE ONLY SON OF GOD. I ASK YOU TO
    COME INTO MY HEART AND FORGIVE ME OF ALL MY SINS.
    I ACCEPT YOU AS MY LORD AND SAVIOR. MAKE ME A NEW
    CREATION IN YOU.

    IN JESUS NAME I PRAY, AMEN.

    TELL YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS ABOUT THIS MESSAGE
    AND PRAY FOR THEIR SALVATION!

    LOVE IN CHRIST TO ALL

    Suggested Bibles:

    King James Version Bible.
    New King James Bible
    21st Century King James Bible
    The Amplified Bible(Suggested for new Christians)
    Young Literal Translation Bible
    Wycliffe Bible(New Testament)
    Worldwide English Bible(New Testament)

    Bibles To Be Cautious of
    (I mean no disrespect, but these Bibles tend to omit certain important scripture, such as; 1 John 5: 7-8 )

    New International Version
    New International Reader’s Version
    New International Version – UK
    New International Version – 1984
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    Common English Bible
    Darby Translation
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    • it is beyond annoying that things like this are the emails i get regarding responses to what was originally a good discourse about a good short story.
      what a shame.

  44. I just stumbled on this review of Gaiman’s short story, and I think you’ve expressed your thoughts (and mine!) beautifully.

  45. Interesting analysis, but consider Gaiman’s aim in the whole thing. He looks to solve the Problem of Susan, which he does by (essentially) offering us a Narnia story without any Narnia.

    To a grown-up Susan who has seen the horrors of war, old memories become changed, even in their focus: Susan seems to remember the whole thing as more pagan than Christian. And she’s the only member of the Pevensie family to make it past puberty, basically- so she irrevocably associates, at least subconsciously, Narnia with sex and death (her siblings died in the whole thing, don’t forget).

    So, recall a kind aim in the whole thing. Gaiman wants to retrieve Susan from the sexism that she (to an extent due to the times the book was written) suffered in the Narnia series. And he chose to do it by what he does best as a postmodern writer: deconstructing what Susan is and how she was kicked out of the series, and reconstructing her via how she would really be in our world.

    And that doesn’t necessarily take any prisoners.

  46. Wow this is a great discussion, I figured there would be something like this online after I finished reading the story. Gaiman is my favorite author and I feel like what he was trying to do was point out that we all see stories differently. I loved Narnia when I was younger, and its part of the reason I became a writer. Consider this: what if you never associated religion with the story? we get to see Aslan represented in a physical way as opposed to allegorically. He’s a lion, and in this story, he exhibits base animal instincts. It reminds me of Gaiman’s story “Nicholas Was..” which portrays Santa Claus as a prisoner, suffering at the hands of the strange arctic dwarves (elves) and forced once a year on a journey delivering presents that breaks his body and spirit. Gaiman also did similar things for Sherlock Holmes and Scheherazade. He enjoys making us question stories we hold dear, while still holding a deep respect for the source material. It feels like he honestly just wanted to force people to question the way they viewed the story and present one solution to a problem he had with the story. It doesn’t feel mean spirited to me, it feels like a way to force people to think by forcing people to question a deeply held belief: if Aslan isn’t a holy figure, then what is he? If Narnia isn’t heaven, then what is it? He’s forcing us to approach it as pure story, and to ignore our religious feelings. And even if the religious meaning is what Lewis meant, that’s irrelevant, simply because a book is as much written by the reader as the writer. The writer presents the words, and the reader interprets it. He just wants to remind you that this story isn’t inherently religious, and it would still have meaning if you were completely ignorant of christianity. At least that’s what I got from the story, and like I said, a story is half writer, half reader :)

  47. I agree Tnewbill, it is a fascinating discussion, and your comment is very interesting too–I’m sure you have a point. But I’m not convinced that Gaiman is doing anything very clever or original here (and I write this as someone who has enjoyed some his other work very much). In fact, as has been touched-on above, the impulse to bring Aslan down to size or see him as an ordinary animal is a recurring theme in the books. People are always repainting Aslan as a mere beast, or a fraud, or a demon. The characters that seem to invite the greatest authorial contempt (if it is possible for a reader to make such an observation ;-) are those who regard themselves as too sophisticated for the magic and glory of talking animals and epic struggles of good and evil.
    I think Lewis would argue that the innocent attraction we felt as children to myths like Narnia is a much “truer” response, because the world itself is haunted by God and God’s glory (whether that is seen in overtly religious terms or not). Only a fool, or a very bitter person, would seek to deliberately drain the numinous.

  48. I won’t pretend that I’ve read all of these responses, but I did read those posted up until 2010; my thoughts may have been written previously. Authors are ultimately the gods of their creations. C.S. Lewis wields power above and beyond that of Aslan within the borders of Narnia. As Aslan was created in his (Lewis’s) image, or rather this one man’s imperfect interpretation of the unknowable, he as a character and as a god is terribly flawed. That this is a pure reflection of the nature of man’s understanding or misunderstanding of God, and the relentlessly imperfect yet beautiful Book which encapsulates this struggle, should go without saying. It is my belief that the anger in the Mr. Gaiman’s story is more squarely aimed at what he views as Lewis’s betrayal of his young readers. Gaiman’s story was most definitely meant to hurt. To hurt as much as the wounds inflicted by Aslan, by Lewis; a careless and sanctimonious finger wagging. The difference is, Gaiman’s targets were nostalgic adults, and his aim, I’m pretty sure, was to inspire a re-evaluation of what he believes to be an underthought if not purposefully malicious assault by Lewis on his young audience. So you say it was mean and disrespectful? Ok. Who committed the greater sin?

  49. I won’t pretend that I’ve read all of these responses, but I did read those posted up until 2010; my thoughts may have been written previously. Authors are ultimately the gods of their creations. C.S. Lewis wields power above and beyond that of Aslan within the borders of Narnia. As Aslan was created in his (Lewis’s) image, or rather this one man’s imperfect interpretation of the unknowable, he as a character and as a god is terribly flawed. That this is a pure reflection of the nature of man’s understanding or misunderstanding of God, and the relentlessly imperfect yet beautiful Book which encapsulates this struggle, should go without saying. It is my belief that the anger in Mr. Gaiman’s story is more squarely aimed at what he views as Lewis’s betrayal of his young readers. Gaiman’s story was most definitely meant to hurt. To hurt as much as the wounds inflicted by Aslan, by Lewis in that careless and sanctimonious finger wagging. The difference is, Gaiman’s targets were nostalgic adults, and his aim, I’m pretty sure, was to inspire a re-evaluation of what he believes to be an underthought if not purposefully malicious assault by Lewis on his young audience. So you say it was mean and disrespectful? Ok. Who committed the greater sin?

    • When you say CS Lewis betrayed his young readers, I’m not sure I understand what you mean by that. Betrayed them by not thinking all the way through Susan’s exclusion (not necessarily permanent) from “Aslan’s Country” at the end of the book? Or something else?

      (More to come, I just don’t want to write a whole response that completely misunderstands what you were saying. :p)

  50. I want to make it clear that this is my idea of what Gaiman’s story does and says. I don’t really know whether or not Lewis was fully aware of what so many have understood or perhaps misunderstood about Susan’s not being accepted into Aslan’s Country, however, any way you spin it, it smacks of preaching. That’s fine, that’s what the Narnia books do, even if C.S. Lewis protested comparisons being drawn between his fairy stories and scripture. I admit to playing Devil’s advocate a bit in backing this idea of a betrayal on Lewis’s part, as so often, I believe, that is what the leveling of powerful religious dogma at pure minds and spirits really is. But whether or not it really is destructive is irrelevant. Mr. Gaiman, or rather the mind of the story, believes it to be so. The professor in the story is bitter against any God, Aslan or otherwise, who would rend little children under the burning steel of a trainwreck so that they might look upon His glory. And the purgatory, or rather Hell, endured by the Professor Susan in the aftermath is one for which she seems equally resentful in her dialogue with the young journalist. The point that I was, inarticulately perhaps, trying to make is one about the omiscience or, more accurately, omnipotence of the Writer as God of His Creation. Both writers visited terrible violence upon these beloved characters. One blunted it with a view of a fictional paradise, the other through the fog and italicised prose of a dream. My concern has more to do with the intention of each “deity” (Lewis, Gaiman, Aslan, the Christian God Aslan represents in “The Problem with Susan) as surely, they all have a “plan”. I’m sorry if you found the story mean, disrespectful of Lewis’s faith, or otherwise distasteful. I was also enamoured of the magic I spied through the wardrobe as a child, and still love it whenever Aslan breathes a world into existence- when he isn’t demanding blind faith and allegiance from children. But I found Neil Gaiman’s story to be rather lovely for it’s sensitive treatment of the wounded characters within. He’s fighting like a mama bear for them and for some of us readers. Jaded agnostics though we may be, we are all still so much like children.
    Thanks for responding. I hope I haven’t fogged up your screen too much, and I hope this aids you in any further response.

  51. I want to make it clear that this is my idea of what Gaiman’s story does and says. I don’t really know whether or not Lewis was fully aware of what so many have understood or perhaps misunderstood about Susan’s not being accepted into Aslan’s Country, however, any way you spin it, it smacks of preaching. That’s fine, that’s what the Narnia books do, even if C.S. Lewis protested comparisons being drawn between his fairy stories and scripture. I admit to playing Devil’s advocate a bit in backing this idea of a betrayal on Lewis’s part, as so often, I believe, that is what the leveling of powerful religious dogma at pure minds and spirits really is. But whether or not it really is destructive is irrelevant. Mr. Gaiman, or rather the mind of the story, believes it to be so. The professor in the story is bitter against any God, Aslan or otherwise, who would rend little children under the burning steel of a trainwreck so that they might look upon His glory. And the purgatory, or rather Hell, endured by the Professor Susan in the aftermath is one for which she seems equally resentful in her dialogue with the young journalist. The point that I was, inarticulately perhaps, trying to make is one about the omiscience or, more accurately, omnipotence of the Writer as God of His Creation. Both writers visited terrible violence upon these beloved characters. One blunted it with a view of a fictional paradise, the other through the fog and italicised prose of a dream. My concern has more to do with the intention of each “deity” (Lewis, Gaiman, Aslan, the Christian God Aslan represents in “The Problem of Susan) as surely, they all have a “plan”. I’m sorry if you found the story mean, disrespectful of Lewis’s faith, or otherwise distasteful. I was also enamoured of the magic I spied through the wardrobe as a child, and still love it whenever Aslan breathes a world into existence- when he isn’t demanding blind faith and allegiance from children. But I found Neil Gaiman’s story to be rather lovely for it’s sensitive treatment of the wounded characters within. He’s fighting like a mama bear for them and for some of us readers. Jaded agnostics though we may be, we are all still so much like children.
    Thanks for responding. I hope I haven’t fogged up your screen too much, and I hope this aids you in any further response.

  52. Thanks for your interesting and well-written post Michael. Can I just observe that Lewis would insist that the reason why Susan is not in Narnia is because Aslan/God is NOT omnipotent with regard to her choices. He cannot save her if she will not be saved. This comes through pretty clearly in that curious (TLB) tableau of the dwarfs who are in Aslan’s country but will not allow themselves to believe that they are anywhere other than a dirty stable. Aslan says of them that he “cannot” do anything for them.
    so Lewis is a strong believer in human free-will. Elsewhere he says this:

    “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened. ” –The Great Divorce

  53. Yes, that is what Lewis thinks. But let’s not pretend that the character of Susan had any will of her own. It’s Mr. C.S. who calls the shots in his universe, and he alone informed Susan’s will and sealed her fate. In fact, the only true free will observable in the whole equation is that which Lewis lorded over his “defenseless” pawns. I think we’re having two different arguments in paralelle worlds. I am a bit jealous as I hear Narnia is a very beautiful place. Thanks for the exchange. It’s been fun and I now plan to explore the rest of your blog. Sincerely, Michael -the Artist formerly known as the White Witch

    • >>I admit to playing Devil’s advocate a bit in backing this idea of a betrayal on Lewis’s part, as so often, I believe, that is what the leveling of powerful religious dogma at pure minds and spirits really is.

      I think this is the part I don’t understand. Anyone who writes a book — for children or for any audience — is writing something that’s colored, inevitably, by what the author believes and cares about. C.S. Lewis cared about God and cared about Christianity and he wrote a book that was informed by those things. I can’t think how leveling dogma at kids is avoidable. Anything anyone teaches a kid has the power to be harmful to the kid, but you can’t keep them from learning it.

      I also want to reiterate that I absolutely love the portions of the story that are narrated by the girl interviewing the professor. I think those parts of the story are thoughtful and necessary, and I love what Neil Gaiman was doing there. It’s the nastiness of the attack on Aslan that makes me sad, like CS Lewis did something wrong by trying to depict something he found beautiful and profound. Because, yeah, CS Lewis didn’t do everything right, and the business with Susan was poorly thought out on his part, but Aslan was true and sincere and fundamental; and the way Aslan in the books felt about Lucy was so clearly a depiction of the love that CS Lewis felt from God, and it was mean of Neil Gaiman to be nasty about it. That’s where my problem is.

      • jenny, gaiman really isnt being nasty about aslan.
        im not sure if you read the short story by itself or in the actual collection (fragile things, i think, or maybe smoke & mirrors) but if you read it in the collected form, you owe it to yourself to read the introduction.
        not only do you get another great short story, but it also gives the entire reason for this specific story.
        gaiman LOVES the narnia books. he read them all many times as a child, as an adult, and now hes read them to his children.
        he LOVES the books.
        what hes written is not a criticism of lewis or aslan, or a referendum on what he perceives as poor treatment, its a story of what could be true.
        the violent imagery happens in a dream, and you really need to keep it in that context, because dream imagery is always very powerful and graphic whether its violence, sex, or magic, or sometimes, a combination of the three.
        i still read the collections several times a year, and i love this story.

      • So right, my thing is, it doesn’t matter. I did read the introduction (it’s in Fragile Things), and I understand, I really do, what Neil Gaiman was trying to do in the story, and he does it absolutely beautifully in the bulk of the story.

        But I’m sticking to what I say about the dream. The context doesn’t fix it, the context doesn’t matter. It’s mean because Aslan was this most sacred thing to CS Lewis, his experience of what God was like to him, and it is ugly, when someone has been utterly sincere about something important, it is ugly to write that way about it.

  54. well, if thats the case, then cs lewis was truly insincere about what god is and has done, and gaiman rectified that.
    god allowed job to endure the most horrible things in the world to prove to the devil that someone would still have faith anyway.
    he forced abraham to sacrifice his only son to prove his love.
    he reduced entire civilizations to cinders because he didnt like them.
    gaiman is taking the god figure (aslan) and in the dream, makes it honest.
    youre focusing on the dream a LOT when the true grit of the story is told when susan simply says that the character of susan (dont forget, this is still the world that narnia also occupies, but at the same time, the lewis literature is considered fiction by it) was denied paradise for the sin of growing up and being practical.
    THAT is the core of the story and you seem focused on a nightmare.
    it doesnt say anything incorrect of aslan, its not disrespectful to lewis’ idea.
    i mean, i understand your opinion, but you really come across as overly sensitive about it. its a very well written and thought out story, and the closing passage does nothing to diminish any of it, to me, and to many people who have read both the short story and the source of the short story.
    i actually think your review has done more harm than anything else, because looking at several of the replies, people have simply written off gaiman as something he is absolutely not, and have written off ever looking at a story based on about 5 sentences in 8 or 9 pages.
    basically, if youre going to anthropomorphize god, then dont be surprised if someone brings some honesty to the dishonest romanticism youve made it to be, because thats what has happened here.
    it doesnt dilute lewis’ works, and it doesnt dilute gaimans effort, either, for me.

    • You don’t think it’s at all disrespectful of Lewis’s idea of Aslan to depict him eating the Pevensies and (pardon my French) fucking the White Witch? Because I have to say I think it is a little bit. Just that part! Honestly, the bulk of the story, I think is splendid. I seem focused on a nightmare because the nightmare is the part we disagree on. If we disagreed about some other point in the story, I’d seem focused on that instead.

      (Plus, I don’t know why it’s more honest to depict God as a creepy cannibal lion than a nice-not-tame lion.)

      Anyway I always say nice things about Neil Gaiman. This post is the only thing I have ever said about Neil Gaiman that is less than glowing. I think Neil Gaiman is marvelous and I talk about him all the time, on this blog and in real life. If someone writes him off it cannot be laid at my door. He’s the best! (I frequently announce to all and sundry.) He has an amazing imagination and he wrote the Sandman, the Sandman!, and he seems like such a nice kind man, and he loves New Orleans. And if anyone ever comments on this blog that they’ve written Neil Gaiman off, I will always defend him. As you may observe I have done above in response to the first comment. For I love him. Except for a few paragraphs of this one story.

      • no, i dont think its disrespectful of lewis’ idea of aslan at all.
        gaiman didnt write that thats what happened, he wrote that that is a nightmare that the fictional susan who occupies both the fictional universe and the real universe (our reality and the reality in which our world and narnia coexist) had because she sees the white witch and aslan as the same, because of how she was discarded.
        think of it like your parents beating you because you got an a- instead of an a+, because thats exactly what happened to susan.
        aslan is this great omnipotent being who denied susan paradise despite the things she did for him and narnia because she embraced the real world, where she lived.
        she wasnt from narnia, and that wasnt where her life was. she did nothing wrong and he punished her, not just by denying her paradise, but by making her live with the knowledge that she could be with her siblings, and having to live with the responsibility of being the one who survived.
        that is HORRIBLE, and is it really any worse than anything the white witch would have done?
        i think we disagree on the nightmare because youre applying real world logic to it, where its really dream logic that needs to be applied, and dream logic isnt literal.
        gaiman isnt saying that aslan really devoured lucy and hit it with the white witch, its a total figurative illustration of susans subconscious feelings of how she was wronged in her last moments of life, because dont forget, she did die after the dream.
        also, dont get me wrong, im not saying you are turning people off gaiman, i have seen your follow ups and am glad you did, but there have also been responses from others who read what you wrote in your original post, which is the only thing that people are really paying attention to, because it is the point of your post, and are outraged, and its truly such a small part of a great story. of course, some of the responders have clearly come off as sort of (time to pardon MY french) batshit crazy, so i dont know what i expected there.
        you say you feel “yucky” about it, but gaiman writes entire stories about such acts, and theyre wonderful, like the short story about the woman who took her male prostitutes memories, so again, i think youre taking this way too personally.
        he didnt direct this as a condemnation of lewis or aslan or lewis’ view of god or the depiction of aslan, but as a way of relating how susan must feel and view the world and how others view susan.
        remember, this wasnt susans dream, either.
        im not able to adequately describe how i feel about it because its been over a year since i read the short story, and longer since ive read the narnia books, but i think youve taken a small piece of a larger thing and let it dominate the message.

  55. Hi James,

    I really like what you say here: “its a total figurative illustration of susans subconscious feelings of how she was wronged”. That’s interesting and helpful but the way I would apply it is different.

