I was reading a discussion list a couple of weeks ago when this topic was referenced.  It is the problem that many readers face in C. S. Lewis’s closing book of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle that he deliberately shuts one of his protagonists, Susan Pevensey, outside of the Real Narnia.  The reason why? She has become a modern young woman!

Oh Susan! she’s interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up!

Grown-up, indeed.  I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age.  Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.

Well, who can blame her, since the book was first printed in 1956, only a couple of years after rationing had finished in Britain.  She has stopped sharing in memories of Narnia and put them behind her as a childhood game.  Putting away childish things, indeed?

Critics are unhappy with these lines.  It seems to them that Lewis was uncomfortable with the idea of sex, and the independent woman.  There are examples to pick on elsewhere in his stories.  The idea was picked up and named by the writer Neil Gaiman with the above title.

Other writers and critics have picked up on it.  It might explain a scene in The Amber Spyglass where Lyra and Will spend the night alone.  Pullman averts our eyes in his narrative and apparently they pass the night holding hands.  Written in Miltonic language I don’t think Milton himself was this prudish.

It doesn’t seem to me directly to be about maturing into sexual beings.  Instead it is about putting on the trappings of adulthood.  Childhood fantasies and creativity are put off as the young person enters a cargo cult of bright lights and encounters.  It’s a world that Lewis doesn’t want to celebrate, or encourage his readers into.  It’s a dangerous world to enter.  Walk down the main street on a Friday night.

What kind of person did Susan grow to be when she lived in Narnia.  In The Horse and Her Boy it is observed about her that The Queen’s grace will do as she pleases”.  Maybe there is a secret history to be written about Susan in Narnia.  Did she pursue her own course, and her own company, during that golden age?  It hasn’t been discovered.

There are other characters that Lewis doesn’t let off lightly.  I would raise the stakes on the Problem of Susan and throw into the pot the Problem of Alberta.  Read the opening lines to The Voyage of the Dawntreader.  Harold and Alberta Scrubb are very modern, progressive parents.  They have raised their son Eustace in the same way.  A summer with his cousins the Pevenseys ruins him.  He becomes “tiresome and commonplace” according to his mother.  He is killed in the same accident that wiped out nearly the whole Pevensey family, leaving the Scrubbs childless.

Lewis doesn’t seem to allow for modern rational people in a fantasy world and treats them unfairly.  Maybe that’s a bad move.  They could easily turn around and say, “Okay, we’ve stepped into another world and the laws of physics have been broken here.  Let’s see how we can work it to our advantage.”  No one seems to have written that idea.  There are many ideas that would be interesting to seen introduced into a fantasy scenario.  How about democracy for a start.

Maybe Susan is the lucky one.  She gets to walk out of the story intact and on with her life.  The rest of her family are still there, trapped in the last page, in the Great Story, which goes on forever, and know, it is forever.

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