‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Tuesday 24 January 2017

Further Thoughts on the Problem of Susan

'The Problem of Susan' is Neil Gaiman's phrase for what happens to Susan Pevensie in C S Lewis's Narnia books. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Susan and her sister Lucy personally witness the death of Aslan, weep over his corpse and witness his resurrection. Aslan personally crowns her Queen of Narnia, along with her sister, as he crowns her two brothers Kings of Narnia. Then Susan goes back to our world, with her sister and brothers. Later Narnia novels shift the focus increasingly away from the Pevensies, until the end of the sequence when Lewis inserts them, rather abruptly, into the very last chapter of The Last Battle. At this point, though, Susan is not with them. Narnia is finished; the friends of Narnia get to go to the heaven of which Narnia itself was but a shadow. Peter, Edmund and Lucy, having all been killed at the same time in an our-earthly train-crash, find themselves suddenly in Narnia, and from there proceed to the real heaven. As a bibliophile, I've always loved the way Lewis describes this latter destination:
For them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Not Susan, though. She is no longer a 'friend of Narnia'. Indeed, she no longer believes Narnia is real ('Fancy you still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children', she tells Eustace, dismissively, back in our world). The killer is this assessment of Susan's priorities from Jill Pole: 'she's interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations.' Invitations to parties, that is. In a word: sex has become more important in her adult life than Narnia. Ergo: no heaven for her! J K Rowling in an 2004 interview summed up the 'problem of Susan' thesis:
There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She's become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.
Quite. Now, one can consider (as I do) the gender politics of Lewis's writing problematic in lots of ways without considering him a dedicated sexist or misogynist. Indeed, I really don't believe he was either of those latter things. To read his theological works is to see that he didn't have a problem with sex as such. He had a problem with people becoming so focused on sex that it crowded out the things that really matter in life, like the young couple at the beginning of The Great Divorce so caught-up in one another's physical allure that they literally can't see the road to heaven that's right in front of him. For myself that line of argument, which clearly has some merit to it, would be more convincing if Lewis included any (to use the modern jargon) 'sex positive' representation at all in his Narnian writing. We can speculate why he doesn't. It's an unsurprising omission in children's books written in the 1950s, I suppose.

When I teach Narnia, a good proportion of my students become quite animated in their critique of the books' gender politics: Lewis making his satanic figure of evil a beautiful woman, for example; the lack of female agency when compared to male among the various characters; the problem of Susan itself. I used to be with them on that. But my perspective on the problem of Susan was altered by this clever and, I think, perceptive essay by my friend Alan Jacobs, written in response to an earlier blog post I wrote on this matter. The 'gender critique' perspective on Susan's lack of access (maybe temporary, maybe permanent) to the true Narnian heaven is: she's excluded because she has become a sexually mature woman. Alan disagrees:
I think that the right way to put it is to say that Susan simply chooses not to return to Narnia. That we paltry little humans have the power to refuse God is a point that Lewis returns to often in his theological writings. As he writes in The Problem of Pain, if we demand that God leave us alone, “that is what he does” — and, interestingly, Lewis prefaces that statement with an “Alas,” as though he might well prefer God to operate in another way. (Which also helps us understand that in sparing Susan from the train wreck that kills the rest of her family he is trying to give her a chance to turn back around towards Narnia. However, the emotional tenor of all this is muddled by this catastrophic contrivance to get the rest of the Pevensies into Narnia one last time; it's one of Lewis's unwisest narrative choices.)

I think this point — that we can refuse God and that some of us do — was important enough to Lewis that he was determined to get it into the Narnia books, but how was he to do it? The point wouldn't be made strongly enough if any of the less dominant characters embodied it, so it had to be one of the Pevensies. He couldn't make Lucy a backslider: she was the one who had always had the greatest faith and the greatest spiritual discernment. And he couldn't use Edmund either, since any renunciation of Aslan by Edmund would destroy the whole portrayal of Edmund's redemption in the first book. So it had to be either Peter or Susan, and I suspect that Lewis was not quite ready to face the possible theological implications of the High King of Narnia becoming a rebel against Aslan. So Susan it had to be. Lewis was backed into a structural corner, as it were.

