Why Would You Consider Susan to be a Heroic Character?

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Why Would You Consider Susan to be a Heroic Character?

Postby Col Klink » Oct 25, 2018 11:18 am

I know that a lot of fans were shocked and angered by Susan's negative portrayal in The Last Battle and...I'd like to know why. ;)) While I wasn't expecting it when I read LB, I thought it made sense. Susan seemed like the least positively portrayed Pevensie. (Discounting Edmund who was only portrayed negatively for two thirds of one book anyway.)

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while Susan was much nicer and less rude to Lucy about her crazy story than Edmund was, her attitude was a lot more "schoolmarm-ish" and condescending than that of Peter. And unlike Peter (or even Edmund) she never apologized to Lucy.

Susan also was initially reluctant to help Tumnus though she came around upon reflection. Her reaction to hearing Aslan's name is also the most shallow. She "felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her." The name strikes her as pleasant but it doesn't make her feel courageous like Peter or ecstatic like Lucy. Even Edmund's sensation of mysterious horror shows that he has an intimation of Aslan's power. Susan is the most hesitant about meeting Aslan when she hears that he is a lion. Peter, by contrast, says, "I'm longing to see him even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point."

In Prince Caspian, Susan believes Lucy when she tells about Aslan but pretends that she doesn't because she's sick of hiking and wants to get out of the woods as soon as possible. She has a much ruder attitude toward Lucy than Peter or Edmund has. Trumpkin is maybe a little scathing but that doesn't make him as unsympathetic since Lucy is invoking something he believes to be fiction.

The main positive thing the book say about Susan is that she was very beautiful. And that's not really a character quality. The only positive thing I remember her doing was being a mother figure to Corin in The Horse and his Boyand that was implied rather than shown. But it seems like a lot of fans considered her a really great person and were surprised to read about her transformation in LB. So I thought I'd create this thread for people to explain why they personally admired Susan in the first two books.

P.S.
Just so people know, I don't hate Susan's character or anything. :)) I actually like that she's the "wussiest" of the main character because I, myself, am a total wuss and I really relate to her in those scenes. C.S. Lewis did a good job making sure that there was at least one character in any given scene in the Narnia books that the reader could relate to whatever their personality. I just don't see her as a particularly positively portrayed character.
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Re: Why Would You Consider Susan to be a Heroic Character?

Postby King_Erlian » Oct 26, 2018 12:50 am

This is just my opinion of course, but I have a feeling that Susan was being subjected to pressure to "act like a grown-up" by adults much earlier than the time of The Last Battle. That included being sceptical, especially about things that other people would laugh at, to quote Eustace. This went totally against the Narnian way of being swept along with the adventure. To allow herself to do this, Susan probably thought that she would have to act like (in her mind) a child and she didn't want to do that.

When she ruled as Queen of Narnia, she was away from the adults putting pressure on her and so she would have come round to the Narnian way of thinking. Remember also that she was Queen Susan the Gentle and probably felt much more uncomfortable with the striving of battle than her siblings, hence her moaning during Prince Caspian.

I think the best positive depiction of Susan was of her presence at Aslan's death and resurrection. There's no way Lucy could have gone through that on her own, and she was every bit as delighted and joyful when Aslan came back to life as Lucy was.
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Re: Why Would You Consider Susan to be a Heroic Character?

Postby Cleander » Oct 26, 2018 9:17 am

Susan's "apostasy" was kind of a shock to me the first time I read LB. I realized later that Lewis was trying to point out that good people can be brought down- that it's not on our own strength that we can persevere. (Perseverance is kind of a main theme in the Last Battle.)
Susan was never quite "heroic" to me, but she did seem to be a strong character. Maybe because she sort of reminds me of some older siblings of mine. ;;) What Col Klink called "wussiness," even if said wussiness is a fault, does give her some influence over the other kids and strengthens her presence in the story.
So no, Susan is not a hero. She's not a leader. She's more like- a big sister. Duh. 8-| Not to mention kind of annoying, for reasons discussed above. But she has her positive side too.
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Re: Why Would You Consider Susan to be a Heroic Character?

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Oct 26, 2018 10:07 am

King_Erlian wrote:I think the best positive depiction of Susan was of her presence at Aslan's death and resurrection. There's no way Lucy could have gone through that on her own, and she was every bit as delighted and joyful when Aslan came back to life as Lucy was.


This. Susan also couldn't sleep the night before Aslan went to the Stone Table, and she was just as worried as Lucy about him. And while not exactly heroic, staying and watching what transpired at the Stone Table was very brave. She could have run away in fear and I don't think many people would fault her for it.

