(urth) OT: The Problem of Susan

Adam Stephanides adamsteph at earthlink.net
Fri Nov 19 17:50:25 PST 2004

Sorry it's taken so long to reply; I was out of town. Actually, on the
question of sex roles in Narnia, either in general or as regards "the
problem of Susan" in particular, I don't really have anything else to add.
But there are a few things in Dan'l's last post that I wanted to respond to,
if only for clarity's sake.

on 11/8/04 8:17 PM, Dan'l Danehy-Oakes at danldo at gmail.com wrote:

> To equate a young and violent death
> with candy strikes me as just a bit wonky.

Not the way Lewis depicts the "young and violent death."

> My basic problem with it, and I stand by this, is that Gaiman doesn't
> deal with the problem of Susan at all; Susan Pevensie lived in a
> particular world where a particular set of things were true, even if she
> came to deny some of them. Gaiman has written about a vaguely
> similar character in a completely different world where those things
> are not true, and so it does not (in my opinion) provide any real
> conclusion to, or even any real commentary upon, "the problem of
> Susan." 

But Gaiman isn't interested in discussing "the problem of Susan" in Lewis's
terms. He's rejecting these terms, and in so doing criticizing Lewis. I
don't think this is necessarily an illegitimate thing to do.

> But if you can't
> accept the postulates of a world, you shouldn't write a story set
> in that world. "The Problem of Susan" falls apart because it
> simply doesn't fit logically with the texts to which it nominally
> a coda.

I'm a bit confused now. Do you believe that the professor is Susan or not
(as the paragraph I quoted earlier seems to imply)? I lean towards the view
that she isn't. To be sure, there are obvious hints (too obvious, I'm
tempted to say) that she is. But afaik, there's nothing in the professor's
thoughts, as we're shown them, to indicate that she's Susan (I could be
wrong about this, since it's been a long time since I read the Narnia
books.) And of course, there's the problem of how, if the Narnia books are
true, did Lewis know about the events in The Last Battle, since all the
witnesses died without returning to Earth? No, I think that for once in
Gaiman's work, the professor is just who she seems to be: a woman who, as a
child, went through a few of the mundane experiences that Susan did, and who
later came to dislike the Narnia books.

If you do think that the professor is Susan, then your dislike of the story
is more understandable. While I don't think, as you apparently do, that it
would be illegitimate for a writer to try and continue Susan's story while
rejecting Lewis's Christian worldview, I agree that "The Problem of Susan,"
if read as such, doesn't continue Susan's story in an interesting way.

> (a) Not believing in Narnia anymore, while it may be foolish, even
> delusional, does not seem to me to automatically mean that Susan had
> abandoned the Christian faith (which is clearly what the children are
> expected to follow in the "real" world: viz. Aslan's words at the end of
> _Dawn Treader_, to the effect - since I don't have the text at hand I'm
> quasi-quoting from memory - that "I brought you here so that you would
> know me better when you met me in your world.")
> (a.1) Since Narnia is not their world, Aslan is not, in that name, their
> savior; their path to Heaven is through "the name of Christ Jesus." (That
> this name is never directly invoked at any point in the books is part of
> Lewis's overall plan and intent, which was to sneak Christian ideas and
> imagery past children's intellectual cynicism and into their imaginations.)
> (a.2) Further, it's clear that Aslan isn't the only path into Heaven, given
> that the Pevensie parents, who (so far as we know) never met Aslan, are
> waiting for them in Heaven at the series' end.
> (a.3) At any rate, Susan at the end of the Narnia books for all we know be
> a completely faithful,churchgoing Anglican.

Of course, if Susan's denying Narnia is not meant to be equivalent to
rejecting Jesus, then there is no "problem of Susan." But, as I said before,
that doesn't seem to fit with the quotation from Lewis you gave earlier. It
also leaves Susan's absence without an allegorical interpretation, in a book
in which (even more than in the other Narnia books iirc) everything is

> As a final note on the "lipstick and invitations" thing - it should be
> noted that the remark is made by a younger child, who seems to
> rather resent the older child's having abandoned their clique, and
> while Lewis was a rather sloppy writer, he was .generally pretty good
> about keeping straight the points of view of his various characters.

But it's seconded by Polly.

> Unfortunately, by completely reimaging the scene, Gaiman makes any
> critique of Lewis based on that dream problematic. If he had stuck to
> what actually happened in that scene, and shown how it was "sexist" -
> which it is not, really, though the book as a whole _is_, rather - he'd
> have been playing a bit more fairly. But the scene he chose to present
> simply has no real bearing on what Lewis actually wrote.

I see I expressed myself poorly. I didn't mean to imply that Gaiman was
basing his critique on that particular scene from LtWatW, which, as you
point out, is radically different from what Gaiman wrote. I just meant that
the fact that the dream refers to other books besides The Last Battle
indicates that Gaiman's complaint is not solely with The Last Battle, even
though that's what Greta and the professor discuss. And it was probably
misleading to call Greta's dream a critique of the Narnia books, even an
implied one. It's a metaphorical representation of a certain response to the
Narnia books.


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