Friday, May 09, 2008

The Problem with Susan

I've been listening to a fair few interesting audio books. Finally after years of not bothering I have begun listening to the Silmarillion. I've also got the complete Chronicles of Narnia to listen to at some point, having listened to radio dramatizations of Prince Caspian and the Dawn Treader (amusingly with Sylvester McCoy as Reepacheep).

I'm planning on hitting the Last Battle soon, though to be honest I didn't like it when I read it as a child. Aside from its apocalyptic overtones which make it unlikely to ever be adapted it's probably the first book I thought of as being "a bit gay" to be honest (though as a child I probably didn't use those words). I vaguely remember King Peter turning up inexplicably and a fair bit of boy-on-boy (platonic but I was 9 remember) kissing at the end.

Worse it turns out almost all our beloved main characters from previous books have died horribly and are now going to "true" Narnia. The thinly veiled Christian allegory is laid bare, which is fair enough, but it's a pretty horrible way to do it in my opinion. The Last Battle really didn't need to be written.

Of even more discomfort is the fact that Susan does not appear in the Last Battle, having refused to attend the "Narnia Reunion" that resulted in everyone else dying horribly in a train crash. Apparently she is "no longer a friend of Narnia... she's interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations". Again rather troubling in what was for a 9 year-old me a very very uncomfortable read.

Apparently I was not alone - as when more recently I started working my way through Fragile Things, a collection of short stories by Neil "Does Not Look Like Ross From Friends Steve" Gaiman I came across his story, the Problem of Susan.

I should point out you can read The Problem of Susan online. It's a well-written story but like a lot of Neil Gaiman's non-kiddie Stardusty stuff it's rather disturbing (particularly the image of the White Witch literally riding Aslan) though it does paint a rather sad picture of poor Susan.

Also he does seem to take the rather disconcerting view that Susan didn't go to Narnia because she got interested in sex and boys, rather than what I read to be being interested in ephemeral trappings (makeup and so forth). Me personally - I like to think she would've mended her ways and gone to "true" Narnia in the future. After all heaven without your friends is like being locked up in a small room with your friends forever.


Katie said...

Minus my very first reading of the Chronicles (in the published order, which is how Lewis meant it, not the chronological order, thank you very much), the none-too-subtle brick-to-the-head Christianity pissed me off. At like age 12. Or something. I read them when I was pretty young, so maybe it was like my 3rd or so reading, but it was bad. Some are better than others, and ironically, his slam at Islam is one of the books I used to enjoy more. The Last Battle tends to bother me too, though in some ways I do really like it (or did). Personally, I always thought that Susan no longer believed in Narnia because she wanted to grow up so badly--trapped not only by the ephemeral like makeup and fashion and parties, but by all that represents (or doesn't--boys, sex, money, power). She's tied to material goods, to the detriment of her imagination. I find that to be a total load of marlarkey, since I'm pretty tied to material goods, but have a pretty good imagination myself. Of course that goes against the "rich man/eye of a needle" argument in the Bible, so we know that Lewis wasn't going that route. Still, I found it depressing that it was implied (or flat out said, I can't remember) that Susan would never show up, because that doesn't allow for people to change. And I'm not down with that.

I've not yet read any Neil Gaiman, though I have Anansi Boys as up next in my reading pile. And sadly, he does look freakishly like David Schwimmer (I feel sorry for him). I will however, read "The Problem with Susan" because it sounds interesting. I might even put the Chronicles onto my reading list for my 5 weeks in Death Valley. No TV and no beer make Katie something something...

Anonymous said...

I have nothing to add regarding the relative offensiveness of Lewis's depiction of the impurity of adolescent females, but I feel compelled to point out again that Neil Gaiman does look like David Schwimmer.

You are wrong Stu.

Stuart said...

I can't be wrong - it's not raining fire! They look nothing alike! One has gelled hair, the other has like crazy author hair and stubble! ARGH!

Anonymous said...

Or the reason why I dropped English lit as soon as I could.

I don't see allegory, and I always think there's something a lot of people missed in the earlier books that gets round the problem of Susan - 'Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen in Narnia'.