(urth) OT: The Problem of Susan

Dan'l Danehy-Oakes danldo at gmail.com
Mon Nov 29 12:17:46 PST 2004

Adam wrote:
> A couple of comments before we lahy this to rest (as we seem to have
> reached the point of talking past each other):

Yeh, I think you're right.

> > I read it thus: The Professor has continued in the line of denial
> > that some think is the only meaningful interpretation of the last
> > we hear of her in _TLB_. Because she still denies Narnia there
> > would be no such hints in her thoughts.
> But Gaiman could have figured out some way to have the
> Professor's thoughts reveal that she had been to Narnia without
> admitting to herself that Narnia was real; after all, he's a clever
> writer, and likes to do that sort of thing. 

H'mmm. No doubt _Wolfe_ could have done so; but I can't see
Gaiman doing it. I've only read four novels, a scattering of
shorts, and some funnybooks, but I've never seen anything in 
Gaiman's work that suggested he was capable of the kind of 
subtlety required to pull off this kind of "unreliable point of 
view" trick. (Note that I said the _kind_ of subtlety, not the 
_degree_; there is some very subtle stuff in his work, but of a 
different sort.)

> Or he could have put some other sort of clue in her thoughts 
> that would show she was Susan, which again he didn't, as far His
> as I can tell. not doing either of these is, to my mind, indirect but 
> fairly strong evidence that the Professor is not intended to be
> Susan.

Or, perhaps, that he intended the reader to make up his or her
own mind on that question (that being another "problem of
Susan," so to speak). One thing Gaiman clearly _does_ do in 
a lot of his work is leave certain matters open to contradictory

> Apologies for misinterpreting you; I took the "particular set of things"
> that Gaiman denies to be the Christian world-view, and Aslan as the
> equivalent of Christ. If that isn't what you meant, it's not clear to me
> what you did mean.

Well, you're within an inch but a very important inch of what I meant.
The inch of difference is this: within the fictional construct up to the
point at which Lewis left off, the evidence appears to point to this
being a world in which (a) basic ("mere") Christianity is true and 
(b) Aslan is Christ-in-Narnia. Taking this point:

> > Note that I did not say it would not be acceptable to reject the Christian
> > worldview in such a sequel - but if you are to reject it, you must
> > acknowledge and deal with its influence on what has gone before, not
> > simply decide that Aslan and the White Witch were lovers with no
> > explanation offered at all. (Yeah, yeah, I know, it's a dream sequence.
> > It's also the most blatant example of what I'm talking about.)

further, it would be possible, for example, to write a perfectly 
acceptable sequel in which it turns out that Aslan's claims to be
Christ - well, he never direclty claims it, but he hints at it very 
strongly in several places - are _lies_, and that the various other
bits of the text that point to this interpretation are part of his
overall deception. (Indeed, one of the "Narnia is evil!" type 
Christians could write a very interesting book in which Susan is
the _only_ one saved because Aslan is a lying demon... though 
that book would have to somehow deal with the apparent ascent
into Heaven at the end of _TLB_.) But what you can't reasonably 
do is simply ignore those claims and other bits of the text; you
can't simply start with another interpretation and leave the
existing meaning-structure lying on the floor. Which in the end
is what it seems to me Gaiman has done, and I respect him the
less as a writer for it.

To put it in somewhat more concrete terms: one of the things 
the British comic writers were famous for was reinventing 
moribund characters - Alan Moore was the best at this, but 
Gaiman, Delano, and Morrison all did it, Moore most famously
with the Swamp Thing (which included reinventions of Cain and
Abel, the Geek, and others), Gaiman with Black Orchid and
others, Morrison with Animal Man and the Doom Patrol, etc.
But what was important, and what Moore was especially good
at, was maintaining and even respecting the existing continuity.
His most spectacular job of this was _Miracleman_, which 
turned Captain "Shazam!" Marvel inside out but kept the 
entire mythology intact (with, to be sure, the serial numbers
filed off for legal reasons) even while wiping it out. 

Gaiman proved himself able to do this on some occasions,
notably with his reworkings of Matthew Cable, the Witches
Three, Hector and Lyta Hall, and ... oh, hell, what was her
name, the Element Girl ... but at times he utterly refused to
acknowledge what had gone before. And that is more or less
what I'm complaining about with "The Problem of Susan."

I think it's necessary for the Professor to be Susan for the 
story to make any sense _as fantasy_.

But if the Professor is Susan, then the whole thing fails for
me, because it ignores the existing continuity.

> Whether or not the Professor is Susan, Greta's dream is not real. 

Okay, we can agree on that. What I can't agree with is that this
takes it out of the center of the story's meaning.


"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

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