This post contains spoilers from the Chronicles of Narnia.
Ever since I read C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, I have been fascinated by the different layers of storytelling. On one layer, it is a barely veiled retelling of the Book of Revelation from the Bible. Lewis loved allegories and The Last Battle does not disappoint.
The Last Battle forces Christians to go read the Bible for themselves again, to see what God really revealed, instead of relying on a children’s story, however delightful and engaging.
But even if your view of eschatology differs from Lewis’, one criticism comes not from biblical scholars but a feminist view. I am referring the controversy surrounding the second of the four Pevensie children: Susan.
Susan Pevensie (Anna Popplewell in the latest movies) is one of the four children who entered the fictional land of Narnia through a magic wardrobe (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). She is the second child, born after her older brother Peter, and before her younger siblings, Edmund and Lucy. When we first meet the four children, they had been sent north to escape from the German bombers during World War 2. Susan entered Narnia only after her younger sister Lucy.
Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy, after many adventures and fulfilling some prophecies, become the best Kings and Queens of Narnia at the end of the first book. They return home when they were adults only to revert to their original age when they returned.
In the second book, Prince Caspian, all four Pevensie children are pulled back to Narnia, only to realize 1000 years have passed and Narnia is once again in trouble. Read the second book to find out what they did. However, at the end of the second book, Aslan the Lion tells Peter and Susan that they cannot return to Narnia and must find him in their world by another name (Jesus Christ in Lewis’s allegory).
Fast forward to the last book: The Last Battle and Susan is conspicuous in her absence.
Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says, ‘What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.’C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
This is where the debates begin. Does Lewis not like women? Or is this misogyny cleverly disguised? Is Susan forever lost and will never find redemption? Lewis himself was vague.
The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there’s plenty of time for her to mend and perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end… in her own wayC.S. Lewis – From Lewis’ Letters to Children, 22 January 1957, to Martin
Lewis unfortunately left himself to be criticized by famous authors J.K. Rowling of the Harry Potter books and scifi author Neil Geiman.
– 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.J.K. Rowling
With all due respect, I think they missed the point. The things that Susan are interested are symbolic, a code of some sort. The question becomes what the signs and code represent. For example, if I say to a US Marine the three letters E, G, A, he or she knows exactly I mean: the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor that is on every Marine’s uniform. Or, if I say “The Big Apple”, many of you will immediately think of New York City. I do not think it is a stretch to say that Susan’s attitudes, Susan trying to be a 21 year old woman in England in the 1940s and 1950s, should not be taken at face value, but to go deeper in the analysis.
Furthermore, Ms. Rowling and Mr. Gaiman somehow forget that The Last Battle is a Christian allegory and must be considered in light of the Bible. Their comments are divorced from Lewis’s beliefs, both as a Christian, and as a person. Read correctly, the Bible elevated and continues to elevate women; it is through a woman that the Seed will come to redeem the world. It is through the Virgin Mary whom many venerate. Women brought the news of the resurrection to the (male) disciples. In Christ, all false divisions between men and women are erased because all are fellow heirs of the Kingdom of God. As for Lewis himself, in the author’s note to the novel Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Patti Callahan describes the subtle but positive influences his wife Joy had. Therefore, I believe the charges against Lewis excluding Susan on the basis of her sex or womanhood are largely groundless.
If Susan is not excluded from Narnia simply because she had turned into a “rather silly, conceited young woman”, then what is Lewis trying to say?
I believe that Susan can serve as a warning to Christians who have become enamored with the secular, materialistic world. Susan represents those who have grown up in the church from a young age; these are young men and women who know all the Children’s Ministry songs, all the correct Sunday School answers, and might even serve in their church’s respective high school ministry. They graduated from a Christian high school and attend a secular university; suddenly, the “world” is much more attractive.
It could also apply to Christians who came to faith as adults and faithfully serve God for five, ten, fifteen years. All of a sudden, the things of God lose their appeal. They get sucked back into the “world” – even with things as innocuous as Amazon Prime. They buy one thing and then another, then another, and another because they fell under the spell of “You might also like.” Amazon Prime also has Prime Video – one thing leads to another and before you know it, you have binge-watched the first three seasons of The Expanse or The Grand Tour. Take your pick: the end result is the same: following a show is more interesting than following Jesus.
If that sounds like you or someone you know, then you should also know it is not too late to turn back to Jesus. This is repentance – a word that has fallen out of the Christian lexicon but is as necessary as ever. We must make a 180 degree turn from the world and turn back to Jesus. I have no doubt that Jesus will welcome you back.
Perhaps one day a Christian author will tackle the story of Susan Pevensie’s redemption. Perhaps it will align with Lewis’ vision and beliefs.
Susan’s story is really our story.