[personal profile] rj_anderson
I love that people are still weighing in with comments on my Problem of Susan essay over three years after it was written. Warms the cockles of my heart, it does.

But although the post has generated a great many thoughtful remarks from readers on both sides, it took a quasi-anonymous comment from someone called "Nj_Librarian" today to bring out a point I've never seen made before:

When the Friends of Narnia were speaking of Susan and why she was not there, they didn't yet realize that they and the Pevensie parents had all actually been killed in the real world.

That fact wasn't revealed by Aslan until the next-to-last page of the book. Before that, the Friends thought that they had just been magically transported to Narnia again, like all the previous times, and that they would be sent back at the end of the adventure.

So they don't know that Susan has been permanently bereaved and left alone. Had they known this, their discussion of her might have taken on a different tone.

And s/he is absolutely right. The Friends of Narnia's startled reaction on the second-last page when Aslan tells them that they are all dead makes plain that they simply hadn't been thinking of their situation in that light. As far as they were concerned, Susan had simply missed out on another trip to Narnia, which was a shame and all, but perhaps there'd still be a chance to persuade her before the next time. They had no clue that there wouldn't be a next time, and that they'd already had all the chances to plead with her that they would ever get.

I can't believe this hadn't occurred to me (or, apparently, anyone else on the thread), but I'm very glad it's been pointed out now. Thank you, Nj_Librarian, whoever you are.

Date: 2008-09-20 06:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kalquessa.livejournal.com
a) That had never occurred to me, either, but now that it's been pointed out: yay!

b) Speaking of your Problem of Susan post, I've been re-reading it and some of the comments while I work on my Finish-a-thon fic, which this year is my own take on Susan's departure and return to Aslan and Narnia. Such a good post, and I have it to thank for connecting me with so many cool people (you and Izh, just to name two). And I should really have a Susan icon with as much as I've come to read and write about her. Hm.

Date: 2008-09-21 02:22 am (UTC)
kerravonsen: Susan aiming bow and arrows: "Sharp Mind" (Susan)
From: [personal profile] kerravonsen
If you want a Susan icon, you can have this one.

Date: 2008-09-20 06:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] capnflynn.livejournal.com
Wow, hey, that is an excellent point. I too am surprised it never really struck me before. Thanks for sharing! :D

Date: 2008-09-20 07:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] persephone-kore.livejournal.com
Oh. Oh, they don't, do they.

Date: 2008-09-20 07:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fandoria.livejournal.com
That makes so much sense, especially since the others had been told they couldn't come back to Narnia. And, as far as Peter, Edmund, and Lucy go, they didn't go back to Narnia as they knew it. They were behind the door the whole time. The Narnia they came back to was the new one.

Date: 2008-09-20 08:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sartorias.livejournal.com
Yep--that definitely makes sense.

Date: 2008-09-20 09:21 pm (UTC)
lferion: (Gen_astrolabe)
From: [personal profile] lferion
Have you read Outliving the Universe? It also addresses Susan, and is a really interesting & thoughtful take.

Date: 2008-09-20 11:57 pm (UTC)
ashavah: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ashavah
Thank you for the link. It's a great essay.

Date: 2008-09-21 01:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tinpra.livejournal.com
I'm so glad you linked your original essay. I thought I had read it already but apparently not. Certainly you did a better job of puttubg into words my own feelings about people's dislike for Lewis' treatment of Susan--and with references! (I really have to get the rest of the series.) And beyond that...nothing insightful to say.

But to respond to your current post: I can't remember now if I realized that the Friends don't know that they are dead and Susan has survived them all. I always have that in the back of my mind when I think about Susan, and have read a few good fics (I think Yuletide) that deal with the very thing, but it's so easy to forget when analyzing the whole thing.

Date: 2008-09-21 02:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] scionofgrace.livejournal.com
Dude! I'd never thought that either! Makes me wonder what they felt when they put two and two together.

::ponders::

Date: 2008-09-21 02:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jenosopher.livejournal.com
How did we all miss that?