In particular, it's the part that Susan plays in Aslan's death and resurrection that always leaves me shaking my head in disbelief at her absence in Aslan's Country in The Last Battle. The idea that someone who had seen the Lion die and wept over his body and kept vigil by it all night, and saw him rise again and kissed his face for joy... this person becomes so obsessed with superficial things that all her memories of Narnia become just a funny game she used to play when she was a kid? What? :-o

It's ghastly. I try to imagine the same thing happening to one of the women who saw Jesus crucified and found the Tomb empty... it's so hard to wrap one's head around, and yet I think many of us (me, at least!) often spend more time worrying about peripheral cares than "following the signs." It is a cautionary tale, to be sure.

(I will say, though, that Susan's presence at Aslan's resurrection and the love that she showed him in death and in life has always made me believe that at some point she must have found her way to Aslan's Country.)
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Re: Why Would You Consider Susan to be a Heroic Character?

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Oct 28, 2018 5:35 pm

Rose-Tree Dryad wrote:In particular, it's the part that Susan plays in Aslan's death and resurrection that always leaves me shaking my head in disbelief at her absence in Aslan's Country in The Last Battle. The idea that someone who had seen the Lion die and wept over his body and kept vigil by it all night, and saw him rise again and kissed his face for joy... this person becomes so obsessed with superficial things that all her memories of Narnia become just a funny game she used to play when she was a kid? What? :-o


That was Noel Gaiman's exact point when he wrote The Problem of Susan, one of his short stories written about 2004, which he based on Susan Pevensie's character. Do read this short story any time you can for a rather adult perception of what Susan's part in the Narnia stories might be. Because if Susan can't remember and acknowledge the events of Aslan's death and resurrection she can't accept the rest of the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe either. It all becomes a closeted nightmare of the Lion and the Witch divvying up the dead victims between them as in the horrible nightmare Gaiman's student journalist experiences at the end of Gaiman's Problem of Susan, a much grimmer version of Professor Susan Hastings' own doubting nightmare at the start of that story in which she was watching an already fought over battlefield and wondering what the bargain was that the Lion was making with the Witch. They were too far away and she couldn't hear what they were saying. And in the Professor's dream, her brother Ed also had died, though her sister had not. As Ed had died in the train smash.

Noel Gaiman (and I and everyone else who has ever read the Last Battle, need to remember) wrote his short story on the premise that Susan Pevensie's absence from "Narnia heaven" was only because she never died in the first place. She went on to have a life of her own, in the "real world", and in her own way and in her own time, to make of it what she could. In the Problem of Susan, I loved the Professor answer to the interviewing student, that "someone had to remain behind to clean up the mess", though I can't see C.S. Lewis' Susan Pevensie becoming Noel Gaiman's Professor of Children's literature as a result of losing her brothers and sister in that quite realistic Last Battle train crash. And I rather resent the impertinence of Gaiman's cadet journalist bowling up to a distinguished Professor and assuming that just because her first name was Susan and that she was known to have lost all her family in a train crash that therefore she must be that Susan Pevensie of the Narnia series. Even if one of her brothers was called Ed.

Of course, if there happened to be a real Susan Pevensie of a similar age, family background and experience of Narnia, around somewhere in the world, her changing her surname would be an excellent idea, given the very real possibility that her real identity as a story book character might very well cause her some real embarrassment such as from Gaiman's probing cadet journalist. Think of the Walker family in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series. Or Alice Liddell in Alice in Wonderland . Not to mention Christopher Robin in A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh.
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Re: Why Would You Consider Susan to be a Heroic Character?

Postby Cleander » Oct 31, 2018 9:36 am

"And I rather resent the impertinence of Gaiman's cadet journalist bowling up to a distinguished Professor and assuming that just because her first name was Susan and that she was known to have lost all her family in a train crash that therefore she must be that Susan Pevensie of the Narnia series. Even if one of her brothers was called Ed.

Of course, if there happened to be a real Susan Pevensie of a similar age, family background and experience of Narnia, around somewhere in the world, her changing her surname would be an excellent idea, given the very real possibility that her real identity as a story book character might very well cause her some real embarrassment such as from Gaiman's probing cadet journalist."


Just a quick note about the Gaiman's choice of surnames- Hastings and Pevensie actually have an historical connection. This arises from the infamous invasion of England by the Normans in 1066. Apparently the Norman army first landed at the southern coastal town of Pevensey. Later they confronted the English army at the famous battle of Hastings. Coincidence? According to Kathryn Lindskoog in her book "Journey to Narnia," the Norman invasion is what gave Lewis an idea for his four main character's last names. Quite possibly Mr. Gaiman was trying to use that same inspiration for Susan's pseudonym. Perhaps he reasoned that Susan (like all well educated Engishfolk) would be aware of the historical significance of her last name and change it to something somewhat related. Anyway....
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Re: Why Would You Consider Susan to be a Heroic Character?

