Problematic faves

On Susan Pevensie | You did our girl wrong, C.S. Lewis.

Ah, Susan Pevensie.

Elder Sister.

Queen Susan of the Horn.

Eye-roll expert.

In a world where characters saw talking animals and the part-human/part-goat fauns and just said “hmm, I don’t see anything odd here,” Susan was the voice of caution, doubt, and common sense. So why did she get the crappiest ending of all the Pevensies in The Chronicles of Narnia?

You see, The Last Battle ends with Susan’s siblings and close childhood friends being led to the afterlife the real version of Narnia, Further Up and Further In, by Aslan. We’re also told that this is only the beginning of the true story, “which goes on for ever, and in which every chapter is better than the one before”.

Aww, so nice, right?

old man no GIF
Man holding cue cards that all read “NO”.

You see, while Susan’s siblings and friends are gallivanting across the real Narnia with its green meadows and waterfalls, they’re told they, along with their parents, died in a train crash on Earth.

The Pevensies are all gone. Well, all except for dear old Su who wasn’t even invited back to Narnia in the first place.

Queen Susan the Cancelled

That’s not all.

The Susan Snub™ is explained away by Lewis in quite the cursory manner, by saying she’s “no longer a friend of Narnia.” There’s also the Roast of Susan Pevensie happening in the book with these direct quotes by supposed friends of hers:

“She’s interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations.”

— Peter Pevensie

“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.”

— Jill Pole

Snakes. The whole lot of them.

The Problem of Susan

Think of this whole situation from Susan’s point of view. Her entire family dies in a train accident. As the surviving closest relative, not only does she find out they’re dead, she also has to go identify their bodies. Isn’t that quite the toll on a young woman? And all the while, her siblings are having a gala time in the land of talking animals, green meadows, and unnecessary lampposts.

In his short story The Problem of Susan, Neil Gaiman explores Susan’s situation further. In it, she’s the aged Professor Hastings, but you know she’s Susan Pevensie. She’s being interviewed by a literature student about children’s fiction in general, when the topic of Narnia and Susan being left out comes up.

Why was Susan “denied the heaven of further up and further in”?

Knowing that the Narnia books rely quite heavily on religious allegory, is the ending implying that a normal young woman with desires and traditionally feminine interests would be kept out of heaven? Professor Hastings herself says this:

“A God who would punish me for liking nylons and parties by making me walk through that school dining room, with the flies to identify [Edmund]. Well, he’s enjoying himself a bit too much, isn’t he? Like a cat, getting the last once of enjoyment out of a mouse. Or a gram of enjoyment, I suppose it must be these days.”

Which brings us to my next topic of discussion.

Narnia and faith

As a child, I never got any of the religious allegory in the books. It was just a magical world to escape into as an eight-year-old. It was on subsequent re-reads that I noticed all the references, which were quite on the nose, to be perfectly honest.

Anyway, a popular theory as to why Susan was snubbed is that she’s “lost faith”. Or, to speak allegorically like in the book, she doesn’t believe in Narnia anymore. She’s quoted as saying “What wonderful memories you have! Fancy you still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children,” when Narnia is mentioned to her.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time Susan was in Narnia, Aslan told her she and Peter would never come back. I may be reaching, but considering she’s the rational sibling, her lost belief could even be her repressing memories. If I were the reigning queen of a magic land and a talking animal who’s definitely not God told me I was too old to ever come back to said land, I’d want to forget it too.

So tell me. Is repressing memories a sin enough to be left out of the glorious afterlife your siblings got? One of whom, I’m wont to remind you, betrayed his entire family for one (1) Turkish delight.

Was the whole thing a set-up?

A popular theory to Susan being left out is that this was C.S. Lewis leaving some room to explore a spinoff series on further Narnia adventures. If that was the reason, Lewis simply never followed through with it.

Also, aren’t you mighty glad the internet wasn’t a thing back in his time? Because I’m sure he would have written a spinoff (and like, I get it. You need to get that bread). But we all know what happens when fantasy authors try to expand their series–they slowly get revealed to be trashy, shoehorning, pandering TERFs.

I’m definitely not talking about Schmoanne Schmathleen Schowling.

Anyway, I digress.

Two words: gender politics

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck,… of course, it’s gender politics!

I don’t entirely buy the Susan having lost faith theory because of how abruptly it’s introduced in the final book. For you see, she does have her moments of doubt in the beginning of the series but she willingly goes along with the group. And Aslan certainly forgives her for it too. Why bring in her lack of faith again when you could have just used the “you’ll never come back to Narnia” excuse again?