    What I mean is this. If we allow the logic of Narnia and its intersection with this world then Susan has been given an amazingly privileged experience of reality that should transform the way she thinks about all of her life. She has been made a queen; she has seen that there is a God; she understands that there is such a thing as “Aslan’s country” (heaven/true creation) that lies behind the passing veil of this world. How can she go back to the mundane world and lose herself in the trivia of the everyday (whatever we make of Lewis associating that with Nylons and lipsticks).
    So when you say its like someone being punished for getting an A- instead of an A+, I would suggest that it’s more like a pretty average student being offered a Rhodes scholarship and giving it up because it will mean missing too much day-time TV.
    Do you think she would be denied entry into Narnia and frienship with Aslan if she really wanted it? Everything in the Lewis’ writing would reject that. Susan is not presented as someone tragically rejected, but as the reject-or – someone who values Narnia so little that she cannot even retain the memory of it without waving it aside as fantasy.
    This is where your insight about subconscious feelings is very helpful. The dreams of the grown-up Susan reveal a mind that has refused grace. The endpoint of that bitter trajectory is that good and evil cannot be distinguished – the woman who was made to be queen sees the one who crowned her as a demonic beast.

    • those werent susans dreams.
      im not going to go in depth on the rest, because it relies on a belief that is intrinsically foolish and unfair to me, and holds your dual existence (the real world that everyone lives in, and the magic place that only a handful of humans are allowed to be a part of) to be mutually exclusive, and its gross.

  56. “your dual existence (the real world that everyone lives in, and the magic place that only a handful of humans are allowed to be a part of) to be mutually exclusive, and its gross”

    I’m not sure quite what you mean here. Lewis isn’t saying that Susan is punished for living in the “real world”, she’s excluding herself from reality by lying to herself about the real world and choosing to believe that “nylons and lipsticks” are as good as it gets.
    Surely you don’t need to be a Christian to take that point – the same logic is at work in every adolescent who spends too much time online to get a girlfriend.
    But, James, you just seem really angry at God. Did religious people mess with your life, or something?

    • but thats exactly why she doesnt get to go to paradise.
      because she grew up and lived her life.
      if you are saying that narnia is the “real” universe in the narnia books, then what does that make susans parents, and all the people inhabiting the “fake” world? are they just something created to mess with these four kids heads?
      and im an atheist, so no, im not angry at god.
      it seems to me that you think that susan had to make a choice between a world to the exclusion of the other.
      that is a choice forced by the god creature in the books.
      that is cruel.
      and if you really dont think that that is a christian ideology, then i cant say anything else.

  57. But all the children grew up and lived their lives. So did Polly & Digory. The problem of Susan is not “living life” but living a lie (an unreal life) and surrendering to triviality after she has seen the true nature of things. And within the bounds of the fiction she does have a choice – and she makes the same kind of bad choice we see people making in all kinds of areas of their lives (see my examples above).
    As to your question of whether this world is fake – not at all, Lewis’ perspective is that life and people are far more serious and important than we allow ourselves to believe. This world is serious because it is a “promontory” (TLB) of Aslan’s eternal country (the true Narnia). Our lives (wherever they are lived) are of near infinite value.
    Can I ask, when did you decide to be atheist?

    • i was born an atheist, the better question is “when did others decide to become christians?”
      but i was raised christian, and went to sunday school, and the entire thing was absurd.
      an omnipotent being who created the universe in six days and then cast people out from paradise for the sin of learning. it became clear that this was not a belief system i had any intention of following, because it was senseless, sexist, divisive and discriminatory, and the figurehead of it was not a just or good being.

  58. Well it’s convenient that you ignore Polly and Digory, who are old and apparently live fairly normal (even accomplished) lives before ending up in Narnia.
    Nor does your point about the premature death of Peter, Edmund and Lucy make sense in this context. Their death “is” their entry into Narnia: Susan isn’t excluded from Narnia because she “grows older”; rather she grows older because doesn’t get to go to Narnia. Whatever it is that differentiates her life from theirs is something that goes on before the train-wreck.
    So what is this mode of life that is so problematic? Again, it is not merely aging – that would exlude Polly & Digory. Nor does it seem to be life experience; there is no indication that the other children are any less engaged in the business of life than Susan prior to their deaths (ie. they aren’t hermits or monks).
    So what is it?
    Well Lewis actually makes it pretty clear:
    ========================================
    “My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.”
    “Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says, `What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.’”
    “Oh Susan!” said Jill. “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”
    “Grown-up, indeed,” said the Lady Polly. “I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. 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.”
    ========================================
    So there we have it. It is not that Susan is actually grown up, it is that she is too busy trying to be a certain kind of grown-up – the kind of grown-up who is too sophisticated and worldly to believe in childrens’ tales. Except that this tale is true, which means her so-called sophistication is merely pathetic self-deceit. She has been let-in on (and made part of) a TRUE fairy tale, but because fairy tales don’t belong in the world of make-up and boyfriends (she thinks), she suppresses the memory.*
    Finally, I’m interested in what you say about your background, thanks for that. But I’m not sure what you mean by the “sin of learning”?

    * this actually fits with her earlier behaviour in Prince Caspian. At one point there she admits seeing Aslan but lying to herself about it.

    • its convenient that i focus on the main characters of a series?

      also, this:
      the kind of grown-up who is too sophisticated and worldly to believe in childrens’ tales.

      is the definition of a grown up.
      she has been punished.
      do you disagree that she was punished?

      and what do i mean by the sin of learning? its actually really simple.
      god told adam and eve that everything in the garden was theirs except for the tree of knowledge.
      they ate from that tree before they ate from the tree of life, which would mean they would live forever, and never die.
      god saw that they had eaten from the tree of knowledge, and knew that if they then ate from the tree of life, they would be like him, so he punished them.
      so yes, in that way, aslan is the perfect analogue of god.
      he punishes those who mature and learn, while embracing those who dont move on.

  59. “its convenient that i focus on the main characters of a series?”

    No, the convenience comes when you refuse to consider other evidence that doesn’t support your conclusion (which you still doing). Polly and Digory are scarcely minor characters. They are the main characters in The Magician’s Nephew (TMN). Both here in TLB and also in the The Lion, The Witch… (LWW) they provide key authorial commentary.

    “the kind of grown-up who is too sophisticated and worldly to believe in childrens’ tales is the definition of a grown up”

    Thankyou, sharply and clearly put. But remember we are talking about the Narnia stories. Are you really suggesting that Susan is right (“grown up”) to deny the reality of Narnia after having lived there for so long? There is a character like that in TMN (have you read it?) – uncle Andrew – who refuses to believe in talking beasts even when surrounded by them. He doesn’t look like a grownup, he looks like an invincibly ignorant fool.

    “do you disagree that she was punished?”

    You could put it that way if you wanted, but Lewis would say that she punishes herself – she is in self-imposed exile from Narnia just like the dwarfs in the stable.

    “tree of life … so yes, in that way, aslan is the perfect analogue of god”

    Maybe! It is slightly uncanny how you manage to present the perspective of Satan: God wants to keep you down … he’s really insecure etc.
    But of course there is a quite different possibility. The tree is not just of “knowledge” but the “knowledge of good and evil”; and “knowledge” in Hebrew thought is not just head knowledge but personal experience (hence “to know” as a cognate for intercourse). If that is right then the tree brings moral knowledge either way, Adam and Eve could have chosen to trust God and that too would have been an act of moral “knowing” (experience) – albeit of a very different kind.
    Again Lewis discusses this in TMN with the temptation of Digory (who?): the White Witch steals the fruit and gains a sickened cursed immortality; Digory resists and is finally *given* the fruit to heal his dying mother.

    • im beginning to see the trouble youre having with this story.
      you are placing this short story (which is what i have been discussing this whole time) in the narnia books when that isnt where this short story takes place.
      this short story takes place in a world where all the narnia events occurred AND where the chronicles of narnia was a series of books written by cs lewis.
      the main character of the short story (the girl who is researching the problem of susan) doesnt know shes talking to the susan who lived these events, even though her personal experience with narnia is limited compared to the other characters in the series. in this world, the definition of an adult is the same in our world as it is in the short story. you talk about how long she lived there, but think of it like dream time. a dream can span untold time over 6 hours of sleep, but when you wake up, you dont think that everything in the dream actually happened, because, well, thats crazy. i dont see why you think its so out of the realm of possibility for someone to so easily accept that something like that was indeed a figment, especially given the evidence in the short story that these memories are represented in literature known the world over. in the short story, and in the narnia books, susan IS punished, even though she doesnt necessarily know it. and shes not only punished for literally nothing, she is also, as a character, treated horridly by lewis, turning into this vapid cow. she goes from being a character who is kind, gentle and nurturing to a conceited woman with no concern for anyone but herself.
      another mistake youre making, by my estimation, is taking what lewis would say into account. these characters arent his anymore. he put them into the world, and the moment someone else read them, they didnt belong to him anymore, they belong to us. to say her exile is self imposed would certainly take some acknowledgement by the character that she knows that these things happened and that she made a conscious decision to reject narnia.
      this never happened.
      also, i wouldnt say that my perspective represents or resembles satans, its what the bible actually says.
      “And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
      that is fear. god feared them having knowledge AND living forever.
      in fact, he even told adam and eve that if they eat from the tree of knowledge that they will die.
      that was a lie. that is not why they would die. they would die because he had kept them from eating from the tree of life, not because they had eaten from the tree of knowledge.
      all the use of the witch and the fruit in the magicians nephew says, along with his treatment of susan, is that he was REALLY sexist.
      and he was.
      but i think that in the end, you and i have been discussing different things, and hopefully this has shed some light on what my thoughts on the subject were more clearly.
      i guess you could call me the lightbringer or something.

  60. “you are placing this short story (which is what i have been discussing this whole time) in the narnia books when that isnt where this short story takes place.”

    Actually, I think both of us having been talking about Lewis’ vision and treatment of his characters as much as Gaiman’s work. And given that Gaiman’s metafiction is also critique, this is unavoidable and appropriate. And, as you rightly observe, in both Gaiman’s story and Lewis’ Susan really went to Narnia and really didn’t get to stay there.

    “in this world, the definition of an adult is the same in our world as it is in the short story. you talk about how long she lived there, but think of it like dream time. a dream can span untold time over 6 hours of sleep, but when you wake up, you dont think that everything in the dream actually happened, because, well, thats crazy. i dont see why you think its so out of the realm of possibility for someone to so easily accept that something like that was indeed a figment.”

    This, I think, is the nub. Thankyou. As you might have realised, I have read a lot of Lewis and I know how he thinks about this. He would certainly agree with you that a memory of Narnia could easily *become* faint and dreamlike. But he would also insist that it didn’t have to be like that. There is always a moment when the truth is clearly presented and what happens next is entirely dependent on how the person responds to that revelation. If the truth is treated as falsehood it will lose its existential force and start feeling like untruth.

    The clearest example of this in CoN is, again, in PC where Susan admits suppressing the truth about Lucy’s vision (I’ll concatenate a couple of sections):

    ==========================================
    “Where did you think you saw him?” asked Susan.
    “Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.”

    “But I’ve been far worse than you know. I really believed it was him – he, I mean – yesterday. When he warned us not to go down to the fir wood. And I really believed it was him tonight, when you woke us up. I mean, deep down inside. Or I could have, if I’d let myself. But I just wanted to get out of the woods and – and – oh, I don’t know. And what ever am I to say to him?”
    ==========================================

    Note the acknowledgement that she is without excuse; “deep down” she knew the truth, or she could have “if I’d let myself”. Lewis, of course is reflecting a very biblical way of thinking about the way sin affects knowledge (eg. Romans 1:18ff). But, again, this is scarcely news to postmoderns: we are very aware that power-agendas can subvert so-called “rational” discourse.

    Anyway, I thinks this depiction of Susan needs to be borne in mind when discussing what happens later. She is a complex character, certainly, but it is too simple to say that “she goes from being a character who is kind, gentle and nurturing to a conceited woman with no concern for anyone but herself.” Her treatment of Lucy is jolly beastly ;-).

    ” to say her exile is self imposed would certainly take some acknowledgement by the character that she knows that these things happened and that she made a conscious decision to reject narnia.”

    Well I think the PC incident is that acknowledgment on another occasion. It is clearly a key interpretive moment and resonates with Lewis’ worldview as expressed repeatedly in CoN and in his other work. Again, as he writes in “The Great Divorce” – “No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find”.

    But if you are asking me for evidence, where is your evidence that Susan is punished rather than self-punished? Why are you so keen to pin the blame on Aslan or Lewis – is it to justify your own turning away?

    “‘And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ that is fear. god feared them having knowledge AND living forever.”

    No, that’s your interpretation. Given the vision of God’s transcendence offered in Genesis it is absurd to suggest that God should be in any way personally threatened by them. A more plausible explanation is that God wants to stop them living forever in the state they are in – in other words, trapped eternally in a life apart from him like demons.

    “he even told adam and eve that if they eat from the tree of knowledge that they will die. that was a lie.”

    Well I didn’t pick you for a literalist :-). The text says “in the day you eat of it you will die”. There are at least two other possibilities. (i) “Day” is not literal but designates a stage of history as in Gen 2:4 (ii) Death is broader than physical but most crucially relates to “life with God”. If people are made to relate to God then life without him is living death (like death without love). This would accord with the New Testament usage (eg. Eph 2:1).

    “i guess you could call me the lightbringer or something.”

    No, I won’t insult you by calling you Lucifer, my friend. But I will finish with another Lewis’ quote:

    Everything detestable [is] in the long run, also ridiculous; and mere Christianity commits every Christian to believing that ‘the Devil is (in the long run) an ass.’
    — C. S. Lewis, Preface to Paradise Lost

    Peace.

  61. So, let me get this straight, Neil Gaiman takes C. S. Lewis to task because C. S. Lewis dissaproves of Susan choosing a Sex-in-the-City lifestyle over Narnia?

    How pomo….

  62. Hi James,

    “you dont have it straight at all. read the story.”

    Well I have, and after your post before last I re-read it – and I must say I liked it more than I did the first time. And I was helped by your comments, so thankyou.

    But where do you get the sex-and-the-city stuff? I don’t recall trying to identify the precise nature of Gaiman’s critique in those terms at all.
    I’m trying to talk about *your* take on Aslan and Lewis (and God).
    But you never respond to any of my arguments.

    Peace

    • im not actually sure who youre responding to.
      ive clearly given my take on aslan and god (in context of this story) and i never said anything about sex and the city.

  63. Quite so! I confused you with redmaigo, sorry.
    redmaigo: what I said about Sex in the City.
    James: why don’t you respond to arguments?

    • i just saw the “arguments” you were talking about and honestgly, they werent worth responding to.
      you go on about how even though susan has never displayed any actual acknowledgment of narnia, through things that happened while she was in narnia you have proof that “deep down she knew’.
      that stuff isnt evidence, not even slightly.
      if an infant shocks itself when its two in an electrical outlet, and then spends the rest of its life on an island where there is no electricity, it wont know
      “deep down” that an electrical outlet can shock it.
      likewise, your argument about gods own words.
      you say it doesnt make sense for him to be fearful, but he explicitly states, not to them, but to an unnamed separate party (his wife, perhaps?) that they CANNOT become like them.
      why? they would most certainly not be any more separated from god than they already were, and throwing them out of the garden didnt separate them from god, and neither did anything else they or their descendants did.
      technically, throughout the entire bible there are stories of people doing things god didnt want them to do, and the general solution was genocide and death, but even then separation from god didnt happen, but for some reason, in the beginning, being like god WOULD separate them?
      this seems to me to be a case of you arguing for the sake of arguing, like christians who want to argue the bible as fact, but at the same time argue its not being literal where a day can mean millions of years or some such nonsense.
      either the bible was written the way it was to be taken as it was written, or all of it is figurative and none of it is to be taken as fact.
      cherry pickers drive me mad and i dont discuss things with them.

  64. I appreciate you making this response James.

    “if an infant shocks itself when its two in an electrical outlet…”

    Well actually your illustration is the kind of thing I’m talking about: the notion that the existential impact of a significant experience might fade in an environment where it seems irrelevant. And, once again, you can see an example of this in The Silver Chair where the Green Lady tries to convince the protagonists that the overworld is a myth. Bit my bit she reinterprets their memories and undermines their worldview.

    But there a couple of qualifiers to make. First I notice that you play-up the helplessness and passivity of the subject by making it an “infant”. But Susan isn’t an infant when she visits Narnia – she’s an early teen (at least by PC). Nor do the odds seem inevitably stacked against her remembering her experiences: her older brother and younger siblings (Lucy is about 10 the last time she visits Narnia before TLB) both seem capable of keeping the memory alive. So do Jill, Eustace, Polly & Digory. This would seem to suggest that Susan is at least partly complicit in her forgetting. She *allows* the memory to fade despite the efforts of her family. And this is tragic considering the magnitude of the revelation she has received.

    The other weakness with your illustration is that it assumes the subject’s normal environment has no point of connection with the experience at all. But, quite apart from the presence of witnesses who seek to remind her of Narnia, Susan lives in a nation with a Christian heritage and should be able to recognise that there is some kind of resonance between Aslan (the “perfect analogue” as you put it) and Jesus. Aslan has made it clear that this is the case himself in his comments to the cabby in TMN and his charge to Edmund (VDT):

    ====================================
    “I am [in your world too]. But there, I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia! That by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.
    ====================================

    “he explicitly states … that they CANNOT become like them.”

    (i) where do these words occur?
    (ii) they don’ say anything about fear.
    (iii) how exactly do you think God would threatened by them?

    “they would most certainly not be any more separated from god than they already were, and throwing them out of the garden didnt separate them from god”

    So they are the most separated they can be AND they are not separated from him?
    But they are separated; their relationship with God is broken, and that is why they (try to) hide from him after eating the fruit. And yes it is possible for things to get worse – see Cain’s cry in Gen 3:14.

    “being like god WOULD separate them?”

    They are already like God. Do you mean being immortal?

    “this seems to me to be a case of you arguing for the sake of arguing”

    My main reason for arguing these matters is to press you concerning your prejudice against God. You are obviously convinced that God is vicious and cruel (I know, you’re supposed to be an atheist, but I don’t buy it given your anger) but the arguments you use to make your case from Lewis and the Bible are so transparently weak. I am hoping that I might be able to persuade you to rethink your prejudices and consider that it is just possible you have gotten him wrong.

    “either the bible was written the way it was to be taken as it was written, or all of it is figurative and none of it is to be taken as fact.”

    What if it was written to be taken figuratively? Or what if some parts are meant to be taken literally and others aren’t?
    Texts require careful and nuanced reading – you know that because you are careful when it comes to Gaiman’s work.

    God bless,
    Andrew

    • again:
      “And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

      that is where he says they cannot be like him.

      and you say that the narnia universe is based in our christian world, where the bible explicitly states that you worship no one besides the one true god.
      a lion version in an alternate reality is never mentioned.
      that actually seems like something the devil would do to trick people.

      also, i dont have a “grudge” against god.
      i think hes a poorly written and inconsistent character who is more villain then savior.
      the continuity is awful and there are too many versions to make any sense of it.
      i cant have a grudge against a fictional character.

