Thursday, December 08, 2005

On a lighter note – Susan Pevensie Lives !!

I’ve been posting some fairly serious things in the past few days, many of them quite depressing, but I am looking forward to taking my twin son and daughter to the cinema for their first time in the near future when “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” comes out.

There was a time when I would never have expected that C.S. Lewis’s wonderful fantasies could be portrayed adequately on screen but I would have said the same of the work of his friend J.R.R. Tolkien. And look what a good job they made of “The Lord of the Rings”.

By all accounts the new Narnia film is supposed to be both brilliant and true to the books, and it has provoked a lot of discussion, mostly positive. However, there is one particular comment about the Narnia stories which has cropped up in a lot of reviews and online discussions which is quite wrong and really gets to me, so on a lighter note – here is the truth about Susan !

C.S. Lewis made clear that the Narnia stories are primarily just that – stories to entertain children and adults – and that the Christian allegory is an optional extra. He also cautioned people against trying to take those allegories too far. Lewis was a noted Christian writer, and in that capacity he used as an argument against certain types of theologian and biblical critic that people in his own lifetime who tried to deduce what was going on in his head from his writings nearly always got it wrong. He added that the same applied to the work of his friends, specifically including J.R.R. Tolkien and “The Lord of the Rings” - some people had interpreted the Ring in that story as representing the atomic bomb, but Tolkien had told Lewis that although quite plausible this was not correct.

Nevertheless some people, both among those who love the stories and those who do not, do try to make far too much of the allegories or go into far greater detail than C.S. Lewis himself ever imagined they should.

One example which is just plain wrong, and has been suggested by far too many people, some of whom ought to know better, is that Susan is “excluded” from the Narnian heaven. This mistake is apparently based on the fact that at the end of the final book, “The Last Battle”, most of the characters meet in the Narnian part of heaven, but Susan is not present. She is described as having lost interest in Narnia.

However, a careful reading of the book will show that it does not predict whether Susan will go to heaven when she dies. There is a far more practical reason why she does not join the other characters in heaven at the end of the book – she isn’t dead yet. At the conclusion of the Narnian series Susan is alive and well in England and, if she has any sense, suing British Rail for vast sums of money as compensation for wiping out her entire family in a rail accident.

This is not just my own interpretation, although I arrived at this view myself from reading “The Last battle”. C.S. Lewis confirmed it himself in a letter to a boy named Martin in 1957 which can be found in the book “Letters to Children.” In his words

“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 is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get into Aslan’s country in the end – in her own way.”

Personally I suspect that Susan would have come back from what would appear to her as the wasteful and tragic death of her parents, brothers, sister and cousin by campaigning for better rail safety and justice for the survivors and families of rail crash victims. When Susan rediscovered the strength she had as the Queen who defied and outwitted Prince Rabadash, the Board of British Rail and the Department of Transport wouldn’t have known what hit them !

C.S. Lewis did set out which allegories are intended. He made clear that he was not trying to represent the real Christian story in the Narnia books. He preferred to say “Suppose there were a world like Narnia and it needed rescuing and the Son of God (or the ‘Great Emperor oversea’) went to redeem it, as He came to redeem ours, what might it, in that world, all have been like?”

He added that

1) The creation of Narnia in “The Magician’s Nephew” is the son of God creating a world (not necessarily ours)

2) Jadis plucking the apple in the same book was, like Adam and Eve in Genesis, an act of rebellion but this is not as significant a sin because she was already fallen before she ate it.

3) The Stone table in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” is meant to remind one of Moses’ table

4) The passion and resurrection of Aslan are the passion and resurrection which Christ might be expected to have in that world - similar to that in ours but not necessarily identical.

5) Edmund, like Judas, is a sneak and a traitor, but unlike Judas he repents and is forgiven.

6) At the very edge of Narnia in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, Aslan begins to appear more like Christ as he is known in this world – he shows himself to Edmund, Lucy and Eustace as a lamb, has breakfast with them which Lewis compares to the breakfast at the end of St John’s Gospel, tells them that in our world he has another name, and adds that “you have been allowed to know me in this world so that you may know me better when you get back to your own.”

7) The false Aslan set up by Ape and Puzzle in “The Last Battle” corresponds to the predicted coming of the Antichrist before the end of our world.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've wondered for years why Susan was allowed to live and her whole family was left to smash into bits. Thanks for the input!

Anonymous said...

Let's hope that when they make The Last Battle into a movie, they let susan come with her siblings.

Chris Whiteside said...

That's one way they could handle the story. Because of time constrains they will almost certainly be forced to duck the issue.

I personally would like to see an ending in which Lucy, Edmund and and Peter ask Aslan whether Susan will be all right, and get an answer along the lines of

"When you were alive I could not answer questions like that - it was part of someone else's story.

"But now I that you are beyond the time of the mortal world I can tell you that Susan, who was first hurt and then angry at your deaths, devoted her life to preventing similar loss of life.

(Pictures appear in the background of a gradually aging Susan at rail safety campaign rallies, giving evidence to the House of Commons Transport committee etc)

"For sixty years she campaigned successfully for measures which saved many other families from pain and separation.

For you it has been minutes since your deaths. For Susan it has been scores of years: but her time too is now coming to an end.

(Image of the 90-year-old Susan lying still on a bed appears behind Aslan)

"Would you like to see Susan again?"

Lucy and the others say yes, of course, and from Susan's prone and elderly body the ageless Susan gets up, looks at herself and says "How strange - it's as though I've been unstiffened" and then becomes aware of, and runs over to embrace, Alsan and her brothers and sister ...