Instead, Lewis perfunctorily explains away her absence by saying she’d rather attend parties and do things completely normal for a young woman like her to do. By saying Susan is *gasp* an actual human woman who liked doing things society had deemed “feminine”, I guess Lewis was trying to say she was conceited and there’s no room in heaven The Real Narnia for vanity?

In The Problem of Susan, Professor Hastings offers an explanation:

“The Victorian notion of the purity and sanctity of childhood demanded that fiction for children should be made… well… pure… and sanctimonious”.

This begs the question: is thinking about boys and being vain such a sin? Is it so bad children need to be warned against it in their books?

It’s not just Susan who is blamed for her traditionally feminine interests.

If I asked you who the figure of evil in the series is, who would you pick first?

Queen Jadis of Charn from The Magician’s Nephew a.k.a The White Witch, correct?

What’s the most prominent characteristic of The White Witch aside from her general villainy? Her beauty.

To make the symbol of evil a strong, beautiful woman and a few books later, exclude someone’s shot at eternal happiness all because of their vanity and sexuality screams gender politics at me.

Our neighbourhood TERF J.K. Rowling, as much as I detest her now, once summed it up perfectly in a 2004 interview:

“There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.”

I don’t want to dismiss Lewis as being sexist either because there are other powerful women such as Lucy and Polly in the series. But I can’t help but wonder with every re-read on why just Susan, the most traditionally feminine of the lot, was snubbed such.

Or, you know, maybe I just need to settle the fuck down and stop ruining every single childhood favourite of mine for both my sake and everyone else’s.

Why do you think Susan was left out of the Narnia of Further Up and Further In? Do you think it had to do with faith? Or was it gender politics? Let me know in the comments!

~ Shruti

23 thoughts on “On Susan Pevensie | You did our girl wrong, C.S. Lewis.

  1. It was definitely gender politics! I can see why you’re hesitant to call C.S. Lewis a sexist, but he’s chanelling so many patriarchal tropes in Susan’s storyline that I think his more well-written female characters don’t really make up for it. Great post!

    I also really appreciate your digs at our neighbourhood TERF. Aaarch she makes me so angry!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right! There’s also the fact that the well-written female characters either pull the “I’m not like other girls” trope (Polly) or try to be as pretty as other girls and are told vanity doesn’t matter (Lucy). Really makes you think.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post. And I totally quoted the Schmoanne paragraph to my hubs. Since he knows you and all xD

    But anyway, I haven’t even read Narnia. I just know the movies. And now that I’ve read this post, the hell am I ever gonna read the books!! I think it’s just the unfortunate stink of the 20th century and nothing else. Women have to be put down. But this truly is heavy handed – she DOES seem to just be doing normal women’s stuff, even stuff girls were encouraged to do. It’s like you can never get it right! Whatever you do as a woman, it’s still wrong!! Argh.

    So yeah, great post. I loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, gotta take a dig at JKR every chance I get. That’s how I make up for all the money I’ve wasted on her. 😂

      Also, yesss, I really want to pick up contemporary children’s books to see if this notion of purity has carried over to the present too. As the self-imposed books suggester (is that even a word 😂) for my niece, I don’t want to pick the ones I myself enjoyed as a kid just because I didn’t know any better.


  3. This is a really accurate commentary on Susan. When I first read the books, I was definitely a little irked that she was shunted, so it’s nice to see that I wasn’t the only one to have problems with it! I think that there’s definitely a religious element to it, but of course that’s not the only factor.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Susan probably became an actress and probably ended up like Rose Dawson in the Titanic. No ship (or train) could take her down and she blazed through her life her way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do remember seeing a quote from him saying she would find her own way to Narnia some day. If only we’d got that sequel!

      I do quite love the older Susan in Neil Gaiman’s The Problem of Susan. Which of course would have been entirely different story if Susan’s ending weren’t a big question mark. 😅


  5. If you actually know what Christianity is about, you can’t just go to Heaven because you used to believe. From the perspective of a Christian, Susan started to focus on other things and eventually stop believing in Aslan and saying that Narnia was in the past. The only reason her Siblings made it to Aslan’s land was that they never gave up on Aslan and when they died, they ended with Aslan.
    Now if you were to compare this scenario to the Bible (considering that this book is a Christian allegory), you would see that if any Christian were to have believed before and gave up on their belief in Jesus (Aslan) and turn their backs on him and start to focus on worldly things, they won’t get to Heaven. You can’t just expect something from someone without putting any effort into your relationship. Peter when he was told he couldn’t return to Narnia still tried to keep his relationship with Aslan, and that’s how he ended up in Aslan’s land. Aslan as you said earlier, is still giving Susan a chance. If you were to look at the salvation story from the Bible, then maybe you might be able to understand what I’m saying.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s