Date: 2008-09-21 03:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] penwiper26.livejournal.com
I think your commenter has an excellent point.

I would qualify your summary a little bit though, with two things. One is, even though the Friends didn't know their return to the Country they'd arrived in was permanent by means of death, they mentioned their own suspicion of that very thing in telling Tirian the story. They suspected it not only because of (I think Edmund's) observations of the train's behavior but also because of the momentousness of the event -- Tirian's miraculous call for help and their determination to seek out a portal and their very arrival in That Place, all of them together. The real thing they didn't realize was that not only were they permanently taken out of their old world, the Pevensie parents were also, and therefore Susan was left as alone as she could be. So while it's still true that up till Aslan explains they probably aren't thinking about the irrevocable physical chasm between themselves and Susan, it's also true that they already know this isn't just any old trip to Narnia.

The other thing is that the quality of the Place they're in has the effect of removing all their doubt and fear, so that I wonder if they really would, the way it's set up, be able to feel differently about Susan. I would hope it'd be a situation much like that in The Great Divorce where the love and compassion showered on the Ghosts is as real and unbreakable as the blades of grass they cannot bend. But the text doesn't really give us an obvious opening for that, which is why NJ Librarian's observation is so startling and insightful.

My own objection to the dismissal of Susan is not really to do with the fact of her estrangement -- there's been a steady stream of clues throughout that Susan has less will to enter in than the others. Nor do I have a problem with the idea that the fault that cuts her off from Narnia can look in our own world like Sensibleness and Practicality and Worldly Wisdom. And I don't even begrudge the Friends' exasperation with Susan's self-inflicted memory loss -- it's not unlike their attitude toward Edmund at the beginning when he's being so cruel to Lucy. My objection is that the last word on Susan is not the same as Aslan's judgment of her in Prince Caspian -- "You have been listening to fears, my child" -- it's an aside on how she's just like all those other young women who are obsessed with image only, who are vapid and shallow and probably no better than they should be. But I don't give a rat's ass about hypothetical flappers, Jack, it's Susan I want to hear about, who stupidized herself on purpose to insulate herself from fear, like the Dwarfs. In fact, it's the Dwarfs' presence in the narrative that makes the dismissal of Susan so frustrating: they get to be tragic, Susan gets to be merely a caricature. Lucy has compassion for them as she hasn't for Susan, and if Aslan had been standing right there I doubt he'd have allowed her to get away with that. And as a reader I have a bit more invested in Susan than I do in the stubborn Dwarfs. So I do feel a little bit cheated, and irritated that all I get is a sermonette about Stupid Modern Women as the character's epitaph.

So for me the Problem of Susan is really the Problem of Susan's Epitaph. The epitaph opens up a can of worms that Lewis I don't think is terribly competent to handle, and which was dealt with much better by Dodie Smith in the arc of Rose in I Capture the Castle. I could go on about the intersection of modernity and femininity in Lewis's crosshairs, and the contrasting sensitivity of Till We Have Faces, but it's late and I've blathered on far too long!

Date: 2008-09-21 09:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dichroic.livejournal.com
My vote for the mirror image of Susan is the Susan in Swallows and Amazons. That Susan is also the nervous older ister with adult-ish worries, and it's exactly because of her (this is said explicitly at least once per book) that the whole group get to go on adventures - because the Mothers trust Susan to be sure people don't do stupidly dangerous things, and that they get enough sleep and food. When on an adventure, Susan has the sailing / woodcraft skills to be respected by the rest, and when the younger ones do do something stupid and dangerous, it's Susan's upset they worry about. ("Nothing ever ought to happen to make Susan look like that.")

Date: 2009-10-29 08:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] spritl.livejournal.com
My objection is that the last word on Susan is not the same as Aslan's judgment of her in Prince Caspian -- "You have been listening to fears, my child"
...
In fact, it's the Dwarfs' presence in the narrative that makes the dismissal of Susan so frustrating: they get to be tragic, Susan gets to be merely a caricature. Lucy has compassion for them as she hasn't for Susan, and if Aslan had been standing right there I doubt he'd have allowed her to get away with that.