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Oct 31, 2018 3:14 pm

Cleander wrote:Quite possibly Mr. Gaiman was trying to use that same inspiration for Susan's pseudonym. Perhaps he reasoned that Susan (like all well educated Engishfolk) would be aware of the historical significance of her last name and change it to something somewhat related.


Gaiman, I am sure, was well aware of what you are saying, having written quite a few works of fiction himself, such as Coraline. No doubt he did choose that surname quite deliberately, not only because of conventions about plagiarism and original work when work is published. Just like Rose-Tree Dryad, Gaiman said he was bothered about Susan's absence beyond the Stable Door, after her LWW experiences. Gaiman's cadet journalist (Greta was her name) had all the misconceptions about Susan going to hell because she used lipstick or because she had discovered sex. Which annoyed the Professor not a little because a tube of lipstick & a dab of perfume for the interview, and the austere life of a single, rather scholarly, older woman was hardly worth being sent to Hell over. The Professor felt she had been punished enough in life for losing her brothers and sister in that train smash.

But let us not be too hasty about the similarities between Susan Pevensie and Professor Susan Hastings. The question is what C.S.Lewis did mean about Susan's absence. Even as a child, I took that LB snippet where Tirian meets the Seven Friends of Narnia to mean that to become the grown up bride she always envisaged herself as being, Susan had deserted everything she thought was childish, including her Narnia adventures, to embrace domesticity and married life. Which, in turn, would eventually bring her back full circle to the relevance of her own childhood experiences once children of her own arrived. Which is almost saying the same thing as what the Professor did, that someone has to be left behind to clean up the mess. I hoped Susan had at least learned something from her adventure to Tashbaan in HHB, lest she ended up with another mess to clear up and another nightmarish sort of betrothal to flee from.

That is a good point about C.S.Lewis and the Norman Conquest however. I brought home from York (UK) a recording about the Battle of Fulford on 20/09/1066 in which it claimed that the Norman Conquest set back the development of democracy in England, itself, for centuries. I'm not so sure of that idea, because, just as in the Last Battle's catastrophic defeat, after the Norman Conquest, Anglo Saxon culture and language did survive and are carried on to this day, such as through English common law, codified by Henry I (Beauclerc) who also married a descendant of the old Wessex Anglo Saxon line. Even the democracy argument is moot when Edward I introduced or re-introduced the concept of Parliament into English history.

The most surprising thing about LB was that having passed the Stable Door, after the battle was lost, Tirian found himself greeting the heroes of Narnian history and discovered that the essence of Narnia had survived, after all. And that is what I do find heroic in Susan. She was a survivor, and would be left to carry on, maybe, one day rejoining her family, in her own time and in her own way.
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Re: Why Would You Consider Susan to be a Heroic Character?

Postby Col Klink » Nov 03, 2018 7:59 am

This is just my opinion of course, but I have a feeling that Susan was being subjected to pressure to "act like a grown-up" by adults much earlier than the time of The Last Battle. That included being sceptical, especially about things that other people would laugh at, to quote Eustace. This went totally against the Narnian way of being swept along with the adventure. To allow herself to do this, Susan probably thought that she would have to act like (in her mind) a child and she didn't want to do that.When she ruled as Queen of Narnia, she was away from the adults putting pressure on her and so she would have come round to the Narnian way of thinking. Remember also that she was Queen Susan the Gentle and probably felt much more uncomfortable with the striving of battle than her siblings, hence her moaning during Prince Caspian.


Interesting fan theory.

I think the best positive depiction of Susan was of her presence at Aslan's death and resurrection. There's no way Lucy could have gone through that on her own


I don't remember Susan comforting Lucy in the book. (Is it possible you're thinking of the movie version?) But if I recall correctly, Susan (and Lucy) did (unintentionally) comfort Aslan on his walk to the Stone Table. That's pretty positive.

I will say, though, that Susan's presence at Aslan's resurrection and the love that she showed him in death and in life has always made me believe that at some point she must have found her way to Aslan's Country.


And that is what I do find heroic in Susan. She was a survivor, and would be left to carry on, maybe, one day rejoining her family, in her own time and in her own way.