This is not to say that Lewis didn't have some deeply troubling ideas about women, only that I think he couldn't have gone in another direction if he were going to make this theological point about our ability to be “successful rebels to the end.”
This seems to me the most likely explanation for why Lewis wrote Susan the way he did (I actually give this passage to my students for discussion).

Lately though I've been re-thinking Susan. Quite possibly I've been over-thinking Susan. The thing is: the way we style the throwaway reference at the end of The Last Battle as 'the problem of Susan' makes it into the problem of puberty. The thing about that is that we tend to forget Susan has already gone through puberty, at the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. All the Pevensies have done the same. The experience has turned them less into sexual beings and more into Renaissance Fair cosplayers:
“And more,” said Queen Lucy, “for it will not go out of my mind that if we pass this post and lantern either we shall find strange adventures or else some great change in our fortunes.”

“Madam,” said King Edmund, “the like foreboding stirreth in my heart also.”

“And in mine, fair brother,” said King Peter.

“And in mine too,” said Queen Susan. “Wherefore by my counsel we shall lightly return to our horses and follow this White Stag no further.”

“Madam,” said King Peter, “therein I pray thee to have me excused. For never since we four were Kings and Queens in Narnia have we set our hands to any high matter, as battles, quests, feats of arms, acts of justice, and the like, and then given over; but always what we have taken in hand, the same we have achieved.”

“Sister,” said Queen Lucy, “my royal brother speaks rightly. And it seems to me we should be shamed if for any fearing or foreboding we turned back from following so noble a beast as now we have in chase.”

“And so say I,” said King Edmund. “And I have such desire to find the signification of this thing that I would not by my own good will turn back for the richest jewel in all Narnia and all the islands.”

“Then in the name of Aslan,” said Queen Susan, “if ye will all have it so, let us go on and take the adventure that shall fall to us.” [The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, ch 17]
The white stag here is either Lewis's gesture towards Celtic mythology (in which the uncatchable stag represents the beckoning other-world; quite a neat reversal if so, for Narnia's otherworld, here, is our mundane one) or else, perhaps, it is a nod towards Saint Eustace. Eustace was a high-up Roman general who converted to Christianity during a hunt, when the stag he was hunting displayed a crucifix in amongst its antlers.

[Lovely image there, by an artist called Swandog]. Conceivably Lewis thought back to this stag when he came up with the name for Eustace Scrubb. But could the stag in some way stand for grown-up sexuality, some iteration of a sex-positive Christianity not in thrall to the dreaded lipstick, nylons and invitations? A clean sort of desire? Hard to parse it that way, I think. Ezra P might disagree:
I ha' seen them mid the clouds on the heather.
Lo! they pause not for love nor for sorrow,
Yet their eyes are as the eyes of a maid to her lover,
When the white hart breaks his cover
And the white wind breaks the morn.

Tis the white stag, Fame, we're a-hunting,
Bid the world's hounds come to horn!’
I suppose 'they', there, is us, humanity, chasing our ever-receding quarry with eyes of love-yearning. Which is all well and good, except that, at the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it is Susan who advocates giving up the pursuit: 'wherefore by my counsel we shall follow this White Stag no further'.

I wonder if it doesn't present, in effect, as a kind of thought-experiment. What would happen if you went through puberty into adulthood, then reverted abruptly to childhood again, and then went through puberty a second time? Speaking for myself I'd like to hope I'd handle the whole business better. But the Narnia books say the reverse: Susan handles puberty well, winds back time, goes through it again and makes a hash of it.

We could read this several ways. One would be to say: 'growing to adulthood is less sin-prone in Narnia than in our world'. But another would be more, shall we say, Tiresian. Imagine you could try puberty twice, first (for want of a better word) 'virtuously', the second time (again: terminology is tricky) lustfully. Could it be that the order in which Susan goes through these twinned experiences tends, conceivably even to Tiresias's proportion of nine-parts-to-one, to the conclusion: a virtuous puberty is fine, but a lustful puberty is ... better.


