Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Save Susan Pevensie!

In honor of the movie, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” The Christian Science Monitor hauled out my old review of Book 6 over the weekend. After Book 3, these became exercises in speed-reading and sleep-deprivation. (I don't write for the NYT, so we didn't rate a review copy.) The basic drill was simple: Pick up a copy at a midnight party, read all night, and then write like crazy. Amazingly, the books are still enjoyable even when consumed in this manner, unlike a whole lot of college reading.

So, I don't tend to look back on my Harry Potter reviews and think, “Wow, I really nailed that one.” (Actually, I don't tend to go over old reviews period – too many new books out there beckoning, siren-like.) But one of my sleep-deprived asides  seems to have struck a chord with a few commenters, who don't feel I gave C.S. Lewis his due.

Here's the thing: Growing up, I loved “The Chronicles of Narnia.” To this day, all I have to do is say, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” and I get a similar feeling of peace as the magic words, “The Wind in the Willows” or “To Kill a Mockingbird.” But as a fourth-grader reading “The Last Battle,” I was absolutely aghast when I realized that Susan didn't get to come back to Narnia. (It may be the only instance when my reaction to hearing that someone didn't die in an accident is shocked horror.) As I kept reading, I was aghast for other reasons: What do you mean you're packing up Narnia and shutting the place down? But what if I finally make it to England and get a chance to go through all the cupboards? (I held on to my dreams a little longer than most kids.)

Now some people have argued that Susan never had the character Lucy did, and was just a vain, shallow creature who didn't deserve any magical adventures. But take Eustace Scrubb, whom Lewis introduced in “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” as “There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” Or Edmund, who sold out his family for candy that didn't even have chocolate as an ingredient? They were transformed into heroes by their experiences in Narnia. Why didn't Susan rate a similar makeover, my inner fourth-grader howls. (My inner fourth-grader is all about injustice.) Lots of teenage girls get silly about looks and makeup – usually they grow out of it. Doesn't she even get a chance?

And what about the events of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”? Susan and Lucy were both witnesses to Aslan's sacrifice and resurrection. Wouldn't that experience have unalterably changed Susan? (I still say yes, for the record.) To say nothing of ruling in Narnia for all those years (although granted, she wasn't always the wisest of rulers. See “The Horse and His Boy.”) And besides, Lewis promised: “Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen.”  

1 comment:

  1. I agree about Susan. I think, at some point Lewis should have allowed her to grow in character because she obviously had what it took to enter Narnia. Since it is a very spiritual book it brings to my mind Paul who was Saul in the Bible. His flaws were a lot worse than being vain, although it was his highest sense of right, at the time, in pursecuting the Jewish people. They are great books even with Susan's lack of growth.