Yeah, I kind of figure that Susan won't be fixated on nylons, lipstick and invitations forever. If she lived a long time, she'd probably start thinking about more serious things eventually and be willing to admit that her Narnian experiences happened. She might even do it fairly soon. The tragic death of her parents and siblings (and cousin) would definitely sober her. Ugh! I hate myself for saying that. It's so obnoxious to tell people that the terrible things that happen to them are somehow good for them. But realistically speaking, it's probably true for some of them even if it's rude to mention it to a grieving person.
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Re: Why Would You Consider Susan to be a Heroic Character?

Postby Varnafinde » Nov 17, 2018 10:57 am

Col Klink wrote:I don't remember Susan comforting Lucy in the book. (Is it possible you're thinking of the movie version?) But if I recall correctly, Susan (and Lucy) did (unintentionally) comfort Aslan on his walk to the Stone Table. That's pretty positive.


In the book the two sisters comforted each other.

And down they both knelt in the wet grass and kissed his cold face and stroked his beautiful fur - what was left of it - and cried till they could cry no more. And then they looked at each other and held each other's hands for mere loneliness and cried again; and then again were silent.


It was good for them to have each other and not to have to face this grief alone - but the comfort went both ways, not just from big sister to little sister.

And their comfort to Aslan wasn't unintentional. He asked for comfort - "I should be glad of company tonight" - and they gave him that company.

"Aslan! Dear Aslan!" said Lucy, "what is wrong? Can't you tell us?"

"Are you ill, dear Aslan?" asked Susan.

"No," said Aslan. "I am sad and lonely. Lay your hands on my mane so that I can feel you are there and let us walk like that."

And so the girls did what they would never have dared to do without his permission, but what they had longed to do ever since they first saw him: buried their cold hands in the beautiful sea of fur and stroked it and, so doing, walked with him.


I agree that this is pretty positive. And it would surprise me if grown-up Susan isn't affected by such memories when she truly grows up, and finds her way back to Aslan's Country eventually.
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Re: Why Would You Consider Susan to be a Heroic Character?

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Nov 17, 2018 7:51 pm

King_Erlian wrote:This is just my opinion of course, but I have a feeling that Susan was being subjected to pressure to "act like a grown-up" by adults much earlier than the time of The Last Battle. That included being sceptical, especially about things that other people would laugh at, to quote Eustace. This went totally against the Narnian way of being swept along with the adventure. To allow herself to do this, Susan probably thought that she would have to act like (in her mind) a child and she didn't want to do that.


I'd agree with that from many points of view. In VDT Susan wasn't much good at schoolwork, and so went to America with her parents because she was the one who would get most out of it. This was a directly sexist point of view of girls' education, which C.S.Lewis is highlighting, very prevalent in the 1950's, but isn't mentioned much now, of course. Back in the 1950's girls very often only got as much education as their parents thought they needed, since they "only got married", and since "you don't need university degrees to change nappies on babies". (Well maybe so, but a first aid certificate and some knowledge of nursing, teaching, accountancy and cooking might help considerably)

Susan in LWW was the most worried of Lucy's siblings that Lucy was telling them something about where she had been, that would go against accepted adult wisdom. In VDT Susan was considered to be very grown up by other adults, and also the prettier sister, which is repeated later in the book, when Lucy looks through the Magician's book. If Susan was being pressured even before LB, "to act like a grown-up", there may well have been, by LB, an added extra element to it if she had a boyfriend and didn't want to discuss her Narnia adventures with him.
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Re: Why Would You Consider Susan to be a Heroic Character?

Postby Col Klink » Nov 18, 2018 9:17 pm

In the book the two sisters comforted each other.And down they both knelt in the wet grass and kissed his cold face and stroked his beautiful fur - what was left of it - and cried till they could cry no more. And then they looked at each other and held each other's hands for mere loneliness and cried again; and then again were silent.It was good for them to have each other and not to have to face this grief alone - but the comfort went both ways, not just from big sister to little sister.


I guess I don't see that as "heroic" because it's sort of involuntary. It doesn't sound like they're holding hands to comfort each other. It's because they both want comfort for themselves.

And their comfort to Aslan wasn't unintentional. He asked for comfort - "I should be glad of company tonight" - and they gave him that company."Aslan! Dear Aslan!" said Lucy, "what is wrong? Can't you tell us?""Are you ill, dear Aslan?" asked Susan."No," said Aslan. "I am sad and lonely. Lay your hands on my mane so that I can feel you are there and let us walk like that."And so the girls did what they would never have dared to do without his permission, but what they had longed to do ever since they first saw him: buried their cold hands in the beautiful sea of fur and stroked it and, so doing, walked with him.


I don't think of that as being heroic because it's obviously what they want to do. It isn't what you call a sacrifice or a risk. Again, I don't want to bash Susan (or Lucy.) I'm just trying to explain my reasoning. :)
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Re: Why Would You Consider Susan to be a Heroic Character?

