Thursday, May 29, 2008

The So-Called Problem of Susan

As a child reading my favorite book series, The Chronicles of Narnia, I was often saddened that Susan, the eldest sister in the Pevensie family, in the last book in the series was seemingly excluded from Aslan’s country. C.S. Lewis tells us through Peter that Susan was “no longer a friend of Narnia”, and Jill Pole summarizes her problem as “she’s interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations”. Clearly, Lewis is condemning mindless vanity and obsession with one’s appearance and image—I was therefore fascinated to discover that this passage has raised the ire of many well-known authors such as Phillip Pullman and J.K. Rowling, who have decided that Lewis must have been condemning sexuality and maturation. Phillip Pullman writes:

Susan, like Cinderella, is undergoing a transition from one phase of her life to another. Lewis didn’t approve of that. He didn’t like women in general, or sexuality at all…He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up.

In a Time magazine article, J.K. Rowling says:

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 has found sex. I have a big problem with that.

This passage has even driven a science fiction author, Neil Gaiman, to write a short story about Susan set decades after The Last Battle. It is a disgusting piece of perverted drivel, so I will not provide a link to it, but its essential point is that a loving God would not kill a family and punish a girl because she liked lipstick.

While irritating, I almost find these comments amusing. J.K. Rowling actually admits to not having read the Chronicles of Narnia, and Phillip Pullman’s other quotes (google him) reveal him to be the self-blinding, God-hating fool that he is. Whether he is truly dimwitted enough to believe what he says, or he is just talking to get attention I do not know. Anyone who has actually read The Last Battle, let alone Lewis’ other writings knows that these authors’ comments are patently absurd. For instance, in The Horse and his Boy, the adult susan is described as one of the most beautiful women in the known world, and is actively being courted. Many of his other characters grow up, get married, and have children. He never portrays characters negatively because they are female, and one only has to read the chapter in That Hideous Strength in which Venus descends to earth to know his views on sexuality.

Having established that Susan’s negative portrayal is due to her becoming a self-absorbed, conceited twit rather than to her growing up, the question remains, will Susan ever enter Aslan’s country? I believe the answer is a most emphatic yes (it is important to remember that in the books Susan did not die in the train collision—at the end of the series all her family dies and enters Aslan’s country, or heaven, and she remains living on earth). Lewis himself says on the subject:

The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there’s plenty of time for her to mend and perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end—in her own way.

This is where my theology differs from Lewis’. I don’t think there’s any doubt in the matter. I believe that the Bible is clear that God does not save a person only to have that person decide he doesn’t want to be saved. Romans 8:38-39 says:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I think “anything else in all creation” includes ourselves. Are we to suppose that those who have died to sin and been made new creations, those who belong to the royal priesthood, who have been “called out of darkness into His marvellous light”, who have been made “kings and priests to God” are capable of defying the God who made them such? (I Pet 2, Rev 1:6)

This is not to say that God’s children do not stray, or that they will not be punished for their errors. As Susan’s rebellion left her alone on earth while her family entered Aslan’s presence, so we can be punished temporarily for our rebellion. But nothing can separate us from God and our salvation is sure. We can infer from this that Susan, were the story to continue, would repent and eventually join her siblings in Aslan’s bliss. Though when Lewis was alive he may have disagreed with my reasoning, I think he would have reached the same conclusion. After all, he is the one who wrote, “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen.”


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