  65. Hi James

    “that is where he says they cannot be like him.”

    But it doesn’t – it says he *has* become like one of us. And, again, there is nothing to connote fear here.

    “you say that the narnia universe is based in our christian world, where the bible explicitly states that you worship no one besides the one true god.
    a lion version in an alternate reality is never mentioned. that actually seems like something the devil would do to trick people.”

    Well even if that (ridiculous) argument were valid it would still tend to support the point that there are connections between this world and Narnia.
    But the argument is ridiculous because it displays such a fundamental ignorance of basic Christian doctrines such as the Trinity and incarnation. And it is laughable too, because the blithe confidence of your assertion is so disproportionate to your level of understanding.
    Can I urge you to do something to update your knowledge of Christianity? No doubt they taught you something at Sunday School but it either wasn’t much or you have forgotten it. Why don’t you try reading the Gospels again as a grown-up and find out a bit more about the God you so freely criticise?

    “i think hes a poorly written and inconsistent character who is more villain then savior.”

    Honestly, how could you possibly be qualified to make that judgment given your level of knowledge?
    But this intrigues me. Is this what you think when you read CoN too? Do you kind of like the stories all the way through until this business with Susan (like Gaiman)? Or do you just dislike CoN generally?

    “i cant have a grudge against a fictional character.”

    ISTM that the vigour with which you prosecute him in this discussion suggests otherwise.

    Peace,
    Andrew

  66. I find this discussion really terrific. But leaving aside the more recent contributions, I would like to comment on what Susan represents to me. Much as I love the Narnia characters and the films, Neil Gaiman’s short story does provide a bit of closure of Susan’s story. If only the dream that Greta the journalist had wasn’t so gross!

    I don’t agree that it was pure sexism that C.S.Lewis chose 4 Pevensie children. And I can see the Pevensie/Professor Hastings link that Neil Gaiman has also made: both names are ultimately derived from Harold II’s battle with William the Conqueror at Hastings in 1066. I see now that all four children describe some aspect of C.S.Lewis, himself.

    Lucy is the youngest sibling. Yes, she is the baby who has a reputation for truthfulness, and trustfulness. But she is a bit of a bother to her elder siblings. The series, and cleverly, the recent film Voyage of the Dawn Treader shows this very clearly. The film shows Lucy’s nightmare at her envious temptation to try the beauty spell leading her to actually become Susan, as if she had never been born. I’d like to remind the Last Battle commentators about Susan ‘not being a friend of Narnia’ that Lucy says nothing about Susan in that scene, neither of good or evil. Perhaps she and Susan are opposite sides of the same coin, representing two different choices. Lucy chose belief. Susan, caught up in every day concerns and fears, chose unbelief.

    Just like Edmund, the most realised character, as far as Voyage, is the younger, damaged, resentful and gluttonous opposite of Peter, the Magnificent, who is dismissed in HHB as being away ‘fighting giants’ and in VDT as ‘studying for final exams with the Professor’. His redemption leaves him more reflective and wise. He becomes Edmund the Just, although we don’t really find out in the book why Caspian needed him along on the Dawn Treader or if he ever apologised for the way Edmund treated Shasta in HHB. Now that more films are not to be made I doubt we will ever find out. But he, too says nothing about Susan in Last Battle.

    I agree with Cassandra, I think it was, that Susan’s not going to Narnia heaven was set up from the beginning and should have been anticipated even in the books that hardly mentioned her. Where there is strife between the siblings, Susan always seems to fight with Lucy, in particular, as if this is the sibling she was always intended to resent. Unlike Edmund, she does not resent Peter’s leadership, only his lack of leadership in PC. Unlike Peter, she has no problem with Edmund’s duplicity in LWW, and unlike the film PC, wherever we see her, Susan behaves as adults in the 1940′s and 1950′s expect her to behave – in a conventional way – something Corin comments about in HHB.

    That is one quarrel I have with Walden’s films. Susan never fought, unlike in the movie PC. That is why she could be considered gentle. She never questioned whether or not she could fight. And yes, Susan could have been more discerning when Rabadash the Ridiculous courted her for his wife. It was Lucy who thought she could be brave enough and Lucy who rode with Edmund to Anvard’s relief.

    Susan isn’t assertive like Polly, who, just as Hwin wouldn’t marry Bree, wouldn’t dream of marrying Professor Digory Kirk, however friendly she is with him, nor is she like Jill, or even her dragonish cousin, Eustace. She is, well, Susan, and as such, gets to form a life independent of her siblings. There is a good reason why she isn’t in the train wreck. She has other interests, which her siblings cannot share. By the way that train wreck really did happen, just as Lewis portrayed in Last Battle,though at a different time.

    I’m not sure I agree with Gaiman’s picture of Susan as a professor, though as a post train-wreck story, and as someone left to remember it, on account of her siblings, it does give a sort of karma to the rest of Susan’s life, maybe a repentance of the silly, vain part of her life Polly alludes to, when teenaged girls weren’t expected to complete educations because they were expected to have a good time then marry.

    • Susan not coming to Narnia’s Heaven?

      I reread LB, the one moment when “Aslan’s Country” touches on “The Real England” the Seven Friends of Narnia, Rilian, presumably also Reepicheep, Puzzle, Emeth look at a far sight where Mr and Mrs Pevensie are waving to them – that would be after all time in Narnia and also after all time in England (Mr and Mrs Pevensie presumably survived the train accident) and after Lady Polly had been talking about Susan – now they were going to find out if Susan was there or not, and we are not allowed to eavesdrop on it.

  67. That is an excellent point, hglundahl, that has been often overlooked in LB. Perhaps because the critics insist they never read the book to the end. I like your point about eavesdropping as well, something C.S.Lewis also mentioned in VDT and HHB. .

  68. I read many replies that talked about how unfair or cruel Lewis was to leave Susan out, but none yet that discussed how absurd and contrived her “sin” is.

    Susan lived for decades in Narnia; she lived an entire life before returning to her native world. For her to suddenly become seduced by the sophistication and sexuality of adulthood is one thing–but this is not the “sin” for which she is denied the pleasure of dying in a train accident. Her sin was to “stop believing” in Narnia, a place where she had lived for decades. It makes no sense–it’s delusional. It would be as if I lived in Detroit for five years, moved away, and then a few years later declared that Detroit didn’t exist. This is why Susan’s fate in Chronicles provokes so much confusion and anger, I think, because it is so unrealistic and forced.

    But Lewis still feels the need to shove in to make an example of “willful disbelief”. (A brief aside: that phrase should be setting alarm bell off in your head. You don’t believe something because you want to–you are either convinced or you are not.) Christians like Lewis enjoy smugly asserting that the existence of not just a god, but a Christian god who is directly involved with our lives is obvious. Anyone who, say, points out that there is no convincing evidence to support this is just “choosing” not to believe (the dwarves in The Last Battle, for example). In Lewis’ world, his god is entirely justified in torturing them to some degree for all eternity (being locked in a dark, smelly stable for all eternity, “cast out” from Aslan’s presence).

    Gaiman’s reaction is to conclude that the Christian concepts of absolute good and absolute evil, interpreted by Lewis as Aslan and the White Witch, are equally damaging and have a great deal in common. In fact, they’re kissing cousins. You see the same theme in his much more polished work with Terry Pratchet, Good Omens.

    In Gaiman’s story, Susan is not “left out” of paradise–rather, she escapes from a dangerous delusion which ultimately consumes her brothers and sister. I find this much more satisfying.

    • @WLynnF: Here, here! I’ve watched this discussion become so convoluted since I first posted a reply. What a great way you’ve got of cutting through the bull. I wish I’d done it.

      At the risk of pissing off Narnia fans, I’d just like to say that the images that so hurt the owner of this blog really got me hot, intellectually and imaginatively speaking. It’s the kind of pure, hard-edged metaphor I look for in dark fiction. May Gaiman continue to rip, rend, tear and chew.

    • Susan didn’t commit a sin as such, no more than any one else in the book. But Susan, AKA Miss Conventional, did de facto, choose a secular life no different to the lives of most women in this world, such as those featured on 1940′s and 1950′s lipstick and nylons ads etc. She chose to dismiss her Narnian adventures as ‘funny games we used to play as children’. The difficulty I have with that dismissal is that Susan really ought to have remembered her adventures in Tashbaan, in her later adventures in Narnia during the time of Prince Caspian for her own future security, and in learning the dangers of ‘going with the flow’.

  69. Hi WLynnF,
    I’m quite interested in the theory of mind that you are working with here. Are you saying that people have no moral responsibility for what they believe because they are constrained by their psychology? If that’s the case then you might have logic on your side, but you might at least speak a little more sympathetically about Christians. Whether they “enjoy” or feel “smug” about what they believe is irrelevant – they (like all of us) are simply victims of their own mental states.

    • By your question, may I assume that you believe people can be held morally accountable for what they think (dare I say “thought-crime”)?

      In any case, your deduction of my position is bizarre. A person’s beliefs reflect their interpretation of reality based on the information they have. People are not morally accountable for what they believe period–they are morally accountable for what they do. And no, this fact does not make me more “sympathetic” towards Christians who hold beliefs similar to Lewis’s. I can criticize the sadistic absurdity of their position without holding them morally accountable for it–only if they trespass on my or anyone else’s rights in some way have they committed an immoral action.

      • Okay, so to clarify, you think people can’t help believing what they do, but they can help how they respond to it. I’m not sure if you can really make that distinction – after all, aren’t actions always based on which “beliefs” dominate our decision-making process? Wouldn’t a decision to act contrary to one’s beliefs simply signify a deeper belief in whatever overrides the first?
        Nevertheless, conceding the point for now, wouldn’t you agree that sometimes our actions “feed back” into our beliefs. For example a slave-owning culture is more willing to believe certain arguments about the intrinsic incompetence of the enslaved. Those who financially benefit from arms manufacturing are more willing to listen to arguments about the peace brought by deterrence. Capitalists are more apt to promote and believe arguments about the benefits of the free market for the poor.
        You see where I’m headed.

  70. Exactly, Andrew! As Dumbledore famously said, it is our choices which make us who we are, not our abilities or our family background. And it is what we believe and what we disbelieve about consequences and what we believe is right and what we believe is wrong which forms the basis of our choices, doesn’t it? What we believe about others and ourselves can form the basis of how we regard our self and others as well.

    There is quite a bit about belief and disbelief in the Narnia stories, especially in LB, and not only about Susan. Remember the dwarves who disbelieve that there is either a Tash or an Aslan? Or Emeth?

    In Susan’s case I think that the reason why she was ‘no good at schoolwork’ as she was described in VDT, was that she chose to believe the adults who commented how pretty she was, and who probably told her, as 1940′s and 1950′s people often did, that pretty girls like Susan, didn’t need an education. So, although she won prizes for swimming and archery, and could obviously read, she was more interested in ‘grown-up’ women’s things like fashion, and conforming to what that society had to say about women. Sort of like a precursor to Ira Levin’s ‘Stepford Wives’. Consequently, as Polly mentioned, she wasted her time at school, expecting to get married and live happily ever after. Don’t forget that C.S.Lewis died in 1963, the same day as JFK was assassinated, that at that time the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960′s and 1970′s had yet to unfold, and that before Lewis died there was no such thing as sexism. Also that C.S.Lewis was an educator whose job was to get people to think outside the square.

    And when in The Horse and His Boy, Susan narrowly escaped being left all alone in Narnia, in her adult life there, without brothers, sister or parents, because Calormen’s Rabadash wanted to marry her, I can see that the Narnian ‘childhood memories’ Susan didn’t want to remember might have a considerable bearing on the sorts of choices she could have made before the train wreck, and on Peter, Eustace, Jill and Polly’s comments about her in LB. The fact is, Susan already had dallied with Rabadash in Narnia, so sex simply can’t have been a reason for Susan being ‘left behind’.

    I don’t see why everyone is so upset by Susan not being in the train wreck in LB. It was a real train wreck which killed a lot of people, as Aslan pointed out. If you read the book right to the end, as hglundahl said, you find out that non-Narnians also went to a linked heaven. Susan’s parents had also died in the train wreck, along with unnamed others deserving of their own beloved heaven. Whereas Susan was neither on the train, the platform, at the meeting when Tirian appeared, and clearly had other fish to fry than the news in Narnia. C.S.Lewis did point out in a children’s letter that Susan had plenty of time left to decide what she wanted to do – even Gaiman allows Greta’s teacher to point this out in his story

    Gaiman brilliantly showed the likely consequences to a young woman of having all of her family killed in such a disaster, and how it would impact her life afterwards. It is the non-believing Greta who gets the nightmares in the end, not Susan, the Professor who by that time had decided she had had a good life, after all, and had long ago given up the silliness of her earlier years, having being forced to earn a living to support herself.

    But I still can’t see Susan Pevensie as a Professor, myself, as I am a baby boomer. If she had been the real Susan Pevensie, as Greta insists in Gaiman’s story , she would have spent most of her life overcoming a neglected education, only the most basic academic qualifications, little spare money and no work experience.

  71. Thankyou for another great post gadigal (if that abbreviation is not too familiar).
    I’m not sure I would say that we are wholly self determined – I think family and background etc are also massively important* – but we aren’t just the objects of exigency. On the other hand, who am I to qualify Dumbledore?
    I think your reading of Susan here is absolutely right. She lets her beauty, and the status it brings her, define her and fill her horizon. Which is disastrous and tragic in the light of the greater privileges she has received.
    Good call on the academic issue too: it doesn’t quite fit, and makes her more reflective than she seems in the books. But I do like what Gaiman does with her.

    * true of Harry Potter “the chosen one” too, I think

  72. I think we both mean different things when we are using the word “belief” here. You seem to be talking about a person’s moral philosophy, whereas I am talking about a person’s perception of reality. For example, I believe that the sky is blue and that the home in which I grew up was a real place and not just part of a “game” I played with my brother and sister. If I suddenly decided that the sky was green and my childhood home was imaginary, you could only assume that I was either lying or that something had gone terribly wrong in my brain.

    In this way, I “cannot help” or I have no “choice” but to believe that the sky is blue and the house and community I grew up in were real. You can choose to accept or reject a moral philosophy, based either in its merits or (if you don’t care if what you believe is true) whether it makes you feel good or not, but a physical fact like the existence of another world that you lived in for decades is a different matter entirely.

    The “choice” of whether or not to believe in Narnia that Susan “still has time to make” is absurd. Susan experienced Narnia–it was the only reality she lived in for decades. For her to “stop believing” in it is so ridiculous the only realistic explanation would be brain damage or mental illness, and even that would be forced and contrived.

    • What about her telling herself that she had fake memories out of going (as Eustace and probably Harold and Alberta would have said) “gradually balmier and balmier”?

      I mean, she could have been convincing herself she needed to convince herself of unreality of those memories in order not to qualify as mentally ill.

      The one excuse I can get up with for her.

    • Thanks WLynnF, I take your point, in part. It does require a certain suspension of disbelief to think of Uncle Andrew only hearing growls when the animals talk to him (TMN) or the dwarfs seeing only dung and darkness when they are sitting in heaven. No doubt some children and grown-ups might find that implausible. And, no doubt, others will find it plausible for different reasons: some because it is, you know, magic; others because they believe it allegorically and are persuaded by the (moral/noumenal/spiritual) reality to which it points. Obviously I am in the latter category.
      However things are a little complicated with Susan, because here we aren’t dealing with her present perception of a phenomenal world but her memory of it (cf. hglundahl). I don’t think it is unbelievable that she could allow the memory to fade and become less real over time* through neglect and distraction. The evidence that people can delude themselves in this area is pretty strong – random egs:
      - According to one survey 3% of your countrymen believe they have been abducted by aliens.
      - Recent surveys show advertising can implant false memories.
      - Addicts of various kinds routinely distort their history to deny and protect the addiction.
      etc.
      In other words you don’t have to be certifiably crazy to be a little confused about reality when it is not staring you in the face.
      Just watching too much TV and letting yourself go will do it. Maybe “nylons and lipsticks and invitations” will too.

      * you seem to think it was sudden but I don’t think we need to assume that – again, see hglundahl.

      • “According to one survey 3% of your countrymen believe they have been abducted by aliens.”

        As far as I can see, they can have perfectly genuine memories.

        Demons do exist.

        And aliens might be a one of their disguises. Not extraterrestrials, but intraterrestrials, a k a infernals, is one explanation a Christian can accept rather than false memories.

        However, Susan may well have ignored that and THOUGHT her memories were false ones and Roswell testimonies making her more ready to believe that.

        “Addicts of various kinds routinely distort their history to deny and protect the addiction.”

        Fake memories? Fake telling? Or fake perception of their addiction. All three are possible.

  73. I’m sure we could imagine all sorts of reasons why Susan would try to delude herself into thinking that Narnia was never real, but it would be essentially pointless–nothing that would explain self-delusion to that extent is presented in the text. My point is that Lewis’s handling of Susan’s fate is a failure on his part as an author, a clumsy attempt to insert a particularly noxious piece of Christian doctrine he espoused.

    Anyway, the examples you cite (and I would appreciate a source for “advertising can implant false memories”) come nowhere near explaining away decades of your life as “it was just pretend”. Nearly everything you mention can be explained with two words. People lie. Whether they lie to get attention or some sympathy cash to buy one more fix, there’s nothing extraordinary or unbelievable about it.

    And here we come to the crux of what I find the most nauseating about Lewis’s belief (and, if I have understood you correctly, your own) regarding atheists and other “unbelievers” engaging in “willful disbelief” such as the dwarves in LB. What you’re really saying is not that atheists have “decided” not to believe in the Christian god and thus magically switched off our belief in him , but that we’re deluding ourselves–deep down, we really do believe there’s a god but we’ve decided to lie to ourselves and pretend that there isn’t because…well, no satisfying explanation is really given.

    Either way, not only is this monstrously condescending, its absurd. It requires you to make a claim to know what is going on in our heads, something that you could not possibly know. There’s nothing numinous or moral about this non-truth. It’s a twisted attempt to mitigate or justify the obviously immoral doctrine that says people may be condemned for what they think rather than how they act towards their fellow human beings.

    • “I’m sure we could imagine all sorts of reasons why Susan would try to delude herself into thinking that Narnia was never real, but it would be essentially pointless”

      I have done it, I agree and made her agree it was pointless.

      “nothing that would explain self-delusion to that extent is presented in the text.”

      Not quite. Eustace’s limerick, the sad fate of mental patients (even worse back then, recently after Rosemary Kennedy was lobotomised), and Susan’s fearfulness go a long way to explain it. If suitably brought together.

      “My point is that Lewis’s handling of Susan’s fate is a failure on his part as an author, a clumsy attempt to insert a particularly noxious piece of Christian doctrine he espoused.”

      Not quite. Rather an excuse for miracle witnessers who afterwards refused to believe in miracles they witnessed. Not limited to atheists, look at ch. 12 in Matthew and see what that tells about Jews of those days.