  1. Adam, thanks for the kind words about my post. I want to think about your general thesis further, but just a quick note about what you say is the absence of “sex positive” writing in CSL. He’s decorous about these matters, as is perhaps unsurprising in a man of his generation and deep temperamental conservatism, but don't forget that That Hideous Strength ends with Mark and Jane entering what amounts to their bridal chamber under the aegis of Venus. Lewis clearly means to say that it is their finding of the right moral and spiritual path that liberates them to be sexually passionate, something they most certainly are not at the story’s outset. What Psyche discovers with her god-husband in Till We Have Faces clearly includes sexual delight. Eros, rightly ordered, is praised with great praise in The Four Loves. When Lewis cries out in agony at the loss of his beloved in A Grief Observed a major component of his pain is being deprived of erotic satisfaction: “For those few years H. and I feasted on love; every mode of it — solemn and merry, romantic and realistic, sometimes as dramatic as a thunderstorm, sometimes as comfortable and unemphatic as putting on your soft slippers. No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied.... There is one place where her absence comes locally home to me, and it is a place I can’t avoid. I mean my own body. It had such a different importance while it was the body of H’s lover. Now it’s like an empty house.” None of it is Lady Chatterly’s Lover but it’s certainly very “sex positive” — within the bonds of marriage, of course.

  2. (Oh wait, did you mean treating sex outside marriage positively? Well, then, never mind.)

    1. Not at all! It wouldn’t be fair on Lewis to judge the logic of his sexual representation according to the morals of Aleister Crowley, after all. And I entirely agree with the points you make in your previous comment. I should have made this plainer in the O.P. So, my reading of Lewis in the round is that he has no problem or hang-up with sex as such; what he has is a problem when sex crowds out everything else, and in particular when it crowds out a proper relationship to the divine. So the issue with the young couple who wander off at the beginning of The Great Divorce is not that they're sexually attracted to one another, but rather than they can see nothing but their sexual attraction to one another. He has similar things to say other human appetites and dispensation. That's all fine. But none of the not-quite-Lady-Chatterley things you quote (and how that reference shows our age, both of us!) are from the Narnia books, now, are they? Which is either, as you'd expect, seeing as how they're written for kids; or else is a major problem, since the kids in these books grow up. Which brings me to a different issue, and a separate comment, below ...

  3. Okay, now a truly substantial reply to your thesis, by way of a thesis of my own: None of the Pevensies goes through puberty in Narnia. Remember, while we are told that they “grow and change,” we don't learn the specifics of that change — or, more tellingly, the ways in which they don’t change. It is perhaps the environment of a planet alien to the one on which they were born that afflicts them all with a rare acquired variant of Kallmann Syndrome. This is why none of them ever marries: though “all princes in those parts desire [Lucy] to be their Queen,” she refuses them because she knows that her condition makes her infertile, and knows that it is best for each of those princes to marry a woman who can bear him heirs. My thesis also explains why the Pevensies so unhesitatingly leave Narnia rulerless: they know that some plan for the succession has to be devised, but also that no Narnian (unacquainted as they are with modern Terran medicine) would understand their condition or accept that it cannot be cured or remediated. In these circumstances, the responsibility for self-rule is the best gift they could give to their people. Otherwise their abandonment of their country would be inexcusable. It is only when they return to our world that they enter puberty for the first time — and puberty is something, I think you’ll agree, that no number of years ruling a country or fighting frost giants could possibly prepare one for.

    1. Alan, could you explain this thesis in light of Susan's relationship with Rabadash in HHB? It's hard for me to read the portrayal of Susan in HHB as a woman who has not gone through puberty.

    2. I'm afraid I can't, ipg, because that comment was my idea of a joke.

    3. Hahaha oh man. I should have known better considering it didn't make sense in light of everything of yours I've read, but for whatever reason it didn't click. Thanks!

    4. Actually I think your jest touches on something quite important to children's literature as such (but I would say that, wouldn't I?). Because many of the classics of the form adhere to an unspoken Kallman Syndrome logic: Peter Pan never grows up, and neither does Alice, nor the Bastables nor the Famous Five, nor the Simpsons younglings. They are forever kids, living in an endless prepubescent present. In that situation, and since the stories are indeed about pre-pubescent children, bringing in sex would be a false step. But there's another kind of children's literature, where the kids are not static in this manner; and for many writers, and many critics, this is preferable. Indeed, for some the Peter Pan/Alice mode of representing childhood is positively morbid, actually. Here's Peter Coveney:

      "The justification of secular art is the responsibility it bears for the enrichment of human awareness. The cult of the child in certain authors at the end of the nineteenth century is a denial of this responsibility. Their awareness of childhood is no longer an interest in growth and integration, such as we found in The Prelude, but a means of detachment and retreat from the adult world. One feels their morbid withdrawal towards psychic death. The misery on the face of Carroll and Barrie was there because their response towards life had been subtly but irrevocably negated. Their photographs seem to look out at us from the nostalgic prisons they had created for themselves in the cult of Alice Liddell and Peter Pan." [Peter Coveney, The Image of Childhood: the Individual and Society: a Study of the Theme in English Literature (2nd ed 1967), 241]

      One of the things that makes J K Rowling important is that she agrees with Coveney in all this Rowlings kids grow up, and sex is part (not the whole, but part) of that process for them. This was a conscious choice on her part to make it that way, and it works well in the context of those novels. But Lewis manages to get the worst of both worlds: his children also grow up, and a genuinely (as opposed to modishly secular, as at Eustace and Jill's school) 'progressive' education is at the heart of what he's doing. But in another way Lewis's kids are only chronologically adult; they remain sexless marionettes. It makes the Narnia books a strange half-way house between the Peter Pan/Alice and the Harry Potter models of 'how to represent children in fiction'.

    5. I think you're right about the "only chronologically adult" bit — and I think this is another case of CSL painting himself into a narrative corner and getting out only by making a mess. (He didn't have to get the Pevensies back to our world that way.) Of course, the kind of mess a writer so trapped tends to make can often be telling.

      One thing about Rowling that may be relevant: she's hardly Judy Blume when it comes to sexuality, is she? I mean, people fall for one another in the Potter books and there's a good bit of "snogging," but we never hear about anyone actually having sex, do we? Or even talking about it? Perhaps this is Rowling's strategy for maintaining the widest possible readership, but she seems interested in sexual awakening because of the ways it complicates people’s sense of social standing and worth: having a date to the Yule Ball is important not because you’re likely to get some serious action but because it means you’re not a social outcast, etc.

      And without sounding like too much of a CSL booster, I want to insist that something like that is the case with Susan. Lipstick and nylons are ways of attracting the sexual attention of boys, to be sure! — but they’re also ways of “acting adult,” which is often very important to adolescents. (And in the place and period in which the books were written and set, the ability to afford nylons is a class marker too.) Moreover, “invitations” are more likely to mean invitations to parties or outings from Susan’s friends than invitations to go on a date (unless British usage is different from American in ways I don't know).

      I guess what I’m saying is that Susan’s behavior strikes me as being less about sex than about a quest for social approval, being attractive to men being an essential part but not the only part of that. In that passage about Susan CSL is, I think, critiquing not sexuality so much as the desire to be in the Inner Ring.

    6. (Lordy, that's badly written, but rather than delete and start over I'll lave it as it stands.)

  4. Lewis was certainly too subtle a thinker to imagine that sex, parties and this-worldly superficialities in general appealed exclusively to women. But I'm not sure how many people are quite that sexist; surely even a "don't bother your pretty little head" merchant of the old school would acknowledge the existence of shallow, empty-headed men. It's just that - from that viewpoint - a shortcoming of some men is the normal condition of most women. (They don't sell nylons and lipstick to men, do they? Well then.)

    I think this is the simplest way to read the anathema on the grown-up Susan (which is delivered mainly by Lady Polly, interestingly) - not to mention "The Shoddy Lands". I'm surprised to find how late Lewis wrote that story, incidentally; he married Joy Davidman (for immigration purposes) a couple of months later. I wonder what she made of it all.

    Here are my own musings on the PoS from ten years ago, sparked off by Alison Lurie & Philip Pullman's respective pokes at it. It's a durable one.

    1. Interesting stuff, as ever, Phil. You're more hostile to Lewis/Narnia than I am, I think; but the 'anti-life' argument echoes what Coveney says in the passage I quoted earlier in the comments thread.

  5. Great post and comments too. Cosplayers with Kallman Syndrome!

    I've thought of the lipstick etc. as red herrings--not the real issue but the shiny magpie thing that everyone focuses on. Alan Jacobs seems quite right. And that's exactly what writers do so often, isn't it? They bump into reasons why certain directions can't be taken--barriers--and then have to make those remaining appear by sleight of hand (sleight of mind) to be as logical and natural as is possible.