I'm sorry to jump in here after over a year but I just had to respond to this:

Lewis doesn't ever give the "last word" on Susan. Susan isn't dead. It's a very hard point to grasp, from what I've noticed, but that's where all the argument against Susan's "treatment" falls apart. She's not a tragic figure. She still has the rest of her life to find her way back to Aslan, if she so chooses. There is no final word on Susan because her story has not ended.

The dwarfs, on the other hand, are tragic because they are dead. They are stuck in their limbo - not in Hell, but not alive to Heaven, for the rest of eternity. For Lucy to feel the same kind of pity for Susan that she does for them would be morbid: why should she find it tragic that her sister has not yet died?

Date: 2008-09-22 12:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] serenasnape.livejournal.com
Wow. I'd never really spotted that either (just to echo everybody else). Very sad, I think.

Date: 2008-09-22 09:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] greenhornet.livejournal.com
however did I miss that?

absolutely right!

Date: 2009-06-22 04:06 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I never considered that either. How could we ALL miss this fact?

Re: absolutely right!

Date: 2012-04-21 04:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jade-eyed-angel.livejournal.com
Jumping on this something like 3 years later as I just finished reading the series (at least for the first time as an adult), and everything else aside, the problem of Susan really bothers me. I did read your other post first and I'm pretty sure her exclusion did have something to do with not believing in Narnia more than anything else (from the way it's written anyway), but aside from the fact that Lewis actually gave his characters a "happy ending" by killing them all off, which I find a little disturbing honestly, even if they didn't realize right away that they were dead there was still a good half a page left after Aslan informed them about it.

Their mention of Susan earlier aside, Lewis could have extended the story by a page or 2 to let them come to terms with their death and with the fact that they would not be with Susan any longer, and that she would in fact be all alone, but he bypassed that and choose to instead talk about how great and wonderful and beautiful everything is and how they all lived happily ever after. So really I'm not sure the fact that they said what they said about Susan before they knew they were dead really changes much in terms of the story at all. Possibly all it does is make you feel slightly better about the other kids since now we don't know how they could have reacted, but it sounds like they were perfectly fine about it either way.

It just really seems shocking that after everything Susan would just be pretty much removed from the story. She certainly grew up into a wonderful queen in the first book, so despite the things mentioned about her being afraid or of wanting to get out of the woods in Caspian, it still seems very unlikely and far fetched to me that she would choose to forget about Narnia and then be excluded the way she was when she was always so kind and sensible in the past. In my opinion at least, there has not been nearly enough foreshadowing for this drastic change in her character. She sure hasn't made any more mistakes than Ed.

That said, while I do find the idea of them all dying and being awfully happy about it really pretty morbid and as spritl said, it's certainly true that Susan has her whole life ahead of her, I almost have to say she would be better off just going to Narnia with everyone else at this point as I can't imagine she would have a particularly happy life being the only one of her family left so suddenly. After all, considering that he wrote it like dying is the best thing that coud happen and everyone else is frolicking in paradise, it's the people who are left behind that are actually going to suffer. So even though she may have her whole life ahead of her it's going to be a really sucky life now. So just to comment on that one comment (;P) , even though I find the whole ending morbid, it actually IS quite tragic that Susan hasn't died with them - and that's something I'd never thought I'd say. In fact if given the chance by Lewis to react to it, I'm pretty sure Lucy would have been crying her eyes out just thinking about it.

Thank you

Date: 2013-09-18 07:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] amovitam.ca (from livejournal.com)
I know this is very late in the game, but I only just read your original post which I found when googling "The problem of Susan". In the course of a close-up study of Lewis I read Neil Gaiman's story yesterday (blrrgh) and some of the other discussion on Susan, and have spent most of the day since then mentally formulating a response - which, had it ever been written, would have been almost verbatim what you already said in your post (though perhaps not quite as articulate). Thank you for saving me the trouble of writing it, and for validating all my thoughts about this issue.

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