      CSL is essentially giving them a psychological excuse. “People lie to themselves.” That is not quite the traditional Christian view of it. More like: “People lie” – especially “People lie to each other, to keep respectable.” A point also made in H C Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.

      That is the usual Christian view on why Jews do not quite tell the same story about Jesus as we do.

      No, CSL was not at all saying that atheists who had never seen any miracles were indulging in wilful disbelief. That would have seemed to him impious to his old tutor Kirkpatrick – the atheist who taught him logic while he was an atheist himself. As well as being impious to his own past as an atheist.

    • I have another tentative explanation:

      The occasion when there were coke bottles was last one before the new rule.

      I give priority to a clear memory over the memory of a routine.

      And a third: you lie about it, to make fake memories seem plausible.

      But even assuming it was a fake memory, it was much more probably a melting of two memories into one (football match occasion memory + coke bottle occasion memory) than simply a single fake memory.

      No amount of seeing coke bottles in commercials could implant a single fake memory of drinking and tasting coke, if you had never tasted it.

      As root beer commercials are not numerous at all in Europe, I know for certain my taste memories of root beer do not come from seeing commercials.

  74. I will! Every time. Thank you for the link, the article is very interesting although the title seems to me to be an exaggeration. I assumed you were going for “numinous” since “noumenal reality” is not something we can actually understand or experience according to the man who coined the term and you were clearly referring to something that could be understood or experienced. I look forward to your response.

    • Hi WLynnF,
      I now have a few moments so I will attempt a brief response to your last post. My tone is going to be fairly sharp here, but I want you to understand that this is not meant to be a personal attack, nor payback for the strong language of your penultimate post. It is because these are serious questions.
      Please note that I am going to leave aside the question of Susan now. We could continue to discuss the the plausibility of her denial, but I think it is clear that the real issue is what Lewis was allegorising through her: the active suppression of the knowledge of God by humans.
      Notice here that I say “humans” and not, as you write, “atheists and unbelievers”. The biblical view is that this is a universal problem for our species and Christians are not immune. To use the apt analogy of Alcoholics Anonymous, Christians are (in one sense) recovering atheists who also have trouble seeing straight. We are not immune from the attractions of pretending there is no God. Nor are we unfamiliar with the self-protective denial that cloaks that delusion (just as if it were an addiction).
      No doubt this is making you angry once again. Of course: that is how we addicts always react when our addiction is threatened. That the anger is completely irrational should be an indication that something is awry.
      Why do I say it irrational? Because, as I stated before, the science-only world view gives you no grounds to blame us. The mind is simply a product of the brain – and the operations of the brain (both beliefs and actions) are determined by natural forces. We are machines (“lumbering robots” in Richard Dawkins’ parlance) controlled by our genes, memes, hormones and environment. That’s it. It makes as much sense for you to be angry at me as it does for you to call a tiger “nauseating” for wanting to eat a child; or a broken autopilot “monstrous” for crashing a plane.
      Rather than go on here (though I could), I will finish with a question. If I could provide you with sufficient evidence to show you that Christianity was true, would you believe it and start following Jesus?

  75. ‘“noumenal reality” is not something we can actually understand or experience according to the man who coined the term and you were clearly referring to something that could be understood or experienced.’

    Well it can and it Kant.
    Sorry, sorry.

    More anon. :-)

  76. All the same, Andrew, I can quite understand why Uncle Andrew in MN cannot hear the animals speak, or the dwarves in LB appreciate that they were anywhere else but in a smelly stable. The fact is, people only see, hear or smell only what they want to see, hear and smell. Uncle Andrew, for example, thought that animals such as the guinea pig he experimented on didn’t matter, and so he couldn’t hear animals talk. Any more than the Germans who perpetrated the horrors they did in Auschwitz could see, hear, smell or understand the human suffering they caused.

    JK Rowling, who said she was inspired by C.S.Lewis, in particular, invented memory charms like ‘Obliviate’, ‘Confundus and even the unforgiveable ‘Imperius’ to explain people acting against their perception of reality and ethics. JKR could do this as part and parcel of the fantasy world she created in the HP series. But recently, whilst watching a historical program featuring Stalin, I gained a new insight. I don’t understand Russian, but Stalin’s honeyed, ever so reasonable and wise tones, reminded me ever so forcefully of..??? hm! Tolkien’s Saruman at Isengard, and Lewis’ Lady of the Green Kirtle in Silver Chair. And should I also mention JKR’s Umbridge, with a personality like ‘poisoned honey’, vigorously denying the return of Voldemort?

    WLynnF, you said: “My point is that Lewis’s handling of Susan’s fate is a failure on his part as an author, a clumsy attempt to insert a particularly noxious piece of Christian doctrine he espoused”.

    I beg most politely to disagree. I also disagree with Andrew that Susan wasn’t reflective enough to become a Professor. I gave one instance for my last post of why Susan might have been unable to overcome the disadvantages of a neglected education, minimal or non-existent leaving school qualifications and an expectation that a pretty girl like her would definitely marry.

    There were plenty of other very real disincentives in the pre- Women’s Lib days of the 1940′s & 1950′s, including VDT’s taking Susan to America, which from the point of view of Edmund, Lucy and Eustace, was almost like a reward for being ‘no good at schoolwork’. These disincentives included the idea that brainy girls were ugly ‘bluestockings’, definitely uncool, and that career girls had to give up marriage and children. University entrance was geared to academic subjects only, and so those who enjoyed industrial arts like woodwork or metalwork, or cooking and textile design also were debarred from higher qualifications.

    Furthermore, there were plenty of families, in UK, in particular, where girls were sent off to earn money working for the war effort, the best paid jobs available. Girls were paid less than their male colleagues, even though they did the same work and were equally as well qualified. And when I learned to read, I, too was given the definitive infant’s school career advice: Film Star, Beauty Queen, Nurse (but never a doctor), receptionist, secretary, telephonist etc.That was all before C.S.Lewis died.

    If you think that Susan was an unsuccessful character, think again. I didn’t like the idea of missing out on marriage and children for a life of study,and work any more than Susan would have done. However, Peter, who might have been as unimpressed with her choice of a husband, as Edmund was with Rabadash, never lived to reap the results of his studies with Professor Kirk. And right through the Narnia series, C.S.Lewis has had heaps to say about bullying and swaggering boys who think that girls are somehow inferior, who, like Rabadash or the elderly Ahoshta, have no good intentions towards future brides, and who even as brothers, can spend all a girl’s money.

    I agree it would have been nice if C.S.Lewis made the direct point that women do have to be able to support themselves, regardless of their married status, for their children’s sake as well. That they could not all expect to be like Lazaraleen who swanned around Tashbaan whilst her husband was absent. But I think that would have been asking too much.
    At least I completed an education and got work qualifications by not following Susan’s example.

    • Who says Susan was not getting a carreer?

      I had missed the point about her not being good at school work. Which book? LB?

      Wonder if she was not just neglecting it in favour of “new interests” in a temporary way.

      But winning prices at swimming and archery is a start for a sports carreer and a sports teacher carreer.

    • Hi gadigal,

      “Uncle Andrew, for example, thought that animals such as the guinea pig he experimented on didn’t matter, and so he couldn’t hear animals talk. Any more than the Germans who perpetrated the horrors they did in Auschwitz could see, hear, smell or understand the human suffering they caused.”

      I probably didn’t make myself clear here because you are describing exactly what I was meaning when I spoke of the allegorical truth in the Uncle Andrew/dwarf stuff. For example, despite their propaganda films, it isn’t that Nazis “literally” saw Jews as rats – though that might be what an foolishly simple application of Lewis’ fiction might expect. But it is certainly true that their moral or spiritual apprehension was so utterly ruined that they could not really see their victim’s humanity.

      I obviously misunderstood you regarding Susan and the professorship – my apologies.

      • I probably didn’t make myself clear here because you are describing exactly what I was meaning when I spoke of the allegorical truth in the Uncle Andrew/dwarf stuff.

        Plausibility should be checked as for real events, since he said he was not writing an allegory.

        For example, despite their propaganda films, it isn’t that Nazis “literally” saw Jews as rats – though that might be what an foolishly simple application of Lewis’ fiction might expect. But it is certainly true that their moral or spiritual apprehension was so utterly ruined that they could not really see their victim’s humanity.

        Ruining one’s sense of human decency and ruining one’s sense perceptions are two different things.

        CSL probably possibly thought it possible to do the latter even without hypnosis (that it can be done with hypnosis to someone else is shown by some tricks of party hypnosis). Simply by being stupid enough long enough or persistently enough.

      • When looking at the despicable anti-Jewish propaganda of the time, I wouldn’t be all that surprised to find out that the Nazis of the time did actually see rats. They weren’t far from it.

        There is no need for apologies about Susan being a professor. I can see Polly Plummer becoming one, herself, or a teacher of some sort, but not Susan, such is and was the times up until 1963. But my coming from a different time and place allows me to see things differently from the bulk of posters on this most excellent thread.

  77. Yes you are right. But outside of America, people who want to become sports teachers have to complete satisfactorily all the other subjects involved as well, especially compulsory subjects like English. Science and Mathematics, up to completion of high school. I agree that a satisfactory grasp of Mathematics is useful for just about everything, including sports, science, cooking and dressmaking, but that was not the way text books taught it back in the old days. Hence the frustrations of the female maths teacher with the unruly boys’ class in PC.

    You will find all about Susan in the first chapter of Voyage of the Dawn Treader. By that time, Susan would have been 14 or 15 which was the leaving school age for most girls who were not going on to complete high school. We are told that Peter was studying for his final examinations with Professor Kirk during the summer holidays, possibly with a view to university entrance.

    Susan, who was ‘no good at schoolwork’, (p. 8, Voyage of the Dawn Treader) was taken to America on a trip with her parents because they thought she was the one who would ‘get the most out of it’. It would have cost too much to take Edmund and Lucy so they had to stay with Eustace, their cousin. I agree that travellig to America would improve Susan’s social skills, help her to make useful contacts, and if her father got her to act as his secretary, some work experience as well.

    But Polly said in LB, that Susan, who, in VDT, was ‘grown up for her age’, had ‘wasted educational opportunities’ in a rush to get to the age (probably 21) she was at that time, and would spend the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Unless, as C.S.Lewis explained, she changed her mind.

    I am also going on my own personal experience of growing up in the 1950′s and 1960′s. I was 15, myself, studying for my end of year examinations, in November, 1963, the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. C.S.Lewis’ death the same day only rated a small mention in the same newspaper, and in the evening news. When I sat for my leaving certificate the following year, only a third of my fellow applicants were girls, the remainder of whom had left school earlier, even if they were studious. Some of the ones whose parents did let them sit for the Leaving Certificate were denied university entrance because of their choice of subjects.

    I agree with Neil Gaiman that the shock of the train wreck would in itself be life-changing for Professor Susan Hastings. The shock of the train wreck would be life-changing to anyone, whatever they were doing. But middle and working class girls in UK and elsewhere would not have dabbled with sexuality quite as much as Gaiman depicts Professor Hastings as doing. The likely severe family repercussions and the lack of access to contraception would definitely be deterrents for Susan Pevensie, at any rate, and she was far more likely to be engaged or already married by the time of the train accident. Especially if she was 21, the age she could marry without parental permission.

  78. hglundahl says: Not if she was wasting her time dancing with real impossibles.

    Regardless of what Phillip Pullman has to say about HHB, and C.S.Lewis’ alleged racism, it still depends on what you mean by impossibles. Of course Queen Susan can’t marry just any vaguely interested king, prince or whatever, can she? And other royals, whatever their lineage, can still behave quite despicably – think about Miraz in PC, for instance. Or HHB’s Rabadash. Especially when supported by power-hungry, slimily fawning Grand Viziers er Prime Ministers, like Ahoshta.

    Read all about Susan’s Narnian lovelife at the end of LWW, and also in Horse and His Boy. It seems she was quite taken with one Rabadash who wanted to acquire her. What is the betting that whoever Susan did finally marry, if she did marry, would be not too different from Rabadash, no matter what his lineage might have been? Especially as she had oh so coveniently forgotten the lessons of the ‘funny games we used to play’.?

    • Just out of interest CC – what do you love about them?
      btw – good call on Dawn. I feel the same way about the whole of Season 6.

      • Have to agree with Andrew. By the way, I feel the same way about those wretched Twilight movies.

        CC says: With regard to Susan (finally), Lewis showed contempt for her from the beginning. She was the practical one, the adult.

        No she doesn’t . Susan is part of C.S.Lewis, and part of the still existing society we live in. Susan is a survivor, of course. She ‘goes with the flow’, neglects her studies and gets rewarded for her pains, thinks her sister has gone barking mad, and is so practical that when they all find themselves in Narnia, they all stay toasty warm due to her borrowing the coats in the wardrobe.

        When the Pevensies chase after the White Stag, it is Susan who wants to go home, and so they all do – in their original clothes. Of course the White Stag is magic, and it is Susan who gets her wish, not the others. That is why in subsequent adventures they end up having to change their clothes. Except in VDT when they are all on holidays anyway.

        How is Susan ridiculed in HHB more than Rabadash, himself, and the other unsavoury male types in HHB and other Chronicles? At least – thanks to Edmund, Aravis and Cor/Shasta, her own hide is preserved a bit longer. She gets to go home, honour protected, and she doesn’t even have to go to the battle if she doesn’t want to. Just like those lipstick ads I saw which proclaim about ‘girls who can never be anything else but civilians’! And what about Susan in PC, romping around with Silenus and Bacchus, of all people?

        I’m not fussed about Tash looking suspiciously like Shiva, the Hindu God of Destruction. At least C.S.Lewis picked a god which might be more than a little apt. Or does Tash look something like an ancient Canaanite God? Or something out of Egypt? Who is to know, and why does a casual reader, reading a story, actually care?

        The only thing I agree with in CC’s post is that C.S.Lewis probably borrowed from Sheharazade or the Arabian nights for his ideas about Calormen. He even has the girls educated on how to tell a story well, which if one is Sheharazade, would certainly be an advantage if she wanted to live a bit longer.

    • “The guy was seriously messed up.”

      One way of proving what he said about atheist culture of the modern kinds being infected by parrot disease is your analysis of a guy who has not volunteered to go onto your couch.

      “He was an atheist until he was 30.”

      Not quite as messed up as you think. At least he did not start as an atheist. And unlike Mélenchon so far (whose atheism was provoked not by death of a mother but only Church denying his mother Communion), he recovered.

      But I agree, when he converted he was so messed up (by atheism and several idealisms) that he preferred the evolutionist Anglican Bishop Charles Gore to Roman Catholicism. One minus for that, but hope he recovered from that too, eventually.

      “In his early life, his mother died,”

      That is true.

      “… his father was a drunk, …”

      Is that so? I know his brother was sometimes. But even if his father might have been, he and his brother (not yet drunk back then) “huddled together” in a way that kept them sane. But I can remember no indication in Surprised by Joy that his father was habitually drunk.

      “…his school was abusive.”

      Which school in modern times is not? He had three of them (the one with Oldie, the one with Pogo and the one with the Bloods and Fags and Tarts) but he also enjoyed, a good privilege not to mess him up more than others or as much, the tutorship of the atheist but otherwise civilised man called The Great Knock (I use the nicknames given in his autobiography).

      “He preferred solitude because the “real world” was too much for him,”

      He preferred solitude to some kinds of company. Reserving the name of real world to those kinds of company where one is least happy is quite a barbaric thing to do. You see, he also preferred the company of friends, wife, stepchildren to the kinds of company he disliked. Or that of attentive students: he was a university lecturer for years. And a popular one at that.

      One little credit for putting “real world” in quotation marks.

      “… and he spent the rest of his life trying to achieve “Joy” – that is, that feeling of wonder and bliss – picture Lucy walking into Narnia for the first time.”

      Not even right there. Take wonder, intense longing, and bliss in that longing, you are closer, and he did not spend the rest of his life trying to “achieve it”.

      Read Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.

      “After a certain age, if you consciously set out to get Joy, you get nothing …”

    • I was raised a Methodist, but at some point, religion stopped making sense, especially when you see all the Christians who act the complete opposite of how Christians should act, when you see people doing things in God’s name (like kill people, start countries). It’s disgusting, and I think it’s possible to live your life with morals and values without having someone shove their ideology down your throat.

      Now, look who is messed up!

      Religion stops making sense to you when you see Christians act in non-Christian ways?

      Where in the Gospel do you find that all individuals in all the nations made disciples of Christ by the Apostles will behave like Christians all of their lives and every day of their lives?

      If sin should provoke anything, it should be a loathing of sin, not a loathing of the religion that condemns it.

      Or are Methodists into the “once saved always saved” applied to individual believers stuff?

    • And the racist, sexist overtones of the books are shocking as well. The Calormenes are the equivalent of a Hindu religion, with the many-armed gods.

      Of a Hindu religion … do you think they are all equally respectable, including the Thuggee cult of Kali?

      The sacrifices Aravis makes or pretends to make to one particular goddess are not from Hinduism, but from Greek religion (original case, virgins sacrificed to Artemis/Diana, who was also – what a coincidence with the drugging of the slave – the lady of witches).

    • He preferred studying medieval literature – I imagine he must have been one of those people who looked back and sighed about “better times” that he’d never actually lived through.

      He had lived through Medieval times (so have I) as much as a radio listener, newspaper reader or TV watcher lives through far off news. Or rather much more so.

      Lewis wanted to live in a fantasy world, he wanted to escape from his miserable life (or, at least, a life he’d convinced himself was miserable).

      Though he often complained about actual miseries (like loosing his mother, like the Bloods, like loosing his wife), he was very far from having convinced himself that life was miserable.

      Some portions of so-called “real life” are miserable enough, but what is referred to as escapism is not all about actually escaping that.

      Again, you are seriously messed up for disagreeing with Tolkien’s assessment of Escapism in the chapter on escape.

      Which category of men naturally disapproves of escape? Jailors. In “real life” – something they are fond of talking about – an escape is often moral or even heroic, and admirable unless it fails. In reading the better it succeeds the worse some blame it.

    • Previous to being a Christian, he railed against Christianity, he had debates with his friends, he was very vocal about being an atheist. He could not be won over by logic, because there IS no logic to God.

      Sorry, but he had already worked his way from atheism to idealism to theism way before becoming Christian. With pretty perfect logic.

      However, what won him over was the STORY of Christ. That is very important – THE STORY.

      It was the story with its significant similarities to Pagan myths (he knew the Golden Bough by Frazer more or less by heart) that long blocked actual belief in Christianity. Tolkien had to explain to him that myth and lie are not automatically coextensive and that a myth could come true: that the God who created us as mythmakers (as far as both friends were concerned) redeemed us in a way apt for such.

      Again, read Tree and Leaf.

    • He was miserable. The one light in his life was Christianity (and, of course, towards the end of his life, his wife Joy).

      This is frankly a lie.

      It is your analysis, it is not his own words or those of anyone who knews him, as far as I know, and presenting your arbitrary analysis as the truth is utterly dishonest and despicable of you.