    As for Rowling's comment, since she's terribly wrong about her supposed "error" in marrying off Harry to Ginny instead of Hermione, I won't worry about her trouble with the lipstick! (I listened to the books on innumerable trips South with my children, and later read all the Potter books 1.5 times to my youngest, backing up each night to the point he could remember clearly. So I call myself an expert.) The last time I looked, around 5,000 people had visited my post on why Rowling was correct to marry her hero-in-specs off as she did, which is more people than have read Thaliad and probably some other of my books. A life in books. So odd.

    Like the Celtic mythology white hart idea....

    I don't believe a word of the thought experiment paragraphs, but they are clever!

    1. Thanks, Marly! Rowling's ability to annoy her readers with the fates and choices of her key characters always strikes me as an index of one kind of writerly success. We wouldn't get annoyed if we didn't care in the first place.

  6. Just to echo and expand on Alan here: the way that Polly describes Susan's rejection of Narnia is important: “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."

    This echoes Lewis in "On Three Ways of Writing for Children":

    "To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development."

    What Susan prefers over Narnia/Aslan/God is not sex; it's the juvenile desire to be seen as very grown up. It's arrested development. The form that this desire to be grown-up takes is related to feminine sexuality, but simply because Susan is a young woman. The matrix of issues would be something like: Desire to be grown up -> attracting the attention of boys through (relatively) superficial means (nylons and lipstick).

    A related point (which I'm sure comes in for criticism of Lewis on gender). (from my chapter on Narnian Queens in Live Like a Narnian):

    Lewis himself felt this awe at feminine strength and grace, and I believe struggled at times to convey its distinctive characteristics in the Narnia stories. To take one example, the feminine appreciation for aesthetics, particularly when it comes to dress and cloth- ing, is something that he recognizes as worthy of admiration, but also something he knows can become silly and foolish. But how to depict both sides in the stories? He portrays the latter through the Tarkeena Lasaraleen, who is preoccupied with “clothes and parties and gossip,” prattling on about her dress and other trivialities despite the obvious agitation and earnestness of Aravis (The Horse and His Boy, Ch. 7).

    On the other hand, Lewis doesn’t want to give the impression that a proper concern for dresses and appearances and so forth is somehow inherently silly or wrong. Thus, when Aravis arrives at Anvard and meets Lucy, we read,

    “You’d like to come and see them, wouldn’t you?” said Lucy, kissing Aravis. They liked each other at once and soon went away together to talk about Aravis’s bedroom and Aravis’s boudoir and about getting clothes for her, and all the sort of things girls do talk about on such an occasion. (Ch. 15)

    There is no trace of condescension here, for Lucy (as we’ll see) is the most spiritually attuned of the Pevensies, and can arguably be regarded as Lewis’s favorite. In my judgment, Lewis is attempting to recover a kind of girlish innocence in Aravis, who to this point has been dismissive of such things, preferring “bows and arrows and horses and dogs and swimming” to “palaces and pearls.” Lewis, I think, doesn’t want to give the impression that girls are only admirable if they have the same interests as the typical boy. A similar scene appears in The Magician’s Nephew, where Polly leads the way into the Hall of Images because she is more interested than Digory in the magnificent clothes of the royal figures." (LLAN, 151-152)


    1. Joe: thank you for this. I do, truly, take the force of it (and Alan's comments); and I also see the danger in pushing 21st-century dismissiveness buttons re: Lewis, of the 'oh he was sexist and hung-up about sex, therefore I can disregard what he has to say' kind, which would be unfair. As I say in the comments above: I can see that Lewis’s problem is not with sex as such, or with 'the desire to be grown-up' or anything, except when that desire overwhelms everything else in life, and drowns out the really important things, of which for Lewis an orientation towards the divine is the most important. But (not to snipe) the juvenile impatience with being young and the desire to be 'grown up' depends, doesn't it, on an ignorance of what 'being grown up' actually entails? When you’re a kid ‘adulthood’ becomes a blank page onto which juvenile fantasies (of, as you say, popularity and excitement and freedom and so on) are projected. And the problem with that, in this case, is that Susan has already been grown up, before being reverted to childhood again. Doesn't that complicate her 'arrested development'? Strictly speaking she is not arresting her development; her development has been actually reversed by a decade or more. She knows what adulthood is. The argument you make here would work for a regular never-been-an-adult child. But Susan is a special case.

