Saturday, February 26, 2011

Susan's Fate

*WARNING: If you have not read The Chronicles of Narnia, do not read on. SPOILER!*

Authors have a big task when constructing a novel or series of novels, and many show their brilliance in what they write and how they explain. In my opinion, one mark of a truly great author is what he leaves open to the imagination of the reader, rather than explaining.

Such is the fate of Susan Pevensie, one of the important characters of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. Very few characters actually survive the series. We witness the deaths of the White Witch, Miraz, Caspian, the Lady of the Green Kirtle, even Aslan. We see Reepicheep go up the wave in his coracle to Aslan's Country. We hear about the death of Caspian's beloved Queen in a flashback. We see Prince Rabadash of Calormen transformed into a donkey, and he has to be transported to Tashbaan where he is transformed back into a man in the temple of his god Tash. He reforms and leads a peaceful reign, but we read that he eventually dies, and his people proceed to call him Rabadash the Ridiculous. Some characters die during the time between books. We don't know how, but for example, thousands of years have passed in Narnia between The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. By virtue of the passage of time, we know that the Beavers, Tumnus and all the others have long since died by the time Prince Caspian starts. In The Last Battle, we see Ginger the Cat get overconfident, take one look at Tash, and shoot out of the stable like a bullet, unable to speak. Tash grabs Rishda Tarkaan and Shift and takes them away.

However, perhaps the most heartbreaking fate is that of Susan...and she is one of the few characters that actually survives.

After King Tirian pulls Rishda Tarkaan through the stable door in The Last Battle, Tirian finds himself in a beautiful paradise, and Rishda finds himself face-to-face with the reality that the evil god he has not believed but has pretended to worship all his life is very real and is not happy. Tirian turns to find before him nearly all of the Friends of Narnia that we have met throughout the series. Jill and Eustace, with whom he just fought the Last Battle, are there, along with Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Polly and Digory. Tirian is amazed to be before so many heroes from throughout Narnia's history, and he is mystified when he realizes that Queen Susan is not there. When he asks where she is, Peter explains that she is no longer a friend of Narnia. It turns out that she has decided that Narnia was child's play, and she doesn't understand how her siblings can still think it's real. In other words, she has contracted a serious case of adultitis. She is more concerned with the superficial trappings of being a woman and going to parties than she is with spending quality time with her loved ones and remembering the lessons she learned not so long ago.

As we read on, we find out that the Friends of Narnia have been trying to return. Peter and Edmund went to retrieve the rings that transported Polly and Digory to Narnia, and they were waiting at the train station for the others to arrive. The train rounded the bend too fast, crashing into the station and probably derailing, killing those on board and in the station. Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Polly and Digory suddenly found themselves in the New Narnia, and Eustace and Jill found themselves in the Old Narnia with a task to help King Tirian to defend their nation to the end. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that the Pevensies' parents are also on board the ill-fated train. They suddenly find themselves in a New London.

Beyond what is told above, we don't know what happened to Susan. When a child asked Lewis about it, he had this to say:
Dear Martin,

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 to Aslan's country in the end--in her own way. I think that whatever she had seen in Narnia she could (if she was the sort that wanted to) persuade herself, as she grew up, that it was "all nonsense".

Congratulations on your good marks. I wish I was good at Maths! Love to all,
C.S. Lewis

Letters to Children, Letter of 22 January 1957
Think about it: Susan has just lost her ENTIRE family. Her nearest living relatives that we know of are her Aunt Alberta and Uncle Harold, who have also lost a son. All three of her siblings, her parents, her cousin, even the respected Professor who took her in during the war, have all died in one train crash. If that isn't enough to shake a person to their senses, I don't know what is. I've lost family members, but only one at a time--and none as close as a sibling or parent. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose so much at once. Not to mention that she's only 21 at this point. She has her whole life ahead of her, and she has to live it without the ones who have been closest to her growing up.

Susan's fate is both heartbreaking and hopeful. As Lewis pointed out to young Martin, Susan has a chance to remember the lessons she learned from Aslan and let go of her selfish pride and adultitis. As Aslan pointed out in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he has another name in this world. On January 22, 1952, Lewis explained in a letter to a child named Carrol that the word Aslan "is Turkish for lion ... And of course I meant the Lion of Judah." He likely expected Carrol to understand that the Lion of Judah is a name for Jesus in the Bible. Thus, Susan has a choice. She can continue to reject the hope that has been given to her in the form of Christ appearing to her in the form of a lion, or she can put her trust in Christ, who died to save her from her sin. (She saw this reenacted only a few years earlier as Aslan gave his life on the Stone Table to save Edmund from death, and then the Stone Table cracked and Aslan rose from the dead and defeated the White Witch).

Susan has a choice. Which did she choose? We'll never know, because she's a fictional character...but each of us has the same choice. We can choose to follow Christ and one day find ourselves in His presence, or we can reject Him and find ourselves in the presence of someone worse than Tash.

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