      • Wow. I refuse to take part in a discussion with people who personally attack me. How do I remove myself from this thread? You are disgusting, and it’s exactly people like hglundahl that I think Christians are hypocrites. Remove me, and please remove my post as well. I refuse to be attacked by complete strangers, simply because I don’t think that Lewis was some kind of infallible being.

      • Dear CasualCustomer,

        Per your request I have removed your original post. I don’t know how to unsubscribe you from follow-up comments (comment subscriptions to my posts are not under my control), but WordPress should be able to help with that.

      • You are disgusting, and it’s exactly people like hglundahl that I think Christians are hypocrites.

        OK. Thick from a man who apparently thinks he is infallible when attacking a deceased author, and apparently thinks he is infallible in analysing, not patients who confide in his analysis (even there Freud went wrong), but people who never asked him to analyse them at all, including this author who is beloved by many, but OK. Some people have taken scandal at me.

        I refuse to be attacked by complete strangers, simply because I don’t think that Lewis was some kind of infallible being.

        I absolutely do not think he was that at all, so I do not require anyone to agree what I do not think.

        The remark is as dishonest as the remarks formerly made about C. S. Lewis.

        Besides, as a mere Casual Customer – what has he lost?

      • grow up.
        when someone cant address the content you attack the person presenting it.
        if you feel that its an arbitrary analysis then it perfectly suits the arbitrary belief system espoused.
        only a despicable person could defend a sexist who worked to subvert the female sex.
        wait, thats you! youre despicable!

        see how stupid attacking people is?
        of course you dont, because you somehow had a reason for it.
        again, grow up.

        • I did not call him despicable.

          I said something – in a lot of other things I criticised him less for – was utterly dishonest and despicable of him.

          I stand by the general principle that analysing people who never volunteered to your couch is dishonest.

          Also I happened to know that a lot of what he said was counterfactual.

          Stating counterfactuals with confidence – well I guess I could have asked “where did you get that from” but his assurance did not quite seem to invite it. So, in the main I just corrected facts.

          He and you seem to think I attacked him as a person – unless that is a pose from either of you.

          I also said that apostasising from Methodism for non-reasons asks the question if he was not as least as messed up as he himself called CSL.

          Apart from those items I was perfectly polite towards his human person, if not to his opinions.

          And yes, I hastily checked through my answers before writing this.

          • Oh, and FYI – I am a WOMAN. But thank you for proving my point about Christians. No one hates as well as or is as incapable of rational discourse as you religious types.

          • Madame! Mademoiselle!

            I am devastated!

            There are tones we men take in discussions between ourselves which we would not take knowingly to a woman.

            Take that as misogynistic if you like, but we mean it as chivalrous.

  79. It all depends on how Susan fares with any latest romance. It also depends on how the would-be lover reacts to the trainwreck which demolishes most of Susan’s family, doesn’t it?

    According to the Family in Focus radio CD’s, C.S.Lewis felt that seven adventures in Narnia were enough, and that any more would be forced and unnecessary. He does have this lean academic way of not wasting words. I agree that giving Susan a lover would introduce a whole new character & a whole extra can of worms, however well it would fit with Miss Conventional’s aims in life and her repeated desire throughout the books to ‘go home’.

    It would also change the Chronicles of Narnia to the Chronicles of Susan. I don’t think that C.S.Lewis was cruel at all in his depiction of this character, however people jump on Pullman’s anti Christian bandwagon.

    • Or how her lifestyle reacts to the trainwreck?

      Meaning Polly’s words about her reflect what she knew before dying, before trainwreck.

      Wonder if the Chronicle of Susan (after the trainwreck) will be written.

      • Exactly how Susan’s lifestyle reacts to the trainwreck. Husbands, boyfriends etc can be wonderfully supportive. Regardless of their belief systems or where they are at any particular moment, they can also be horribly unsupportive.

        Reading the newspapers is a litany of just how unsupportive and sometimes downright criminal a lot of men can be. Women, too, I’ll admit.

        hglundahl says: [i]Meaning Polly’s words about her reflect what she knew before dying, before trainwreck[/i].

        I’d expect that Polly did know something about Susan before the train wreck. But if Susan wasn’t going to these cosy ‘ 7 Friends of Narnia’ get togethers, just how did she know what she did?

        And what do we know about Polly, herself? All we ever know about her was that whatever she did in life, she didn’t marry Digory Kirk, although they remained friends.

        I expect that the sexist comments he made to Polly, plus the violence he did to her were a good reason for Polly to think differently, don’t you?

        Interesting that C.S.Lewis insisted that all his female protagonists could give as good as they got. Only Susan didn’t answer back to sexist comments, and only Susan behaved just like any other ‘grown-up lady’, according to the pugnacious Prince Corin.

        And I am sure that there have been plenty of fan-fictions written about Susan. Has to be when even someone like me has contemplated, even for an instant, to do one, to explain how she came to make the remarks Eustace said she did.

        Much as Neil Gaiman is responsible for the ‘Problem of Susan’ short story, and it does provide one explanation, I doubt that his is the only possible version of what could have happened to Susan.

    • CSL in Letters to Children (real letters to real children and youngsters, the title of the collection is posthumous) told them they were free to write say fiction about Swanwhite or the descendants of King Frank or other parts missing from the Chronicles. He did not indicate offer would expire at their eighteenth or twentyfirst birthdays.

  80. It all depends on how the ‘romance’, if any, pans out after the train wreck and the personality of the man she marries. As it also did in Tashbaan if she had gone ahead with her near engagement to Rabadash.

    I understand that C.S.Lewis didn’t want to write any more than 7 Chronicles of Narnia. Perhaps to say more than he did about Susan would have changed the Chronicles of Narnia to the Chronicles of Susan. Furthermore, to delve too much into the life of a living person would be to his mind eavesdropping onto Susan’s subsequent life, as you say. It would also descend to what we refer today as fan fiction.

    I don’t think that C.S.Lewis was being cruel to Susan in the Last Battle. I think that Susan elected to become Miss Conventional UK girl 1950, in some sort of way. Which is why I dispute that ‘Professor’ Susan Hastings could really be the same person as Susan Pevensie, whatever Greta might think.

    Now if it had been Polly Plummer………

  81. To gadigal123:

    And I am sure that there have been plenty of fan-fictions written about Susan. Has to be when even someone like me has contemplated, even for an instant, to do one, to explain how she came to make the remarks Eustace said she did.

    Like “funny how good memories you have”?

    Anyway, I am writing a fanfiction myself:

    • http://petitlien.fr/su49-56pev

      Chapters are not all consecutive, there are places where chapters are missing or even whole stretches, and there are chapters as yet isolated, but the first five chapters are consecutive and depending one where funeral takes place one to three chapters may be bridge to next one extant.

  82. Yes, I have seen your fan-fiction, which connects the Narnia stories with the real -life Blessed Lucy of Narnia, a real place in Italy. I’m afraid my own ideas for a fan-fiction would be something not too different from what Neil Gaiman wrote in the Problem of Susan. I’d probably not make Susan a Professort of anything. A teacher or librarian, or even a teacher of librarianship or psychology would be more manageable even in the 1960′s. Provided Susan was prepared to study and work hard and had sufficient opportunity, motivation and funds to do so. Nothing like doing a course of study related to the work you do.

    I also think that Susan would be conservative and conventional enough to conform to 1950′s style dating expectations, by wanting to be at least engaged to Rabadash’s successor before having sex with him. An adulterous relationship like Gaiman suggested would stick in the craw somewhat and would be a real sin.

    I see the movie version of VDT has Susan telling Lucy of meeting someone she liked in America. I could see Susan marrying before the train wreck, perhaps a soldier. Though I think eventually the marriage would collapse, as the years and Susan’s grief for her family and homesickness for UK & even Narnia take their toll, it wouldn’t do so immediately. I could see Susan engendering a lot of sympathy as a result of losing her family in the train wreck, and a protective husband maybe taking Susan to live overseas now she had lost her most important ties to living in London.

    I’d imagine Susan recognising C.S.Lewis as the friend of the Professor she talked to after the train wreck in 1963. And maybe her daughter Lucy coming across an old photo album or bringing home LWW to read, But that is just my take on the problem of Susan.

    • The one big problem with your take is that Professor Digory Kirke cannot have given C. S. Lewis any kind of access to what happened in Last Battle.

      Do you know that the several and versions of Arthurian legend contradict each other on things?

      So, if different fan fictions about Susan Pevensie after 1949 / train crash contradict each other, that would not necessarily be a surprise.

  83. I don’t know how to edit my posts here, including bolding or using italics. In the previous post, I said:

    I’d imagine Susan recognising C.S.Lewis as the friend of the Professor she talked to after the train wreck in 1963.

    What I should have said is: I’d imagine Susan iin 1963 recognising C.S.Lewis as the friend of the Professor she met after the 1950 train wreck. I’d expect there would be other reminders, such as Susan’s daughter coming across a photo album or one of her children reading LWW, if she has any children. I’d imagine that Susan didn’t discuss Narnia with anyone openly, being afraid that people she met would think she was insane.

      • Hi hglundahl,

        Since you have double-posted, it will give me a chance to try two alternative ways of responding, this post being the first. Of course C.S.Lewis would have been at Digory Kirke’s funeral, as a friend and colleague. In fact, the Professor, as a book character, was named after Jack’s real life mentor.

        However, unless there was someone insisting she should do so, why would Susan attend the Professor’s funeral? I’d imagine that Susan would meet C.S.Lewis whilst the identifications and funeral arrangements were to be made, but not necessarily at the later funerals. I can see it as logical that C.S.Lewis would identify the Professor, and even make the Professor’s funeral arrangements, considering there were no other relatives. If she no longer had living family members, possibly Polly Plummer’s as well, since she obviously remained friends with the Professor all their lives..

        But Susan, herself, would be only an acquaintance of the Professor’s at best, and her hands would be full with organising her own family’s funerals, especially as they included not only her siblings and her own parents but also that of Eustace, her cousin. Although the Professor was well known to Susan’s family, having harboured them during the evacuations, and then tutoring Peter, I doubt that Susan, ‘no longer a friend of Narnia’, would want anything to do with attending the funeral of someone else who had died in the train wreck, especially if she blamed him for encouraging her siblings and cousin to keep up with ‘those funny games we used to play as children’.

        And unless C.S.Lewis also felt obligated to attend the funerals of Susan’s family members, there is no reason why she would have met him there. Both Neil Gaiman and yourself chose to picture Susan as single, without any further obligations to family members apart from their memories.

        • OK.

          I also chose that the Seven Friends of Narnia were buried together.

          I also chose that beyond being an acquaintance of Digory Kirke, and being annoyed for him involved in Narnia thing, she still was fond of him “I think he is a dear” (her words, not Lucy’s, if I recall LWW correctly), and therefore she might have had some piety about burying them together.

          Especially since I chose that another friend of Narnia – Jill Pole – was her archery and swimming student between SC and LB.

          And I chose, above all, that her defenses against Narnia were low, since consideration for the others, especially protectiveness about Lu, was involved in her denial in the first place.

          But of course, burying them separately kind of does make more sense.

          If buried together, the publishing of LWW next year makes sense in a way, as homage to the seven friends.

      • Hi hglundahl,

        Neil Gaiman chose to depict Susan as participating in an upper class bright young things/Bloomsbury type social circle to explain her youthful Narnian attitudes, whilst you, yourself, had Susan dodging some iffy, purportedly on leave soldier types. I agree that after the train wreck that all that would pass and that even if she had been engaged that Susan might still end up single all her life.

        Where you chose to differ in your stories, is in when, where and how Susan ever met C.S.Lewis so that he could have publshed her story. Gaiman’s story suggests that Susan never met C.S.L, and that her only acquaintance with the Narnia stories was through her work and the similarity of her name and the fact she lost her siblings in a train crash.

        Where you could be right and C.S.L would have met Susan would be at the Professor’s funeral. This is my alternative scenario if she did do so. Because as a free agent Susan would behave very differently to how she might behave as a newly married woman. This is my alternative post, answering your second post.

        An idealistic newly wed husband would probably insist on attending the funeral of the Professor, an old friend of Susan’s parents, who had sheltered their children during the evacuations, tutored Peter through his final examinations and probably given the ‘friend of the bride’s parents’ speech at Susan’s wedding, if there was one. A newly wedded husband needn’t have ever known about Narnia, especially if Susan never told him. I could imagine that this could alter disastrously in time if Susan got nightmares about Rabadash later on, without Edmund to help her out.

        I could well imagine that even before the 7 friends of Narnia meeting where Tirian appeared like a silent guest speaker, that Susan had already been married. A lot of girls did in those days. They couldn’t wait until they were 21 when they could avail themselves of adult privileges, could marry their steady boyfriends without parental permission, and set up their own homes. Being a housewife in those days was still an expected career option, one that could end up being stifling, boring and unremunerative. Hence Polly’ that Susan had wasted educational opportunities to get to the age she was- about 21 and would spend the rest of her life trying to stay the glamorous, gorgeous bride she undoubtedly was.

        A wedding would explain much about the other remarks as well, plus explaining why Susan wasn’t at the 7 friends meeting, and Jill’s observation that all she was interested in was nylons, lipstick and invitations. Brides even today can be like that, leading up to their big day. Compare Fleur Delacourt at the beginning of HBP with Susan Pevensie in LB and you get the picture. I expect that Jill accompanied Eustace and his parents to the wedding, and as a friend of Lucy’s would have helped oversee the previous wedding preparantions.

        Peter, her eldest brother, was never at the siege of Anvard or with Susan at Tashbaan, but he, too, would have met Rabadash. Perhaps he asked Su if she knew what she was doing, and what she was getting herself into. No wonder that he would remark that she was no longer a friend of Narnia, after being told, maybe in front of Eustace, who would have wanted to hear the story, “What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about those funny games we used to play when we were children”.

        At Cair Paravel, Rabadash, too, was everything Susan would want in a husband. Tall, dark, and handsome, wealthy, well-connected – who could ask for more in a husband? What did Susan’s husband have that Rabadash did not? Well enough integrity to expect his bride to honour an old friend, for one thing.

        • A lot of girls did in those days. They couldn’t wait until they were 21 when they could avail themselves of adult privileges, could marry their steady boyfriends without parental permission, and set up their own homes. Being a housewife in those days was still an expected career option, one that could end up being stifling, boring and unremunerative. Hence Polly’ that Susan had wasted educational opportunities to get to the age she was- about 21 and would spend the rest of her life trying to stay the glamorous, gorgeous bride she undoubtedly was.

          Polly, being a Christian, would not have considered Susan if wedded to be wasting her life.

          A glamourous gorgeous bride is hardly wasting her time on lipsticks and nylons, but is usually getting children too.

          And no friend of Narnia would have considered that as wasting ones time.

          Nor would their author CSL. The only type of bride who might be considered such would have been the Jane Studdock type.

          I consider it more probable Su was being a tease with guy after guy who hoped to marry her.

      • hansgeorglundahl said:

        I also chose that the Seven Friends of Narnia were buried together.

        I also chose that beyond being an acquaintance of Digory Kirke, and being annoyed for him involved in Narnia thing, she still was fond of him “I think he is a dear” (her words, not Lucy’s, if I recall LWW correctly), and therefore she might have had some piety about burying them together.

        Certainly not. It is an idea for the Pevensies to be buried with their parents. But Uncle Harold and Aunt Alberta would be involved in Eustace’s funeral and would not want him to be muddled up with other Friends of Narnia. And we never hear about Jill’s family, if she had one, except that she had undertaken riding lessons in the holidays some time or other.

        I rather thought that if Susan did get a job it would be as someone’s secretary. Perhaps Jill knew her from an archery club where she could have coached beginners.

        hansgeorglundahl said:

        If buried together, the publishing of LWW next year makes sense in a way, as homage to the seven friends.

        It is? I’ve only heard of a movie “The Lion awakes”.did

        • Happy Easter to you too!

          I do not think she would have been living in sin either. But in England moving away from home without getting already married might in those days have been a move to financial preparation for marriage.

          I am making her a secretary in a publicity bureau (same as where Dorothy L Sayers, a bit older than she worked) until grief strikes, then short term secretary to W H Lewis (who is also occupied as secretary to his brother, one of our favourite authors, not meaning he is not on my like list).

          Re Narnia: Not so very many who married whom, a bit more whom did not marry whom, and the one time sorry two times we get to a marriage – Cor and Aravis, Caspian and Ramandu’s daughter – we are not told how, but certainly why: one case they grow up together and are so used to quarrelling and making up again, other case he was just not in love with the proposition of one squinting and having freckles (no Habsburg style marriages to a “Maultasch” – a heiress of Tyrolia who chin was so big and underteeth so protruding she was called “her mouth is a bag” for Caspian X!) and was so much more in love with a really beautiful “half” supernatural young lady.

        • “It is an idea for the Pevensies to be buried with their parents.”

          Answered another of your posts, but now to this one: who says they were on the train crash anyway?

          If it is that they were “already” in the real England, do not forget that Narnia got its Fast Forward to Doomsday which is presumably the same for every world. Meaning we get a glimpse of what had not yet happened hear and still has not happened here.

  84. Hi hglundahl,

    You said: ‘I consider it more probable Su was being a tease with guy after guy who hoped to marry her.’

    I consider that there is no such person and that C.S.Lewis wouldn’t have been so ungallant as to write Susan as such a female character. Even Gaiman’s version of the Problem of Susan didn’t suggest that she could at any time be like that, only that her life had been irrevocably changed by the rail accident.

    CSL was in his fifties, at least, before he married Joy Davidson. He’d never seen the need to get married himself, prior to that, and he also didn’t see the need to have Polly marry Digory, good friends though they remained throughout their lives. Also the writer of books like ‘Horse and his boy’ or ‘Til we have faces’ might not have quite the same idea of “Christian marriage” as a 21 year old girl trying to act so grown up she could leave home, anxious not to be left “on the shelf”, and showing off her new finery and marital status to her circle of acquaintances, much like the already married Lazaraleen in Tashbaan.

    Perhaps, unlike Susan, Polly had too much self-respect to lumber herself with a bossy sort, who could be violent if thwarted and might even bully.to get his own way. As Susan nearly did with Rabadash. And Digory, in Charn, could be really sexist. Polly wasn’t like Susan – she answered back when she needed to do so. But then we don’t know what romantic dalliances Polly had or even what she did until we meet her again as the voice of experience in LB.

    As Polly mentioned, 21, then the time when one was finally free of parental control & guidance, is not necessarily the age to make the most sensible decisions for oneself. Especially in 1950, when people had been so anxious to make every moment count when there has been a war on, when they were so anticipating to get killed at any moment, that they forgot that marriage is for keeps, and that the handsome young man that they saw off to war has come back damaged by his experiences, or that the beautiful young girl might get worn down with too many pregnancies, or with tolerating unfaithfu, drunken or abusive husbands. I know what you say about Christian marriage, however, far too many of these marriages have been mere business arrangements, political shenanigans, or to keep the relatives happy and entertained. Others, as I am stressing, have been made for all the wrong reasons, which have had little to do with steady, supportive partnershps that will stand the test of time.

