The Non-Problem of Susan

I always wondered what it would take for me to finally break down and write that “There is no problem of Susan” post. Today, I found out.

There’s a meme going around Tumblr about “Susan Pevensie walks into a coffee shop and …” finish as your preference lies, either she is treated horribly by the baristas because she is feminine or she won’t order coffee because she doesn’t like it any more. Here’s the thing: I think both are missing the point. I respect other people’s opinions on the matter, even the ones with which I disagree, but I have my own opinion on this as well, and so I offer it here.

To run with the coffee shop analogy:

Susan Pevensie walks into a coffee shop and wants imitation coffee. When told that they only offer real coffee at this shop, but here, have a comfortable chair and a pastry while you wait for us to lovingly prepare it for you, and oh by the way, there’s no charge for any of this, she walks out without anything, and from then on mocks the rest of her family for still going to that coffee shop.

CS Lewis was very, very big on Truth over Falsehood, Depth over Shallows, Beauty over Ashes. That theme is woven throughout the Chronicles of Narnia – sometimes obviously, as in The Silver Chair, when the children, the prince, and Puddleglum must fight to believe in a true sky, a true sun, a true Lion, over the Witch’s imitations of such things in the Underworld. Or the difference between the true Aslan and the Ass clothed in a lionskin in The Last Battle. Oftentimes it’s more subtle: Lucy’s genuine beauty springing from her love for Aslan as opposed to the false beauty the spell would have given her in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for example.

Susan has not been banned from Narnia because she has become a true woman. In fact, none of them were banned from Narnia. When people graduate from school, do we consider them unjustly treated? Are they often sad to leave school, especially if it was a wonderful experience? Yes, Narnia was a wonderful place for the children to learn about Truth, about Beauty, and about Aslan. But eventually, they grew to the point where Narnia had given them all it could offer, and they needed to go forward and apply that knowledge to their everyday lives. Just as, with school, eventually you have to leave and take what you learned there and use it in your adult life.

But there are some people who, upon leaving school, never really want to move forward. They are glad to be leaving school behind, and to think of themselves as grown-up, but they aren’t actually ready to accept the responsibilities of adulthood. They prefer to remain in perpetual adolescence, a life of frivolity, never going beyond the shallows of life to taste the true joy and awe of the deeps.

That’s Susan’s issue. As Polly says, “Grown-up indeed! I wish she would grow up.” The problem isn’t that she is an adult woman instead of a child. The problem isn’t that she’s embraced femininity. It’s good to grow up, and to wholly embrace who you are. It’s not “lipstick, nylons, and invitations” that’s the problem. It’s considering those things the most important – artificial prettiness and popularity over true Beauty, Friendship, and Love. Or to use Lewis’ own words:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (The Weight of Glory)

It’s not that any of those things are bad. But for Lewis, they were not enough. They could not be the end goal of life. To continue to borrow his metaphor, Susan was one who had seen glimpses of the sea, and deliberately forgotten it so as to better enjoy her mud pies. That is her tragedy. And that is her relatability, for who among us has not done the same?

But there is hope for Susan – “Once a Queen of Narnia, always a Queen of Narnia,” you know.  And we miss that hope when we miss the point of her journey.

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5 thoughts on “The Non-Problem of Susan

  1. [Stands and applauds from the audience] Hear, hear!!
    A year or so ago, when I was studying Lewis and Narnia, I ran across this issue, and got really, really mad about that “Trouble with Susan” stuff out there. There are some really vicious articles written about it, and as you point out so rightly, they just utterly miss the point. One of which is not that Susan is BANNED from Narnia, but that SHE CHOOSES to leave Narnia. And it’s got nothing to do with her becoming a woman, but with her persuing a false idea of what it means to be grown up. So, yup, I”m with you all the way!

    • Thank you! I was honestly really nervous about posting this, because people are SO passionate about it. I have no objection to people disagreeing with Lewis’ view of perpetual adolescence … I think they’re wrong, but I respect their point of view … but I do get ridiculously bothered when people attack him for a viewpoint he never actually wrote.

  2. Have you read RJ Anderson’s essay on this? It’s thought-provoking and wise and has become my last word on the subject ever since I read it. You would appreciate it. I wish I knew where to find it easily. It’s somewhere on her LiveJournal.

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