      [Joe, incidentally, is too modest to include a link to his book: it's here

    2. That's helpful. The real issue is the fact that they grow up in Narnia (LWW and Horse and His Boy), and then revert. I suppose at that point, it really is an issue of rejecting what she already knows. I think about Screwtape's words to Wormwoods about the fact that so many souls are reclaimed by Hell after "a brief sojourn in the Enemy's camp." Susan's time in Narnia is a sojourn in Aslan's camp, which she comes to reject. I'm at least encouraged by the fact that she still has a chance to turn back. And tragically losing her entire family in a train accident will certainly have some effect on her. Someone could have some fun writing a novel about a woman named Susan, perhaps as an adult and married, grappling with God's goodness and so forth after some traumatic childhood incident. Gradually, you could reveal that she is in fact Susan Pevensie (maybe married to a man who was only interested in her for nylons and lipstick) and then work it out from there.

      On a related note: the problem you identify is the same one that the movie producers articulate as they explain their approach to the films. Here's Anthony Adamson on the brawl scene in the railway station at the beginning of Prince Caspian:

      Director Andrew Adamson helps us understand just what is going on in this scene in a commentary that is one of the bonus features on the Prince Caspian DVD. Adamson explains,

      I always felt . . . how hard it must have been, particularly for Peter, to have gone from being high king to going back to high school, and what that would do to him, do to his ego. . . . I always thought that would be a really hard thing for a kid to go through.

      Adamson acknowledges that this emotional turmoil was “not something that C. S. Lewis really got into,” but as director he wanted “to create more depth for the characters, more reality to the situation.” He wanted “to deal with what all the kids would go through having left behind that incredible experience and wanting to relive it.”

      Read more: http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=23-06-030-f#ixzz4Wne9RYeF


    3. "Someone could have some fun writing a novel about a woman named Susan, perhaps as an adult and married, grappling with God's goodness and so forth after some traumatic childhood incident." Well, indeed: that's more-or-less the premise of the Neil Gaiman story from which 'The Problem of Susan' takes its name.

  7. I stumbled upon this post serendipitously and want to weigh in. I agree that Lewis had backed himself into a structural corner with the choice of Susan as the necessary apostate Pevensie--and I think Joe Rigney's point about the "brief sojourn" is key. Susan is consistently the worried Pevensie, the one most likely to let momentary concerns blind her to the virtuous choice (particularly the courageous one). She's the one to argue for abandoning Tumnus, for example. If we look at her entire character arc through the series, it looks like an argument that a momentary conversion experience (witnessing Aslan's resurrection) isn't a seal of eternal salvation.

    On another note, I get that Lewis is working with the Pan/Alice convention of ageless children, and evincing cultural/personal sensibilities of decorum, but it's also possible that he's just focusing on the virtues (courage, leadership, kindness, etc) that we should grow in as we age--portraying his "adult" Pevensies as sexually innocent child readers might envision them: stronger, taller, more articulate. Leaving out sexual development also shows a theological belief about sex and relationships: Lewis is showing that sexual growth and fulfilment isn't the defining mark of a healthy adult; it's those other virtues (which the adult Susan still lacks, incidentally) that are the true signs of a grown-up. He's leaving room for singleness and celibacy (the "eunuchs") by not enthroning sex. Could that be a strength rather than an omission?

    1. Julia: thanks for taking the time to comment, and add to the discussion. I'd say you're right about Susan's 'worried' character; although I don't know if you could describe personally observing the resurrection of Aslan and then living for many years, perhaps many decades, a convert in Aslan's own realm as a 'momentary conversion experience'.

      The 'sex' question is tricky I agree. Hard not to read bacl 21st-century sexual mores (whatever they are) into the 1950s, and earlier. But I'd say Alan Jacobs initial comment, at the head of this thread, does a better job than I could of demonstrating that Lewis was, to use the modern jargon, pretty 'sex positive', albeit within the context of his Christian beliefs.

  8. I'm taken by the idea of the white stag as pointing toward celtic mythology, and leading from Narnia into, as you say, our mundane world. Could Lewis be drawing us toward the idea that the mundane world isn't actually mundane? That for all its glories and adventures and fantastic-ness, the real journey lay in seeking the divine in the mundane?

    idk, just a thought. I haven't read the Narnia series since I was a kid, but the use of fantasy as a vehicle for spiritual thought pleases me. It's easier for people to approach ideas of grace and doubt in fantastic realms, rather in the clothes of their actual orthodoxy or heresy.