    At the end of LWW CSL mentions that Susan received ambassadors from kings seeking her hand in marriage. In HHB, we find out about one of these marriage proposals. Rabadash didn’t just send an ambassador – he went himself. Peter set up some ‘hastiludes’ – tournaments I think, and Rabadash and Susan began to like what they saw of each other. It wasn’t until Susan went to Tashbaan at Rabadash’s invitation that she started to have doubts about him. Until Edmund told her what she was getting herself into. Maybe the sort of thing that Aravis was running away from. After all, Susan, like Aravis, was really only a thirteen or so young girl in Tashbaan, for all her being a ‘reall grown-up lady’.

    Personally, I thought it was a bad sign that Susan didn’t want to discuss her Narnian adventures with her siblings, in particular Peter, downplayed them as ‘games we played as children’, whilst becoming as much of a fashionista as Lazaraleen high on Turkish delight. Marriage should be considered very very carefully, with questions answered about shared values and shared goals. And I can’t help thinking: What if Susan’s new bloke sooner or later proved eventually he was just as much of a domineering, arrogant, selfish sort as was Rabadash?

    • Well, if 21 is not the best time to make sensible decisions, still less is it sensible waiting till 30, when it comes to a girl’s marriage. Hips do stiffen. Childbirths become more painful by waiting with the first.

      By tease I mean some kind of dallying without really making up her mind and then decising no in ways that can and sometimes do hurt.

      As far CSL’s private life, living with Mrs. Moore ( a very dominant woman) might have scared off a lot of persons CSL might otherwise have fancied. When he speaks of Joy he speaks of “having given up hope of marital bliss” before meeting her.

  85. Well, if 21 is not the best time to make sensible decisions, still less is it sensible waiting till 30, when it comes to a girl’s marriage. Hips do stiffen. Childbirths become more painful by waiting with the first.

    That won’t be a deterrent to the likes of Kate Middleton & Prince William. Nor, did it deter Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark and his Taswegian Crown Princess, Mary Donaldson. Of course their prominence allows these two couples the best of maternity care and consideration. It also helps that both Kate and Mary are healthy women leading healthy lifestyles in countries where most citizens have access to affordable family health care. When a woman turns 30 her hips don’t automatically switch to ‘stiffen’, just because the 30th birthday alarm went off. It is a process that might be quicker or slower depending on the woman’s health, build and fitness..

    I agree that there is a physiologically optimum time to start a family for a woman. Hesiod suggested as a minimum, the age of 18, which is about the time when a young woman finished all the processes of puberty, even back in those days. These days, now that the age of adulthood has been lowered from 21 to 18, there isn’t so likely to be a bun rush to get married as soon as one becomes an adult legally, especially as many with career aspirations still have to complete even apprenticeship qualifications, and to get established in their trades or professions.

    If it was silly for the 1940′s generation to rush into marriage at 21 to leave home and get established in life, it is just as silly to rush into marriage at 30 or 40 purely because at that age a person is panicking over a ticking biological clock. The best time to marry is when two suitable people have found they not only get along well, sharing values and goals, but also when they find they can respect and trust each other in what is intended to be a lifetime of commitment, whether it involves children or not.

    It didn’t bode well for probably married Susan, if she was not able to discuss not only her Narnian adventures with her elder brother, in particular, but also if she had not discussed them with her intended either. Because as Polly would tell her, marriage is one of the most adult decisions one can make.

    Greta in Gaiman’s tale chose a different path. She lived with a boyfriend. Perhaps she could have it all without getting hooked into a disastrous relationship or a messy divorce. What was it the raven said in HHB’s Tashbaan? Easily in but not easily out, said the lobster caught in the lobster pot?

    How does her choice of lifestyle reflect the nightmare she had the night after her interview with the Professor she thought was Susan Pevensie? And why does it seem to be atheists who are most offended by that scene about Susan in LB?

    • Now, getting married involves a lot of emotional quotient, less of an IQ.

      Marriage per definition involves at least wanting children.

      Mother said (she would have majored in gynecology, but couldn’t due to abortions in Sweden, so took her second greatest interest geriatrics and still had to break off her studies, but that does not invalidate her view on gynecology): best time for hips is between 17 and 23, for first childbirth.

      Before 17, the hips are smaller, after 23 ranging to 30 they stiffen. And of course it is gradual, both processes.

      Now, back to Susan: “trying to stay that age as long as possible” would involve one of two things: either making a silly marriage avoiding childbirth as long as possible – as Jane Studdock, and I find that alternative a bit too gross – or looking for mr perfect and not making sure to find him quickly, and that is what I am suggesting.

      HHB there is a thing about people getting along better if making plans together than if just chatting about this and that (btw, the French translation is bad: High King is translated “souverain suprême” which would be more fitting for Aslan than for Peter, its connotation with Ard Rí in Ireland is missed, Corin is called Corentin because that is an actual French name, but the explanation at the end of “names in Archenland go like that” names are left as in English, making Cor /Corentin hard to understand (and it is absurd, but could have been palliated with Dar and Darrentin, and so on).

      An my problem with Susan – I have not read Neil Gaiman’s story, is that she is very much looking for mr perfect at parties. Which is perhaps not the very best place to find him or – when it comes to miss perfect -her.

      • Hi hglundahl,

        As you noticed, the idea of a High King comes from C.S.Lewis’ Irish background, and though I do not know sufficient of Irish history to say much about it, I’d imagine that the High King of Tara, the only one I ever knew about, was something like the chairman at a meeting of kings, the most senior elder at a corroboree, or the elected president of a club, rather than a supreme ruler. That way Peter would be the casting vote in Prince Caspian, on their trek to the Stone Table, and also he would represent the other Narnian kings. His would be the voice of law and tradition – hence the duel with Miraz.

        I once had to translate a French unseen for a university examination. It turned out to be another exerpt from a French edition of Prince Caspian, where Dr Cornelius urges Caspian to fly for his life. It was the easiest translation exercise I ever did, since I knew the book so well.

        Especially as this is Palm Sunday, 2012, I think that you should try to get hold of a copy of Neil Gaiman’s short story, part of his anthology called ‘Fragile things’, which was published in 2004. I believe ‘The Problem of Susan’ has since been included in other anthologies as well. I’d read it in As posters here have pointed out, copyright restrictions would ensure that Gaiman could not refer too closely to C.S.Lewis’ Narnia. Nevertheless as a solution to the Problem of Susan it is well worth reading and analysing, especially by cross referencing the Narnia books, not only for how Gaiman resolves how Susan would be reunited with her family but also for what it says about belief in good and evil from a Christian and an Anti-Christian point of view. I know that

        I am sure you agree that the core belief of any Christian church regardless of which denomination it is, would be John 3:16: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believes in him will not perish but will have everlasting life. I am reciting this from memory. C.S.Lewis defended LWW and Narnia, which he said was a supposal, rather than an analogy. Thus in Narnia, and only in Narnia, Aslan’s sacrifice to save Edmund mirrors our own Easter story of redemption.

        But Gaiman’s Susan, who clearly remembers the Witch and the Lion making a bargain, seems to have forgotten what that bargain was, as she surveyed the dead centaur on the battlefield.. Even in the LWW novel, itself, although she was present at the Stone Table, and heard Aslan’s explanation, she seemed disinclined to analyse this event with Lucy, let alone discuss it with Edmund, whose treachery brought about the need for Aslan’s sacrifice. I am sure that this part of LWW has considerable bearing not only on what is said about Susan at the end of LB’s Chapter 12, as well as how Gaiman wrote his short story.

        Jenny said how gross the dream was that Greta had at the end of this story, and I agree. But if you don’t know what Aslan’s bargain with the White Witch was, and don’t believe that Aslan died for Edmund, you are left without any magic, without hope in a world where the Lion and the Witch are equally fearsome participants in a gruesome picnic in the Wardrobe. It is like saying there is no good and evil, only power and those too weak to seek it, as Rowling’s Voldemort said at the end of her first HP book.

        You said: An my problem with Susan – I have not read Neil Gaiman’s story, is that she is very much looking for mr perfect at parties. Which is perhaps not the very best place to find him or – when it comes to miss perfect -her.

        I do agree. Parties are a good place to meet people at their best, and to find out about them. But sometimes unwittingly you find out how unscrupulous they can be as well, such as that they are already married, they are tax-dodgers and the like. But there were parties in Tashbaan – loads of them. And PC’s romp around Narnia was one great big party in itself, something like the joyous celebrations in London & Sydney at the ending of World War II. I would n’t think that Peter would say Susan was no longer a friend of Narnia simply because she missed Narnia meetings to attend parties. He’d even put on parties for Rabadash, after all.

        I think it was more that Susan hadn’t wanted to know about the meeting, didn’t ask, and rejected anything she ever learned about Narnia as games we used to play as children. Now why would she do that if there wasn’t someone around to impress with those attitudes?

        • I would n’t think that Peter would say Susan was no longer a friend of Narnia simply because she missed Narnia meetings to attend parties.

          Missed – no. But belittled – yes.

          Key phrase about her – only thinking about parties, lipsticks, nylons – as if she wanted to impress in general, not necessarily on one particular person.

          Besides, having a secret like Narnia and going to parties where unchastity is beginning to be taken for granted (some soldiers had simply had a hard time being chaste, some had taken advantage of danger to seduce fiancées, like in a war later among the French The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and some had taken to saying that being chaste was the kind of discipline that made Hitler’s dictatorship possible.

          On narniaweb.com I am hansgeorg

  86. Much as I think this has been a very good thread to post my thoughts in, I do regret being unable to edit my comments, italicise, bold, or even add links and images if pertinent. Especially I am sorry for the amount of unnoticed typos in my last post due to illness at the time, this paragraph, for instance:

    “Especially as this is Palm Sunday, 2012, I think that you should try to get hold of a copy of Neil Gaiman’s short story, part of his anthology called ‘Fragile things’, which was published in 2004. I believe ‘The Problem of Susan’ has since been included in other anthologies as well. I’d read it in As posters here have pointed out, copyright restrictions would ensure that Gaiman could not refer too closely to C.S.Lewis’ Narnia. Nevertheless as a solution to the Problem of Susan it is well worth reading and analysing, especially by cross referencing the Narnia books, not only for how Gaiman resolves how Susan would be reunited with her family, but also for what it says about belief in good and evil from a Christian and an Anti-Christian point of view. I know that”

    should read:

    Especially as this is Palm Sunday, 2012, I think that you should try to get hold of a copy of Neil Gaiman’s short story, part of his anthology called ‘Fragile things’, which was published in 2004. I believe ‘The Problem of Susan’ has since been included in other anthologies as well. As posters here have pointed out, copyright restrictions would ensure that Gaiman could not refer too closely to C.S.Lewis’ Narnia. Nevertheless as a solution to the Problem of Susan it is well worth reading and analysing, especially by cross referencing the Narnia books, not only for how Gaiman resolves how Susan would be reunited with her family but also for what it says about belief in good and evil from a Christian and an Anti-Christian point of view.

    In the next paragraph, where I said: “C.S.Lewis defended LWW and Narnia, which he said was a supposal, rather than an analogy”. I really should have said ….rather than an allegory. .There are probably others I still can’t find.

    Although the last post was already long, I also wanted to add that my problem with Susan is that the someone Susan most likely wanted to impress was probably a very materialistic or atheistic someone who was quite out of the Pevensies’ 7 frieneds of Narnia loop, who thought the idea of another world was barking mad. Someone who at some level would prove just as unsuitable as Rabadash.

    Because Susan knew the seven friends of Narnia were not barking mad, weren’t telling lies and that those memories she had were true. Gaiman did have Susan having affairs with dubiously married people, but I think that she wouldn’t have done that sort of thing, Narnia or not.

  87. I love Gaiman but I didn’t like this story. Forget about C.S.Lewis’s devotion to God, forget about Jesus(I’m not christian) Aslan is a great literary character! If you gonna twist a beloved fictional character and turn it in to complete monster, you should lay out a convincing argument, present a unique perspective. You can’t just pullout a “by the way he is an utter bastard” out of thin air! It’s like rewriting Morpheus as Freddy Kruger without any explanation!

    I hoped to see an interesting original perspective and criticism from Gaiman on Lewis’s universe but instead, I found a bitterness of Susan over death of her family; hardly original! Anyone could write the “I’m angry at God” cliche!

    • 1) morpheus was freddy kreuger, and was shown to be many times, without explanation.

      2) this was clearly not an “angry at god” story in any capacity.

      since you didnt mention, im not sure if you understood that this dream wasnt susans dream at all, so the monstrous depictions werent hers, and you, as so many people in this blog have, are trying to apply reality logic to dreams.
      there is no logic in dreams, and a witch having sex with a lion who is eating children could mean anything, or it could just be a witch having sex with a lion is eating children. the dream is not what made anything a monster, if anything was made a monster to begin with.
      this wasnt a story about aslan at all.

    • Yes, Aslan is a great literary character but in Last Battle, itself, C.S.Lewis allowed Aslan to be conflated with Tash in a Calormene takeover of Narnia. Some of the animals got taken in by this charade of a being called Tashlan, others who resisted were killed, whilst the non-believing Dwarves sat on the sidelines killing anyone who tried to help either side. Susan at the time was not to know what was happening as she wasn’t involved with the 7 Friends of Narnia, or of Aslan’s explanation of why he and Tash were opposites. So if it was the real Susan, the initial recurring nightmare she had of a battlfield and the Witch and the Lion in consultation would be a graphic jumble of real incidents in LWW.

      Gaiman said he was irritated by the way this book unfolded as regards Susan, and so he has his Professor Susan Hastings reading the obituary of a man she once loved. However, is it the same Susan Pevensie? Greta the journalist who comes to interview the retired Professor, seems to think so, because of both losing two brothers and a sister in a train crash. She launches into a thorough misreading of the entire Narnia series, which the Professor doesn’t seem to have read. This is Greta’s view of things.

      “In the Last Battle. Where you learn there was a train crash on the way back to school, and everyone was killed. Except for Susan, of course. ….You know, that used to make me so angry…

      All the other kids go off to Paradise, and Susan can’t go. She’s no longer a friend of Narnia because she is too fond of lipsticks and nylons and invitations to parties” (Gaiman,2004 p. 193)

      What Jill really said was this (Lewis, 1956 p. 128): “She’s interested in nothing ‘nowadays’ except nylons and lipstick and invitations.” This was Jill’s contribution to a rather longer conversation. If the entire extract from the end of Chapter 12 (page 127 to 128) is read, it is possible to get a rather different emphasis depending on your keywords and the quote’s immediate context..

      I think that Gaiman’s Professor works well as a character without getting Gaiman into copyright problems. I don’t see her as bitter – she had succeeded in leading a good life, after all. She manages to put Greta in her place more than once without being the least offiensive, pointing out the stress of losing her family in a train accident, and no longer being able to afford the things Greta mentions. But the effort costs her dearly. In the night afterwards she dies having been in some way reunited with all those she had ever known, even those she had forgotten.

      The problem I have with Gaiman’s Susan is that it is only Greta’s sloppy understanding of that conversation which allows her to think for one moment that she could be talking about the same Susan Pevensie. Susan was not on the train, she wasn’t at any meetings and she was not with her parents either.

  88. Hi hglundahl,

    Yes, and I think you already know my username there as well. I have posted about Susan and Narnia on narniaweb.com to say what I make of Susan not being interested in Narnia which is also why I disagree with Gaiman and you about her Last Battle marital status.

    You said in response to my comment: I would n’t think that Peter would say Susan was no longer a friend of Narnia simply because she missed Narnia meetings to attend parties.

    “Missed – no. But belittled – yes.”

    I agree. It is the belittling that matters not the attending parties and dressing up to the nines. All the Narnia heroines liked clothes etc. Polly hated Charn, but was fascinated with the statues she saw displayed there in their magnificent robes. Jill admired the clothes she saw in Narnia and wore the outfit from Harfang to a fancy dress party. Lucy and Aravis happily chose clothes to settle Aravis in to Anvard. Even Aravis in HHB liked Lazaraleen’s clothes. It is just that Aravis wanted more from a husband, and from life, itself, than nice clothes, pearly palaces and attendance at marvellous parties. That is why it is so odd that people get so upset about what Jill said in LB about Susan.

    You said: Key phrase about her – only thinking about parties, lipsticks, nylons – as if she wanted to impress in general, not necessarily on one particular person.

    Besides, having a secret like Narnia and going to parties where unchastity is beginning to be taken for granted (some soldiers had simply had a hard time being chaste, some had taken advantage of danger to seduce fiancées, like in a war later among the French The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and some had taken to saying that being chaste was the kind of discipline that made Hitler’s dictatorship possible.

    Hitler promoted chastity only when it suited him. It depended too much on one’s background and custom, not intrinsic right and wrong before God. He only cared for women as far as they could be used for his megalomanic ideas. Otherwise, I agree that parties are too often used to advertise more than Tupperware, beauty products and the latest fashions. And that one can find oneself networking with people who are out for what they can get away with, or who peddle political and anti religious viewpoints that do harm. Unlike the huge end of PC romp through Narnia, where Aslan’s folk were simply celebrating in good company.

    What Jill actually said (LB.p.128) was: “She’s interested in nothing nowadays, except nylons, and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown up.”

    The key word I found in this exact quotation is “nowadays”, which is what everyone is missing. Susan didn’t just miss the Tirian meeting, she has missed others as well. And what would she consider much more important than the funny games we used to play as children? I don’t think it was merely partying around but also the party to end all parties – the Wedding Party.

    Yes, welcome to the Bride’s Big Day and all that goes with it. And don’t think I don’t know about it. I was a bride once myself. I’ve met other brides who have planned their wedding days for years, since they were little girls handed a bride doll. Prospective brides have bored their co-workers to death. The whole world stopped for Kate Middleton and Prince William last year, why wouldn’t Susan be obsessed with her own wedding outfit for that one day of her life? What did the media obsess about? Oh yes, the dress. That is C.S.Lewis’ point. Never mind the wedding – you have to live a life afterwards with the bridegroom.

    • and some had taken to saying that being chaste was the kind of discipline that made Hitler’s dictatorship possible, said I, as a description of the climate after WW-II

      Hitler promoted chastity only when it suited him. – True.

      And what would she consider much more important than the funny games we used to play as children? I don’t think it was merely partying around but also the party to end all parties – the Wedding Party. – I think you might be flattering her good sense. Besides, that would hardly put her at odds with Narnia, unless her chosen one was really impossible on that subject (your theory).

      So you mean she was so obsessed with wedding party she took an impossible guy? I think you flatter the good sense of some European young ladies.

      If Susan was exceited about getting different suitors woo her while she postponed the choice in Narnia, why not here once again? And that would explain what Lucy in VDT was jealous about.

      Wagga, did not know you were married. Do you have many children?

