(urth) OT: The Problem of Susan

Dan'l Danehy-Oakes danldo at gmail.com
Fri Nov 5 15:16:36 PST 2004

On Fri, 05 Nov 2004 16:27:31 -0600, Adam Stephanides
<adamsteph at earthlink.net> wrote:

> Greta's dream, in which the girls are eaten while the boys are transformed
> into a "twisted thing" (401). 

This is, for me, probably the single thing I found most distasteful about
the entire story: it is based on an actual scene in _LW&W_ in which (as
I imagine you can guess) neither Aslan nor Jadis destroy any of the 
children, nor do they have sexual relations. The scene in question is
the one in which Aslan offers his life for Edmund's, which would be in
many ways the most important scene of the entire book; rewriting it in
this way is one of my reasons for claiming that it is simple Lewis-bashing.

> Dan'l Danehy-Oakes wrote:
> > it's currently fashionable to trash Lewis and especially the
> > Narnia books,
> Is it? I know Pullman ciriticized them prominently; I'm not aware of any
> other prominent figures who have done so recently.

If I had to name the three "big hot" names in fantasy right now, they'd
be Pullman and Gaiman and Mieville. Mieville has also dumped on
Lewis (though not as deeply as Tolkien "the wen on the arse of 
fantasy literature" Tolkien).  "The Problem of Susan" makes the

> > and Gaiman is nothing if not fashionable.
> Again, I hadn't particularly noticed this. 

You have not, I take it, seen him or read much in the way of
interviews. He has the post-punk all-in-black too-cool-for-school 
bit down to a tee. Mind you, I still think he's one hellofa writer.

> In any case, I think Gaiman's critique of Lewis here is too deeply felt to
> be just an effort to be "fashionable."

I think you misunderstood. I don't mean that he makes efforts
to be fashionable. I meant that he is a character from the
Dreaming: the Fashion Thing. He _is_ fashionable, he doesn't
have to make efforts for it.

> > Susan is most emphatically _not_
> > "denied Heaven." This is the "Pullman Heresy" that is, I think, at the
> > heart of the trash-Lewis fad.
> If I give all your brothers and sisters candy, and I don't give you any,
> then I've denied you candy, even though I still have the option to give you
> candy later.

The analogy is badly flawed. If you give my brothers and sisters 
candy, and I'm not there, but you give me some when I show up,
you haven't denied me anything. Susan won't "show up" until
she's dead.

> > Like near-'bout eveyrthing else
> > in Narnia, the "lipstick" bit is there for a polemic point - a point
> > further driven in by the statement that Susan is "no longer a
> > Friend of Narnia," that she regards Narnia as a "game we used
> > to play."
> I, and I suspect most others who criticize Lewis, certainly "get" 
> Lewis's point. Our point is that as his exemplar of someone who 
> had turned their back on God, Lewis chose a girl whose "fault" 
> is to be preoccupied with just those things that most adolescent 
> girls in his society were preoccupied with. 

Oh, my. You mean a Christian writer illustrated the idea that
excessive concern with Things Of The World [tm] is Not 
Necessarily A Good Thing? How shocking! What a sexist!

> No doubt you'll retort that it was just by chance that his exemplar
> was a girl, and has no larger significance; I'm not so sure.

No, I don't think it's a coincidence; I think it was a necessary 
outcome of the nature of his characters. There are in all
eight children who've visited Narnia that he could choose 

o Two (Polly and Digory) are no longer children and so not 
   well-suited for example-making in a children's book.

o Two (Eustace and Pole) are the onely ones currently allowed
   to visit Narnia, and so neither can be the one who has 
   turned away from Narnia.

This leaves the Pevensies.

o Peter is the High King and symbolically tied up with Peter
   the Apostle. Not a good choice.

o Edmund might be a candidate, but he's been singled out
   for special salvation and deep conversionin the very first 
   book, so it would be very problematic.

o Lucy is the series' primary POV character and the one most
   loved by readers (and CSL himself).

This leaves Susan as pretty much Hobson's Choice, if  
there's to be an example of turning away.

> Though Greta does use the word "damned" at one point, that's not 
> what the story turns on. It's the naive Greta who is preoccupied with 
> Susan's eternal fate; Gaiman himself places much more emphasis 
> upon the cruelty of what would happen to Susan on Earth.

Okay, and that's fair. 

> > I'm sorry he didn't take Lewis's own beliefs into
> > account in writing "The Problem of Susan,"
> Actually he does incorporate Lewis's belief, though he may not have been
> aware it was Lewis's: "She [Greta's English teacher] said that even though
> Susan had refused Paradise then, she still had time while she lived to
> repent."

I said "beliefs" and I meant "beliefs," not this one limited matter. 
There is room for an interesting story about Susan's life after the
accident that would remain within the orthodoxy of Lewis' "mere 
Christianity," and I for one wish someone had written that instead
of this. (Not necessarily a "how Susan was saved story," btw; I
would be quite content with one, like O'Connor's _Wise Blood_,
that depicts Susan's spiral into damnation, if it were done well
and honestly. Though I know a lot of readers wouldn't. . . )

> Because Gaiman is hostile to the Narnia books, it doesn't follow that he's
> hostile to Christianity as such, let alone kneejerkingly so.

No, that statement was a result of reading quite a bit more of
Gaiman than this one story.


"Saddam would still be in power if he were the President
of the United States, and the world would be a lot better off."
     -- The Forty-Third President, 10/8/04

More information about the Urth mailing list