  9. With regards the issue of Susan (and the rest) having grown up in Narnia already, it says towards the end of LWW that after spending some time in Narnia the children all start to feel as if their time in England has just been a dream. If a similar thing happens when they leave Narnia for the UK (which might well be the case, since Susan apparently remembers Narnia as just a little game they used to play), having grown up once in Narnia might not have much of an impact on the children's development, any more than having a dream of being a grown-up would.

    With regards sex, according to The Horse & His Boy Shasta and Aravis get married and have at least one child. It's only mentioned in passing, but it doesn't suggest that Lewis saw getting married as an inherently bad or inadvisable thing.

  10. I'm not sure that the phrase "The Problem of Susan" originated with Gaiman. We were certainly discussing this back in the days of GEnie discussions, and the "White Twig" discussion in the pages of _Mythprint_, back in the early 70s certainly focused on it. When I had one of the relatively early websites on the Inklings I received some references to several new fan stories, and at least one text of a new story about Susan's "salvation," along the lines of Gaiman's later story. Clearly, many have been written. And this coincides with some of Lewis's encouragement to a child reader to write his own story in one of his letters. He certainly contradicted the assertion that Susan was damned in one of his letters. One thing that you didn't reference in your discussion of why Susan has to be the one who falls away from Narnia in _The Last Battle_ is the way that she resists Narnia in _Prince Caspian_, almost refusing to see what Lucy can or at least refusing to believe Lucy, trying to be "grown-up." It's a kind of foreshadowing that either shows CSL's overall understanding of her character (I do not believe that he foresaw the turn of events in _The Last Battle_ at that point)or an unconscious stroke that later came to point the way in writing the later story.

    1. That's very interesting, David; and I can well believe that the phrase predates Gaiman.

  11. Certainly, further discussion of the "Problem" is found in Laura Miller's _The Magician's Book_.

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  13. I think that Alan Jacobs comments about "The Problem of Susan" are very perceptive, but have you noticed the similarity between Susan and the dwarfs?

    "'What wonderful memories you have! Fancy you still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children"

    And the dwarfs likewise lock themselves away behind a denial of the truth of Narnia and Aslan. As with Susan, they exclude themselves.

    Notice, BTW, that when the door is open and many come in, they include Calormenes. It's not just one who comes in, although his case is taken to show some other truths.

    Regarding the mind problem of Alan Jacobs - they have the experience of adulthood, then become children. Along with Father Christmas (his name make no sense in a Narnian context!), and the sewing machine (where was it made?), this is all part of the rather sloppy way that Narnia was created by Lewis which so incensed Tolkien. I suspect Lewis never gave it a second thought.

  14. I don't see that there is a problem of Susan.

    The problem is that C.S. Lewis, as his former student, and later Sufi Sheik, Martin Ling's pointed out: Lewis was a thoroughly Christianized man.

    Lewis's critics here are more or less influenced by modernism, which is anti-Christian. That's really the only issue.

    The following may seem judgmental but I will note that I was once a thoroughly left-wing atheist (we all can change). Anyways, I think you all are "lukewarm." You have one foot in the Christian camp and one in the modernist camp.

    Put both feet in the Christian camp and the so-called "Problem of Susan" disappears on the moral level (whatever merely narrative problems there may be with her character).

    You all might want to read "Ancient Beliefs and Modern Superstitions" by Martin Lings...or an American author who helped to cleanse a lot of the modernism from me was Wendell Berry.

    Anyways, to repeat: the problem is not with Lewis, its with critics who are more or less modernist rather than thoroughly Christian.

  15. I thought my google profile name would display rather than unknown, at any rate my name is Mike.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Mike: I don't know why Google is mucking around, I'm sorry to say.

      I'd certainly agree with you that Lewis was a thoroughly Christian man, although I'd probably say rather that he wrote thoroughly Christian books (since my concern is literary criticism, not biography). I'm not sure I entirely agree with your characterisation of "Modernism" tout court as anti-Christian. Plenty of key Modernists, like T S Eliot, Charles Williams and David Jones, used Modernist experimentalism to develop profoundly Christian agendas.