      • Yes, like Polly I am the voice of experience, in this conversation, having been there and done that, including as many children as income and health permitted. Thus I am saying that getting married was the conventional thing to do for a true blue baby boomer once the age of majority was reached. And Susan was nothing if not conventional.

        Some parents might have given you the key to the door at your twenty-first birthday party whilst your intended might give you the engagement ring. But parents in those days didn’t like your moving out unless you did have a bridegroom first. Even more so in UK. In those days. Living in sin was usually something done by people who already had marriage problems of one sort or another. And people were far more judgemental about girls’ personal lives than is the case now, another reason why we needed Women’s lib. Our moral judgementalism about others is wrong, a good reason why C.S.Lewis (or Aslan, at any rate) would have been horrified at Greta’s take on Susan, which I have already mentioned and Greta’s teacher saying:

        “She said that even though Susan had been refused Paradise then she still had time to repent while she lived.” (Gaiman, 2004 p.194) when his exact words (Lewis, Letters to Children, 1957) were:

        “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.”

        There would have been a real family drama if Susan opted to live in sin like Greta the journalist in Gaiman’s story, and whilst I can see Susan splitting with her siblings over Narnia, I can’t see her splitting with her parents as well to go against the very lipstick, nylons & invitations social conventions of the day she embraced in LB. Besides, Peter & Edmund, who knew their parents were going to Bristol, never alluded to any such family drama apart from their disagreement with Susan over Narnia.

        Furthermore, Gaiman writes from his own experience and view of life in UK, and I agree that his view could be realistic. But when Gaiman (2004, p,189) has Susan losing “what is left of her virginity”, it is not only too much information for a character out of a children’s book like LB, but also has her and the bloke she decided not to marry, doing something really and identifiably unethical by the standards of the day, according to secular as well Christian and Jewish belief, however acceptable it might be in rarefied atheistic and literary’ circles. Something much worse than obsessing about nylons, lipstick and invitations.

        Not only did C.S.Lewis not say anything at all about Susan’s private life, if he could help it, he put so many mentions in the entire series about Aslan telling people only their own stories, and about how it was wrong to eavesdrop, that he simply could not start writing his own version of what happened to Susan. The Chronicles of Narnia had to stay that way, they could not become the entire Chronicles of Susan.

        The standards of the day also explain why Susan would not have had much chance to remedy the educational opportunities she wasted before the train crash. Fatherly attitudes up until the 1970′s were often that girls only went to University to get that all important Mrs degree, which gives a twenty-one year old Susan her full adult status. Especially if she was no good at schoolwork. I would feel badly for Lucy though had she wanted to go to university herself.

        And that is the point of Susan. She is Miss Pre-war/Babyboomer Everygirl. And before she goes to Aslan’s Country, if she gets there, it would be a terrible misfortune if she didn’t have the chance to have a life first.

        hglundahl said: So you mean she was so obsessed with wedding party she took an impossible guy? I think you flatter the good sense of some European young ladies.

        Not really. Stockings are important on wedding day because of the bridal garter and who gets it. Lipstick because of ‘you may now kiss the bride”. Invitations are a real headache because of who argues with whom. Yes, one of Charles V’s nieces did turn down Henry VIII, because she liked keeping her head on, but your paparazzi and your magazines show that European ladies are no more sensible than the ones raving over Kate’s wedding dress whilst forgetting about what Prince William was to wear. That is what is so conspicuously missing in Narnia. Plenty of who married whom or not but we are left wondering why and how.

      • Hi hglundahl,

        I am having to answer your latest post-Easter posts here to find somewhere to reply.

        You said (elsewhere)

        “But in England moving away from home without getting already married might in those days have been a move to financial preparation for marriage.”

        Not likely in UK. More like that married couple would have to stay on with either parents or parents-in-law, possibly along with unmarried siblings and grandparents as well. Housing mostly rental and hard to get post WW2, which is why so many migrated to Australia, where housing more affordable. I’ve often considered that in Australia Susan would be really homesick, as well as grief-stricken for her family. She’d have to learn to cope with celebrating Easter in autumn for starters, and Christmas in the middle of summer.

        However, VDT (film) has Susan meeting someone in America so Bristol, which is a port to America, makes more sense – if she was already married.

        I liked the idea of Susan being secretary for Publicity company. Travel agency wouldn’t be a bad idea either. Secretary to a secretary is stretching things but good for a joke.

        Also on April 9, 2012 at 11:44 am Hans-Georg Lundahl
        “It is an idea for the Pevensies to be buried with their parents.”

        Answered another of your posts, but now to this one: who says they were on the train crash anyway?

        Check out Last Battle p.130: They are telling Tirian what happened in the train accident. Peter says Pevensie parents on same train. Jill asks if they knew about Narnia, and Peter says:

        “Oh no, it had nothing to do with Narnia. They were on their way to Bristol. I’d only heard that they were going that morning. But Edmund said they’d be bound to be going on that train.”

        Also there is the reference to Lucy seeing her parents across from Narnia in England heaven on the last page of Last Battle, the one you mentioned earlier.

        Gaimain’s Greta the journalist, in interviewing Prof Susan Hastings, discusses Susan losing her three siblings, but scarcely registers that ‘all your family died at the same time” (Gaiman, 2004, p.191) also includes both Susan’s parents, who had nothing to do with Narnia. Though later, Gaiman’s Susan looks through a photo-album which shows the entire Pevensie family up until they died. Greta seems to think it was a punishment for Susan because of nylons etc.

        But the marriage service says: “forsaking all others, keeping only to him (her)” {Book of common prayer p. 203}

        So it looks like all Susan’s family are out of the picture, not only her siblings.

    • Hi hglundahl

      As a continuation of above post, where I finished with Susan’s family out of the picture, that would certainly be the case if she had already left home. I also notice that when telling Jill (and Tirian) that he meant his parents, Peter does not allude to Susan at all, nor does he say why “his, Lucy’s and Edmund’s parents” are going to Bristol, does he? Bristol is near Tintagel Castle and much else, but not really a noted holiday spot or tourist priority, is it?

      And here is the rest of your earlier post on April 9, 2012 at 11:40 am.

      Re Narnia: Not so very many who married whom, a bit more whom did not marry whom, and the one time sorry two times we get to a marriage – Cor and Aravis, Caspian and Ramandu’s daughter – we are not told how, but certainly why: one case they grow up together and are so used to quarrelling and making up again, other case he was just not in love with the proposition of one squinting and having freckles (no Habsburg style marriages to a “Maultasch” – a heiress of Tyrolia who chin was so big and underteeth so protruding she was called “her mouth is a bag” for Caspian X!) and was so much more in love with a really beautiful “half” supernatural young lady.

      Interesting points. So that is where the famous Hapsburg jutting chin, and inability to eat properly came from. Poor inbred Charles II of Spain!

      Aravis did marry Cor. By that time she and Cor had something like a working relationship of equals. But that is not the only marriage we see. What about Lazaraleen? She was living in a great house, with servants, lovely things, a great social life etc. But where was her husband in all of this? And why did she think that Aravis was making a mistake not to want to marry Ahoshta Tarkaan, the Grand Vizier? Which young 14 year old girl – too young to marry anyway – do you agree with? Aravis or Lazaraleen?

      Do you think that there was an adequate explanation of why Susan changed her mind about Rabadash? Any ideas what might have happened which on this occasion would make her listen to Edmund? Obviously from what Shasta heard, Edmund didn’t think much of Rabadash in the first place.

      As for Caspian and Ramandu’s Daughter (called Lilliandil in the movie) we only see the beginning of their relationship and that Caspian was attracted to her, unlike the Duke of Galma’s daughter. I do think it was a bit sexist of C.S.Lewis not to give both young women proper names of their own. Queen Ramandu’s Daughter or Caspian’s Queen is not right really. I’m sure she deserved better than Queen Prunaprismia, Caspian’s aunt or the Queen of the Underland.

      Hans-Georg Lundahl said:

      If it is that they were “already” in the real England, do not forget that Narnia got its Fast Forward to Doomsday which is presumably the same for every world. Meaning we get a glimpse of what had not yet happened hear and still has not happened here.

      Fair point.

  89. I’ve just read this story, and I’m not sure if this is what Gaiman intended, but it feels like Greta’s dream and the professor’s dream are both incomplete takes on the problem of Susan. It’s been a little while since I’ve read Narnia and I don’t have it open to reference, so please forgive any mistakes.

    Susan (I’m assuming the professor and Susan are the same person, but I think on some level it doesn’t really matter) had a long life and she’s ready to let go and reconcile, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what happened to her is okay, or even fair. She had a crisis of faith as a teenager after the huge disappointment of being barred from Narnia because of her age. I always get the sense when reading Narnia that she may have turned her focus more to the “real world” and away from Narnia because Narnia turned her away and she didn’t know what to do with it in the “real world” anymore. And her crisis of faith is really understandable in those circumstances, and being punished for it by not only being the one person in the family left out of heaven, but also by having to deal with the deaths in her family, it’s not fair. And I think Susan in this story is distanced from her younger self through time and pain and regret, and there’s no use in complaining about how fair or unfair it is. She’s at peace with it because she has no choice. Her reconciliation reads to me as almost too happy, too nice when presented right with the super traumatic dreams she’s had, right with the bit about having to identify her siblings’ bodies. And I feel like that’s sort of representative of the “Lewis did nothing wrong, what happened to Susan was reasonable because eventually she could come back” arguments. Susan WAS wronged, and treating it as anything else is glossing over how terrible it is to lose even one family member, let alone all of them.

    Greta, on the other hand, is an angrier, younger person who doesn’t have the benefit of the distance, so she jumps to blame, and the easiest person to blame is Aslan. In her dream, Aslan is a monster, just as bad as the witch or maybe even worse for pretending to be good. He’s so over the top as a monster that he’s impossible to take seriously. The OP’s immediate reaction was that this was disgusting, and basically character assassination on Aslan… and I think that was the point, honestly. The Narnia universe leaves room for free will, and for accidents, and while I wouldn’t call it Susan’s fault because there was no reasonable way of guessing her decisions would lead to this, Susan really wasn’t there on the train because of her own choices, and the train crashing really was just an accident. It’s very “Cold Equations”*, but Aslan wasn’t the one who did this to her. Painting Aslan as a monster isn’t any more accurate than forgetting how much Susan would have suffered after everyone in her family died.

    It’s wrong to say “suffering is okay, it’ll eventually end up just fine”, and it’s also wrong to say “God is a monster because people suffer.” Sometimes things just happen. Sometimes accidents just happen. It doesn’t mean that it’s alright- it can be very, very not alright, and it can stay very, very not alright for a very long time, and just because things might get better eventually doesn’t make that suffering more okay while it happens- but it also doesn’t mean it’s anyone’s fault. Susan can be not okay in an enormously unfair way without Aslan having to be a horrible creature who did this to her on purpose. Life isn’t fair- and I mean that in the most sympathetic way possible. I am still undecided as to whether I believe in God, but I know that with or without him, bad things can still happen to people who don’t deserve it, and I think that even with an ultimate reward at the end of the tunnel, the bad still meant something.

    Except… Narnia isn’t just a collection of events that happened, some of them which were unfair. It’s a work of fiction. There was an author, and he consciously decided to do this to Susan. And this isn’t a story about how bad things sometimes happen to people who don’t deserve it. It’s a fantasy story for children, and also a story about faith with a strong emphasis on redemption. This isn’t “The Cold Equations.” Edmund made mistakes, but was redeemed. So did Eustace. It’s inappropriate to make Susan suffer so much, and it’s definitely suspicious of sexism with how it was presented.

    Basically I agree with the OP that Lewis as an author shouldn’t have done this, but Aslan as a character isn’t at fault. And viscerally icky as it is, I think this story can actually support that viewpoint.

    • Forgot to add:

      * For those that don’t know, “The Cold Equations” was a short science fiction story about a young woman who stowed away on a transport ship just so she could visit her brother… but what she didn’t know was that the ship could only carry as much fuel as was absolutely necessary, and her presence on the ship meant that it couldn’t possibly finish the trip- and it was carrying needed medicine to its destination, so turning back would mean a ton of people would die (and I forget if they even had the opportunity to turn back in the first place). The only solution was to toss the girl out the airlock, even though she was a genuinely sweet person who had no reasonable way of knowing that stowing away would mean she had to die. The story ends with her dead.

      I’m not sure, but I’ve heard this was written because most science fiction stories of the time often bent the rules of their own universe to keep from having to write this kind of ending. The point pretty much was that if you’re being honest about the setting, sometimes awful things will happen to people who don’t deserve it.

    • Susan Pevensie basically chose to desert anything reminding her of her childhood. This is what Eustace, Jill and Polly Plummer were saying about her in LB. If it was in response to not being allowed to return to Narnia, neither were her siblings. None of them did, only Jill and Eustace, who were still of school age. The irony of LB is that Susan’s not returning to Narnia is made much of but not the non-return of her siblings, who, having died, went to Aslan’s Country, instead.

      I don’t see Susan suffering unduly from losing her siblings in a train-wreck. What is the difference between what Gaiman spells out in “The Problem of Susan” and Susan losing her whole family in any of a myriad number of ways, during the 20th Century, like so many others? Lewis, himself, knew about all that, having fought in WW1 and participated in UK’s defence in WW2. What I do see about Susan is that she would be forced to face the realities of adulthood now that she had left childhood, rather than the endless romance she thought it would be.

      If Susan Pevensie and Professor Susan Hastings were indeed the same person, the conclusion that Greta the journalist makes, then Susan’s life ends on a really high note, having triumphed over the adversities of her life. It is wonderful that she felt she had had a good life, after all, and died reconciled to her family.

  90. Hi, Like the the blog. I’ll just add this: Gaiman’s Aslan is not the real Aslan, but a sick and twisted version. The great Lion sacrificed himself on the stone table to save Edmund, and was always interested in the Good and selflessness. This horrific version Gaiman presents reminds me of “The Last Battle” in that you are presented a supposedly truer version of Aslan and you have to decide, do you know Aslan or not? Its Logic as the professor would say. Like in the first book when Edmund accuses Lucy of making up Narnia. From what you know about Lucy’s character, does it make sense to all of a sudden call her a liar. Same with Aslan. By the time you get to the “Last Battle”, do you know Aslan or not? If you think he acts out of selfishness and is punitive then you haven’t been paying attention.
    As far as the charges of sexism against Lewis: Non-sense. Lewis provided strong and weak charcaters equally, of both sexes. Polly was a strong female lead in “The Magician’s Nephew” and it was Digory who ’caused all the trouble. Lucy was also treated fairly as a female lead. I remember at the begining of TL,TW&TW Lewis dedicated the book to his, god daughter, Lucy Barfield, and he remarks that as one grows out of childhood you stop believing in fairy tales, but when you get old you start to believe again, I think this is what happended to Susan. The door is not shut to Susan forever, but the choice is always her’s to make. (of course then you have “the great exception”, Mary Poppins, making an apperance. Not sure what to make of that).

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  92. Jenny, I’ve read the comments here and I don’t really like that you repeatedly, (what I see as) dismiss other’s efforts to also be respectful and appreciative of Gaiman’s story by saying “I’m sorry I just don’t like the way he handled it” just because it made you uncomfortable. It sounds rather stubborn. Not everything a writer does have to be obligated to respect people’s ideas of what ought to be. That would defeat the purpose of literature I would say, which is always trying to push the boundaries whether it be moral or literary. I would say that if you’re if you are not going to give it more consideration then there really was no point in posting this article as it was bound to get varying responses from people.

    I’m not claiming that I know what Gaiman’s intention was. The story could’ve also been a decisive challenge to Christianity. You know the argument between theists and athiests is nothing new. If Gaiman did this, then I don’t know why you should be so surprised when you are confronted by a story such as that. Fragile things was intended for an older audience, so there’s no way he meant to ruin it for the younger children who still read the Chronicles who still believe in magic. He intended you, as an older person – presumably more cynical and more leaned in the ways of the world – to re-interpret the events you read as a child. It’s understandable though that a depiction like this might be seen as offensive or mean-spirited to you. But then, that’s what happens when you have an opinion, you just can’t afford to be polite. There’s a reason why Gaiman uses such graphic sexual imagery as he does – he wanted to make a point.

    I’m also a fan of Gaiman’s work, and when i read that story I was also perturbed about the rather graphic sexual imagery between characters i loved as a child. It seems to be, I’ll speak plainly, that sex has immense moral weight, something that is pure (sanctity of life) yet impure (lust is a sin) in religion, not just Christianity. Lewis alluded to the evolution of Susan’s developing sexuality which has barred her from Narnia (interpreted to be Heaven), offered her no sanctuary as the cruel real world often does anyway as we know. (Others have pointed this out, I’m aware.) I see Gaiman’s story was written in response to Lewis’s work is valid. Just because you find his creative response personally uncomfortable, does not mean he had malicious intent to hurt you/Lewis/the original work.

    I understand that you were hurt by Gaiman’s seemingly mean/unfair portrayal of Lewis’s, what you call as religious depiction, but perhaps Gaiman probably does not raise the characters to the same level or significance as you do i.e. Aslan as embodying God, conceived as holy and asexual. Good and evil are not unknown concepts without necessary representation of God or the Devil. As a child, I did not ever interpret the Chronicles as a Christian allegory. Aslan and the witch, to me, just represented good and evil, as many villains and heroes come to stand in as positive or negative forces in a story. I think of Gaiman as interacting with them as characters, playing with ideas. I actually feel a bit resentful of Lewis when I found out later feeling that he merely masqueraded his religious beliefs through a seemingly harmless, generic story aimed at a wider young audience…But even now, I would still go back and read them for his engaging storytelling albiet devoid of any christian symbolism. I also bonded with the portrayal of Aslan as a strong, gentle, noble character – what a good source of comfort Aslan would be for a child. But I personally would not go so far as to take him to represent God as you do.

    • Christine, thanks for stopping by. I’m sorry that my replies to other commenters came off as dismissive, which certainly wasn’t my intention. Stubborn sounds reasonable though! I know, and have said in the post and in the comments, that my reaction to this story is a kneejerk emotional reaction based on having loved these books and these characters since I was a little girl. I agree with you that a value of literature is its ability to push at boundaries, and I also think it’s the case that different readers will respond to different cases of boundary-pushing in different ways.

      It’s absolutely Gaiman’s right to write whatever kind of story he wants, and I think it’s also my right as a reader to talk about the way I responded to it, whether I responded positively or negatively. I never thought that Gaiman was being malicious, nor do I feel that he has any responsibility to me as a reader (he doesn’t know me!) to respect MY vision of these characters or of God.

      I suppose what bothers me is this: When somebody has been open and trusting enough to be completely sincere about something fundamentally important to them (the way CS Lewis was when he wrote about Aslan), it feels ugly to respond to them the way this story responds to Aslan. It feels like a bad-faith response to a good-faith overture; and THAT is what hurt my feelings, not the fact that Gaiman presented a negative portrayal of characters I love. Does that make sense?

      (Again, it’s Gaiman’s absolute right to say and write exactly what he wants in every story he ever writes forever. Of course. I am a huge fan of his and I have been for years. I just thought this story was ill-considered.)

