You’ve read the Narnia books, right? I hope so. At least enough to understand the basic fate of the main characters from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Because if you haven’t, you probably won’t understand this post fully. (And frankly, reading the entire series of 7 books won’t take you that long. They’re each about 4 -6 hours long as read by the Harper Audio narrators in the audio book version I have.)
Anyway: Susan Pevensie. Queen Susan the Gentle. One of my favorite book characters from my childhood. And yet, re-reading the books as an adult, I get the impression that her author was overwhelmed by her. I don’t know that C.S. Lewis really understood Susan, or at least not Susan as a young adult. Even looking at his treatment of her in The Horse and His Boy, which shows Susan as an adult Queen in Narnia, I don’t think Lewis really knew what to do with her.
When I was young, and I read these books, I empathized with Susan. I felt I was Susan, in a way. I was the eldest sister (though I only had one sibling) and I was the practical one. I was also not a tomboy. So of course I felt most connected to Susan. And when she was left out of The Last Battle, it felt like this world I had grown to love was abandoning me. This feeling didn’t last and I got over it, because by that time I had also found some small connection to Jill and so I transferred my empathy for that last book. But still, I felt hurt, and abandoned, and it stuck with me enough that The Last Battle is still the Narnia book I re-read the least often.
It is only recently that I have begun thinking about what Susan would have been like after the train accident. Not immediately after, because from the first reading of the book I understood that in one tragic wreck Susan was left an orphan, alone without her brothers or sister or parents. (I think at that first reading it slipped my mind that Eustace was her cousin.) So when I was younger and thought of Susan after the Narnia series was over, I knew she would be sad.
And that’s as far as I got.
I never stopped to think what it would be like to have to attend all the funerals alone. To be 21 and have no close family left at all. I started thinking about it when I read some great pieces on the subject a year or three ago, and that was reinforced when I listened to the books this time around. It seems to me like Susan is the most adult-like of the children throughout the entire series. And while I am not going to speculate (as many have) on Lewis’ prejudices or biases, I will say that indicates to me that he never really understood Susan. Yes, there are children who act older than their age. (I was one.) But there is more depth to them than just kids who act old, and Susan doesn’t show much of that.
Anyway, I haven’t fully formed my thoughts on this, because part of what interests me the most about Susan Pevensie is not what Lewis wrote about her, but what other people have. Here are some samples (by the same author, because I love them):
Do you have opinions on Susan, or the Chronicles as a whole? Or have you encountered any beloved childhood books that have completely different meanings as adults? It’s an interesting thing to reflect on, and it makes me wonder what about me has changed to make the books feel so different… the books certainly haven’t changed, since I’m reading the same, much-loved copies I was gifted as a child.