15 December, 2005

The Susan Question or Why Women Hate Narnia

Eventual Narnia Spoilers

Connie Lane saw The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe last weekend. Her short commentary brings up one of the most debated parts of the series. I've read many position papers on the matter, heard speakers hash it out and know many women who loathe C.S. Lewis because of it. Neil Gaiman wrote a beautiful story about the matter from Susan's point of view called "The Problem of Susan" which is excellent, even though I disagree with his critique.

Susan Pevensie doesn't go to heaven because she wears nylons and lipstick.

When I was in high school this started to bother me, because I HAD to wear nylons and lipstick as part of the dress code for my Christian school. I even argued the point with my Bible teacher, who plainly thought I was nuts. Somehow "Mr. Imhof, C.S. Lewis says the Dress Code will keep me out of heaven, so I'm wearing pants tomorrow" didn't work like I planned.

I've since read the majority (if not all...but there's always an article or paper that slips through the cracks) of Lewis' works. I figure that gives as good a window into the mind of the man as anyone can hope. What constantly comes through to me is his love of Christianity and its compassion for humans in spite of imperfection. What is also very apparent is his love for the fantastic and the childlike willingness to accept it.

When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

That's one of the more readily famous Lewis quotes, and one which is handy for throwing my mother when she tires of our Lord Of The Rings marathons. But I also side with those in the Susan Debate who think that it elucidates Lewis' intentions toward poor maligned Ms. Pevensie. It isn't her female sexuality that leaves her out of the full experience of Heaven, but her inability to continue in the faith of a child.

Whatever the reasoning behind it, I still stand firm in my utter hatred of nylons and lipstick. They're just darned uncomfortable.

6 Comments:

At 10:19 PM, December 15, 2005, Blogger jag said...

I read 24 books one month, all my fantasy favorites. The 14 original Oz books, the Wrinkle In Time trilogy & the Narnia Chronicles. It was my first time to read all of the Narnia books, and it was so magical that I haven't been able to read them again. There has to be a certain amount of time between visits to Narnia to keep them alive and not get redundant. Which is why I'm waiting to reread all the Harry Potter books until the last one is released.

Point: As much as I loved the books, I don't remember Susan not going to Heaven. That special month was about 8 years ago. Maybe I should pick them up again before seeing the movie.

Relevant, not really. Lengthy, yes. Sorry about that.

 
At 7:10 AM, December 16, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, it was a pretty magical month when I finally realized there were sequels to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and The Wizard of Oz.

I don't remember what happened to Susan after the first story either. Thanks for spoiling it Katherine. :p

W

 
At 7:11 AM, December 16, 2005, Blogger Aunt B said...

You know, I never understood why that was the controversy. Even as a kid, it seemed clear to me that the issue was that she didn't have a child's faith in Narnia, not that she was wearing lipstick and make-up.

What always bothered me was the way her family seemed to be like "Sucks for her. Oh well." If I were going to spend eternity some place where either of my brothers weren't, and if I knew they were someplace that they were suffering, I'd be inconsolable.

 
At 6:13 PM, December 20, 2005, Anonymous gillian said...

Well, those who argue the sexuality-ruined-Susan position have the fact that Jill (I believe it's her) says that Susan has become only interested in nylons, lipstick and invitations. If it were only her loss of faith which caused her to fall from grace, why bring up the trivial matters of what she likes to wear? Lewis wouldn't have written these in if he didn't want to make a point about women who like to doll themselves up.

One can get from Lewis's other writings (of which I've read many) that he was against overt sexuality in women. While I agree with you that it was her (perhaps purposeful) forgetting of her life in Narnia which lead to her being left behind in the end, I think Lewis is saying that it was her growing up, and her interest in attracting men which led her into what he considers a false path.

 
At 7:24 AM, October 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just for the record, Lewis's take on Susan and heaven -- from a letter written in the 50's:

"The books don't tell us what happened to Susan. She is left
alive in this world at the end, having 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."

 
At 12:57 AM, March 09, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the point which lewis wants to get across when he says 'nylons, lipsticks, and invitations' seems to be that Susan is interested in how she is valued by others (Invitations) and not her inner integrity. all though there is NOTHING wrong with the 3 things separately, when you put the 3 together coupled with the information about Susan's conceited approach you get the image of someone who has become, worldly, lost their inner integrity and cares too much what other people think. That's basically what is explained before, except lewis adds those 3 things to sum it all up.

 

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