      (This probably comes off dismissive too, if my other comments did! Truly I am not dismissing you or the other commenters. I have thought a lot about the things people have said in this thread. When I answer to say “This is still what I think”, I don’t intend to convey “your opinion is wrong and my opinion is right”, but rather “Your opinion is different to mine, here’s where we maybe are differing”. I really do thank you for stopping by and posting your comment.)

  93. As I understand it, Lewis meant for the stories to be read simply as stories by young children and as allegories by older children and adults. I works, jbme: my son read them at eight and thoroughly enjoyed them; he read them again in his late teens and saw far more in them.

    I find the accusation of betrayal against Lewis a bit odd: no one seems to think that Shakespeare betrayed Romeo and Juliet by not letting them have a happy ending, much less that he wilfully condemned them to death for the fun of playing god. If writers were only allowed to write happy endings for ‘good’ characters, we’d be missing more of human literature than we have.

    I think Susan may be simply explained if you regard leaving Narnia as graduation: it’s not that the children are no longer wanted there; it’s that it’s time for them to begin life in the real world. Childhood, like Narnia, is fun and safely guarded and magical — at its best, that is — and adulthood can be those things, but to be real adults we have to learn self-discipline and empathy and grace in the face of disappointment, delay, pain and defeat. Some of us don’t want to grow up: we want to go on being safe and comfortable and looked after and having fun. It might seem odd that Susan could begin to dismiss the reality of Narnia, but I’ve seen real people talk themselves into seeing themselves as children, incapable of dealing with the difficult, the dull, the unpleasant, and so entitled to leave those things to others. If you try to make them take responsibility for themselves, emotionally or financially, their response is tears and protestations of their helplessness and accusations of cruelty and abandonment. (No, I’m not making this up. I only wish I were.) Very possibly Susan, when faced with the need to be a Queen outside of Narnia, without the castle and servants and other props, simply didn’t want to deal with anything that difficult and instead chose to retire into what was in effect that type of permanent childhood. What does a child think grownups do? Wear lipstick and nylons and go out to parties. What do adults really do? Get educated, get a job, pay the bills, take out the garbage, rake the lawn, scrub out the bathtub, change diapers, give up the party because the toddler’s got the flu, donate to charity, save money for the children’s education and for their retirement and for that new furnace…. When you think about the difference between adulthood as you imagine it in childhood and the reality of it, it’s no wonder the Susan version of adulthood seems so attractive.(g)

    I think the conversation concerning her has to be put in context, too. At that point, none of the people speaking realize they’ll never see Susan again. What they might have said had they known, we’ll never know, but I think it’s safe to say that it would have been a far different conversation. When you’re speaking of someone you think you’ll see tomorrow, you’re a deal more likely to express impatience, frustration or irriation with them than you are if you know they’re gone.

    • “it’s that it’s time for them to begin life in the real world.”

      Ex hypothesi, speaking from the same hypothesis the novels are written from, Narnia is as real as our world. It is even the world in which Eustace and Jill are thrown into the stable which starts their eternities.

      “but to be real adults we have to learn self-discipline and empathy and grace in the face of disappointment, delay, pain and defeat.”

      And the four were like not learning that in Narnia?

      “Very possibly Susan, when faced with the need to be a Queen outside of Narnia”

      Need? Queen outside Narnia?

      In England she was a subject, either of Queen Elisabeth II or of whoever was Bavarian King and English-Scottish pretender at the time, depending on whom you regard as de jure British rulers. De facto anyway under the House of Commons, House of Lords, Prime Minister, Cabinet, Administration.

      A lot of people, some of whom would have regarded her as mentally disturbed if – especially after all other witnesses had died in the railway accident – she had claimed more than being same name as a character in one of C.S. Lewis books.

      And yet, I cannot see how Last Battle could have been written unless for instance she had dreamed about the things that happened to Eustace and Jill and Tirian and Jewel.

      “At that point, none of the people speaking realize they’ll never see Susan again.”

      Who says they weren’t? That is like saying she went on to damn herself by the denial. Remember a little later when they see England, mother and father waving …

  94. Thanks for posting the article…I found your reactions to it reasuringly familiar to my own. I just got the book, Fragile Things, on audio and had my knee similarly jerked by The Problem of Susan. Made it worse because when I first realized that the story was going to take me further with “whatever happened to poor Susan” in the Narnia books, I was delightedly intrigued, eager to read on. Then, of course, Gaiman kicked me in the gut, literarily. He had appealed to my youthful fondness for Lewis’ stories, and then punished me for having bought the whole Lewis mythology, hook, line and sinker. I felt similarly let down when I was told by someone on ICQ that my religious beliefs were naive and actually stupid. Perhaps Gaiman just wanted to make me think, but it may just succeed in stopping me from reading his stories. They may be just too dark for my “childlike” tastes.

  95. Susan was always my favorite character, and I was always a little upset at her ending. I was hoping for a little closure with Gaiman (who I love – a brilliant author and a very kind man) but it just raised more questions than it answered for me. I did like that Gaiman’s Susan (if that’s who she was) was able to put her life together after her siblings’ death.

    I prefer to think that Susan got to have two adventures. She got to grow up in Narnia, and then do it all over again in our world. I saw a comment on Tumblr (not entirely sure of its source) to the gist of: Susan was left in our world because she was the only one that took the idea of finding Aslan here seriously. She wasn’t turning her back on Narnia, really; she was taking what she had learned there and applying it in another world. While her siblings were still enchanted in the world they had as children, she grew up and put it behind her. She already had one life in Narnia, perhaps she thought it was time to find Aslan and do good here. To that she grew up and put Narnia behind her. Maybe she was the only one of her siblings to; maybe they were never able to let Narnia go so it never let go of them.

    And as for her trying to be the age she is now and trying to cling to it for the rest of her life: Sure. Maybe a little materialistic. But Susan was a queen, remember? She had a taste of that power and respect. It would be difficult to go back to being a schoolgirl after that. I’d want to be older too, beautiful and respected. And as for lipsticks and nylons – I think Susan probably liked pretty dresses and jewels in Narnia too. I (no matter CS Lewis’s intention – Death of the Author!) like to think that she used her jewels and dresses and lipsticks and nylons as a means of agency. Maybe it was the way she got people to pay attention and listen to her. Maybe her femininity was her tool, in Narnia as well as this world. And it would be hard to let go of that tool once she got older. Aren’t we all afraid of aging, a little bit? But times would change, and more people would listen to a woman for more reasons than just her beauty, like intelligence. And Susan’s smart, and she would realize and use this, and maybe give other people a reason to listen to her, maybe she would become a teacher or even a professor…

    I’ve strayed pretty off track from the discussion (but this was cathartic). I did find that paragraph quite creepy and disturbing, but I think that was the point. I don’t think Gaiman had any malicious intentions – I felt he was going more for a shock instead of a mean-spirited twisting of a beloved character. I feel like the message was that children’s stories are not the same when you go back to them as adults, and that they become twisted by your expectations and experiences and cynicism. They’re not the same. (That’s not Aslan, just as Greta is not Susan, though she ‘is’ in the dream. It’s just what Greta’s mind has made of it.) But Susan dreams of Mary Poppins, not a real story but what she has “always wanted to read”. So maybe within those types of stories are the things that we’ve wanted to find, the things that can heal and comfort us. Susan gets a woman who is outside the rules, not under God in the way the people around her are, different but still valued and important. I’m reading it as Susan not having the same relationship to Aslan as the others who got to see Narnia, but realizing that that isn’t necessarily bad. She’s still had a good life, after all. She seems satisfied in the end.

    I’m also fond of the idea that finding Aslan in our world doesn’t necessarily equal Christianity. I think people find God in whatever ways are best for them. For some it’s the organized religion of their parents, for others it’s finding a new religion, for others it’s seeing the good works of others and trying to do those good works themselves. Perhaps Susan found Aslan in the love of friends or partners, becoming a Buddhist and/or starting several charities. I like to think so, anyway.

  96. “But,” the eldest boy said, lower lip trembling, eyes a bit wet, “I don’t understand. I mean, really, you can’t just take the w–”

    “The box,” the rather daffy looking fellow in the eccentric coat repeated, more or less patiently, for the sixth or perhaps seventh time, “is a popular 24th Century children’s toy. Quite out of place here, and a potential souce of dreadful temporal disruptions. No, it must go back.”

    “Must and shall, I’m afraid, my old love,” the odd johnny sighed. “Don’t blame me, I’m just doing my job. It’s really all his fault.” An inclination of a bushy eyebrow accompanied that, indicating the old professor, looking neither particularly old nor especially professorial, glaring murderously at the entire tableau from where he was securely trussed up in the corner.

    “Please, Professor, don’t let him,” the eldest girl pleaded. She was quite pretty, and doubtless accustomed to having her pleas, at least, when directed at nine out of ten male humans, heeded with alacrity. From the depths of the seemingly endless swatches of green and white fabric wrapping him securely from ankles to elbows, though, the elderly professor ignored her entirely.

    “What… what is that, actually?” the younger girl inquired, eyes large with fascination.

    “The Secure Containment And Restraint Fiber?” the rather dotty looking fellow responded, fussing with his gloves. “Well, it’s… flexible, I suppose, is the best word. It has many uses. It’s primary occupation, though, is as a Serial Consciousness Amplitude Recollection Focus. It’s sort of an emergency fallback, don’t you see. In case anything catastrophic should happen to the old corpus callosum, as it were.” Here he thumped himself vigorously on the chest, waggling his rather unkempt eyebrows riotously as he did so. “So all would not be lost, should all be lost.”

    The children clearly had absolutely no clue what the batty fellow was raving about. “But you can’t take it,” the elder boy said, somewhat truculently now. “Really, it’s just TOO bad. Someday we may have to return. We are great heroes there and may be needed by As–”

    The strangely dressed weirdo rolled his eyes, nearly audibly. “Children, children,” he said, gently. “Once again: this box is an advanced toy. When one enters it, the box does a quick brain scan, and then, through direct neural induction, it creates a very lifelike, fully immersive, completely populated fantasy landscape where one can have very intricate, and, as you yourselves have experienced. very authentic seeming adventures.” Once again, he cut his eyes to the fuming, fabric enshrouded figure in the corner. “I rather suspect old Diggs here has offlined the software governors, though, and was planning to utilize it for rather more adult purposes when he needed a bit of rec.” He shook his head. “Although that’s for the Master Bailiffs to determine when they tot up all the charges, really. Not my wicket at all.”

    The youngest boy’s brow wrinkled. “So that’s why no time ever seemed to pass outside it!” he said, smacking his left fist into his right hand.

    “Indeed,” the interloper agreed. “Even the scientists of your time are discovering that one can dream an entire seeming lifetime in only two or three minutes of rapid eye movement. The neurally induced illusions created by the box take place in even less time than that.” He said a word that none of the children understood; the seemingly infinite length of striped fabric swaddling the professor extended itself, wrapping around the wooden box standing in the corner several times.

    “But,” the eldest girl said, quite distraught now, “Surely there must be some mistake. I mean, it doesn’t look like…”

    “Yes, yes,” the bizarrely garbed intruder said, “Shapeable plastics, built in holograms… the box’s programmable appearance is one of its most popular features. Fits in anywhere. ” He smacked his hands together cheerfully. “Well, then! We must be off. Stiff upper lip and all that, my dears.”

    “Are you going to… erase our memories, or something?” the youngest girl, who was quite the smartest of all of them, asked alertly.

    “Oh, no need of that, darling,” the unusual fellow responded. “In your cultural matrix, you could tell anyone you wanted every speck of this, and they’d just think you rather barmy. I’m sure you’re quite wizard enough to have thought of that on your own, though, aren’t you?”

    “I don’t like you,” the little girl responded, lower lip stuck out pugnaciously.

    “Top hole,” the strange man said. “Ta.” He clapped his hands together once more, and vanished, taking the not so elderly non professor and the 24th Century toy box with him.

    Except for the eldest boy’s muted sniffles, all was silent in the mostly empty chamber for several seconds.

    Then the younger boy said, apparently to no one in particular, “Well, I guess you lot won’t be able to hold all that over my head any more.”

    The elder girl lifted her chin. “Do shut up, Edmund.”

  97. When you read a story, you are introduced to the world and its characters and its events and its plot and its narrative and etc. You receive the story, and you receive it from the storyteller, swimming in the storyteller’s intended flavor. You then interpret that story, and sometimes, it doesn’t sit as well with you as it did with the storyteller.

    My personal example is the story of the binding of Isaac. I have heard it said that some people think that God would ask Abraham to kill his own son, just to see if Abraham would actually do it. To a lot of the storytellers, this story is about having faith that in the end God will do you no harm (because he didn’t REALLY kill Isaac, right?) and being absolutely loyal to God is more important than anything else. God was perfectly justified in his request/deception, and Abraham did the right thing by behaving loyally. That’s how the storyteller takes it. They are perfectly sincere and earnest in their story about a God who would never cause true harm to the loyal and the fact that its the right thing to do whatever God asks.

    I see something else, which I’m sure has been brought up to death and back, but I feel it’s relevant here. I see a jerk of a God, who would manipulate his loyal subject into believing his son was going to die, just to make sure that Abraham is a good little dog who does what he’s told. I see a jerk of an Abraham, who would kill his entirely innocent and unsuspecting son because someone (even the big Someone) told him to. I feel its extremely damaging to believe that the relationship between Abraham and Isaac and God, as presented in The Binding of Isaac story, is anything if not toxic and depraved. My personal opinion is that the story is twisted, and that the opinion is worth sharing with others, because I don’t want anyone doing anyone else harm just because they’re “supposed” to. I don’t want parasitic relationships like this to be justified and allowed to continue, because to me, it is a very dangerous thing to accept.

    I’m not really Christian myself, but I completely respect the idea of God and everyone who believes in him, whatever form that takes. I just A) Hope that if God is up there, he’s the compassionate and benevolent God, and not “OBEY ME, OR ELSE” God, B) Really dislike God #2, in favor of God #1, and C) Hope that more people value the purely beneficial and empathetic aspects of God or gods rather than their wrathful and manipulative aspects. Anyway. Getting tangential here.

    What I’m trying to work around to is that I think this is why Gaiman told the story the way he did. He perhaps sees an Aslan who would kill an entire family as a “reward” and leave a sole survivor behind as a “punishment” as a cat toying with a mouse, rather than a just and compassionate person. A God OR a character who would do such a thing, is little better than the White Witch, and can’t be seen as much of anything other than perverse. I understand that C.S. Lewis was being entirely sincere when he wrote Aslan and the ending to the Narnia books, and it pains me to imagine how he might have felt if he had read this story, but it’s important to point out an unhealthy relationship when one is present.

    Heck, to bring in another mini-tangent, Tolkien was always trying to reconcile one of his story’s ethical tangles: how can orcs be born evil? It apparently never sat right with him, after he had written in, that orcs are just plain born evil. He grappled with the idea a lot, and it sounds like something he wanted to change rather than justify, in the end. In other words, the story he presented had an ethical dilemma, and instead of writing it off, it was seen as an important question that needed to be addressed and lead to discussions and trains of thought that bring to light some of the base philosophical issues of our lives. Debates like this, internal or interpersonal, enrich our lives.

    …all this being said, I could have done with the imagery and bestiality being toned down. Honestly, stuff that’s too gory or just outright nasty bothers me, and I don’t like reading it, and I don’t really think it’s necessary. It brings down some of Gaiman’s work, to me, and in fact brings down many other pieces of other creators’ works I would enjoy more without the severe nastiness. Buut I don’t think Gaiman was out of line in pointing out the ethical dilemma, and I don’t think he was trying to assassinate the character of Aslan or the ideals of CS Lewis: he was just trying to bring a problem to attention. The Problem, of Susan.

  98. I am quite intrigued you mention the fairy tales CS Lewis mentions at the beginning of the series. Yes, Susan did stop believing in fairy tales which is what the comments made in LB were about. But did she really? I think she just exchanged the reality of Narnia for believing in the ending of fairy tales, that she would marry and live happily ever after. But does she? For one thing she will have a job hiding her Narnian past from any husband, and for another, getting married isn’t automatically going to end up happily, however happily it starts. By the end of Susan’s story, she may well have longed for someone to talk over her Narnian experiences with.

  99. Yes, Gaiman does make you think. But to write too closely to the series would be a breach of copyright, and Gaiman can equally be analysing the reactions of the likes of Philip Pullman and co to the series. I don’t know why a bunch of authors could be so miffed by the way a fictitious character was treated, when if the fictitious character was real, C.S.Lewis could be sued for breach of privacy, and for literary fraud. Instead of which, on November 22nd 2013 C.S.Lewis would be commemorated by a plaque in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner, and a month earlier Doug Gresham, in reply to a query about Susan, commented that we aren’t meant to know what happened to her. He added that for all anyone knew, Susan was a great-grandmother, living near Asbury, Kentucky, which is where this interview took place.

  100. I was trying to respond to Madigan’s neat little mini story which does explain the difficulties with time in the Narnia series. So the good Professor Kirk was like his mean Uncle Andrew, after all. Messing around with things he didn’t understand?

  101. @…oblord who said “I see something else, which I’m sure has been brought up to death and back, but I feel it’s relevant here. I see a jerk of a God, who would manipulate his loyal subject into believing his son was going to die, just to make sure that Abraham is a good little dog who does what he’s told. I see a jerk of an Abraham, who would kill his entirely innocent and unsuspecting son because someone (even the big Someone) told him to. I feel its extremely damaging to believe that the relationship between Abraham and Isaac and God, as presented in The Binding of Isaac story, is anything if not toxic and depraved.”

    Fair point about a possible parallel with Gaiman. But at the same time it is possible to see this story differently. The Koran apparently attributes this incident to Ishmael rather than Isaac, the favoured son, though it makes not much difference to your opinion of Abraham.

    The Bible, as a whole must have been written or even re-written at the fall of Jerusalem when people were wondering why so terrible a fate had befallen them. Disobedience to what they were supposed to believe looms large in explanation at that time. The Israelites were an oddity among nations, and the sheer quantity of idols found in Israeli archaeological sites from that time confirms their worship of God was more in the breach than in the observance. Abraham may well have realised that all these stone images their colleagues of the time worshipped were useless and ridiculous. It doesn’t mean that he would understand whether the spirit he was discussing sacrifice with was good or bad. Child sacrifice connected with Baal worship was endemic at that time in Canaan, Phoenicia etc it would seem. Some of the bad Israelite kings did it too. If Abraham’s new god asked for a sacrifice of his only son, perhaps Abraham would consider this perfectly normal, whereas we wouldn’t. When God prevented him and showed him a ram caught in the thicket to sacrifice, instead, maybe it was to show Abraham that this new God was God and not Baal. Likewise when Jesus died on the cross, it removed the practice of animal, let alone human, sacrifice altogether from Christian belief. You don’t have to accept what I am saying. However, I have long seen Genesis as a decided rebuttal of much Middle Eastern religious belief prior to the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC as well as a precursor to what we believe today.

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