Postby Varnafinde » Nov 19, 2018 3:10 pm

I agree that this doesn't point Susan out as a heroic character.
It's positive, but nothing to give her a medal of bravery for.
Even when they are comforting Aslan, they are not in a dangerous situation - when they are approaching that, he tells them to stay well out of it (and they do).

I do see them as comforting each other, though, as well as seeking comfort for themselves. But again, there's nothing particularly brave or heroic about it.
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Re: Why Would You Consider Susan to be a Heroic Character?

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Nov 19, 2018 4:01 pm

Col Klink wrote:
And their comfort to Aslan wasn't unintentional. He asked for comfort - "I should be glad of company tonight" - and they gave him that company."Aslan! Dear Aslan!" said Lucy, "what is wrong? Can't you tell us?""Are you ill, dear Aslan?" asked Susan."No," said Aslan. "I am sad and lonely. Lay your hands on my mane so that I can feel you are there and let us walk like that."And so the girls did what they would never have dared to do without his permission, but what they had longed to do ever since they first saw him: buried their cold hands in the beautiful sea of fur and stroked it and, so doing, walked with him.


I don't think of that as being heroic because it's obviously what they want to do. It isn't what you call a sacrifice or a risk. Again, I don't want to bash Susan (or Lucy.) I'm just trying to explain my reasoning.


There was quite a bit of risk in being in that situation in the first place. Gaiman's interpretation of The Problem of Susan was that Susan, now alone in her everyday life after LB, having lost her own family, still struggled to understand the bargain Aslan made with the White Witch, when Edmund was rescued in LWW. That bargain was being negotiated, in front of Susan and the rest of Aslan's followers at that point in the story. Remember, at that incident something about Mrs Beaver commenting about the White Witch being the Emperor's hangman? Before the White Witch & her dwarf were sent off, when Aslan roared, was there any point in time in which Aslan and the White Witch conferred, heads close together, without everyone else being able to hear what each said to the other?

It was Susan and Lucy, feeling that something was wrong with Aslan, who got up to be with Aslan afterwards. Edmund had had a word with Aslan but the others were to leave him alone about the past. Peter was already under Aslan's command & knew that he had to make preparations for a battle and that Aslan might not be there. By rights Susan and Lucy would have been safer to remain with Peter, even if Peter was in considerable danger, himself. But they went with Aslan right into a danger they had never expected. Aslan did direct them to hide. And so they witnessed much of the humiliation and nastiness inflicted on Aslan by the White Witch's followers. The girls still remained in their places after the White Witch left, to rejoin the army she was summoning. To go back to Aslan and remain with him must have been a truly horrible experience, to feel the loss of an individual who had seemed so reassuring and comforting, himself. To stand by him in that time of grief and not just walk away does take courage and steadfastness for both girls as grief-stricken as they were over Aslan, himself. It must have seemed all was lost, as it had been for Tirian, when more and more Calormenes kept coming, to overwhelm him and his small army, in LB. As it most certainly did for the Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos in May of 1453 when Constantinople fell. At least Susan & Lucy had each other for comfort at the Stone Table.

For at any time the White Witch might have returned there, and they could have been captured and put to death themselves, for all they knew or understood. It isn't until sunrise that the truth of the bargain, with explanation from Aslan, might have dawned on them as well. But how effectively did it dawn on Susan, in particular? Aslan did die for Edmund. But when Susan and Lucy with the resurrected Aslan returned to Beruna, Aslan's army had taken a beating. Edmund, himself, for whom the sacrifice had been made, was lying on the ground, severely injured & at the point of death. Lucy got busy with the cordial to revive him, but then Aslan came along, saying "Must more people die for Edmund"?

What did Susan do then? She didn't even want to discuss what had happened to Edmund, thinking it was all too awful to ask him to think about. And that is not heroic. Sometimes people have to learn to think for themselves, and Susan, had not been encouraged to do so by the adults who deemed her pretty and "mature for her age".

And what of Edmund? Jadis tried to cut his throat in LWW. He was almost killed in the battle of Beruna. And in LB he dies anyway. We should have known that at some point in the entire series, he would have died - permanently. So if it had been he who was left out of the Friends of Narnia beyond the stable door, rather than Queen Susan how would that have damaged the series? Wouldn't it have pressed home the point that there was no redemption, and no forgiveness?
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Re: Why Would You Consider Susan to be a Heroic Character?

Postby coracle » Nov 20, 2018 9:50 am

For me, Susan's heroism is seen in continuing to help and stick with the others when she was clearly afraid. She doesn't forget her role as big sister to the younger two, and tries to keep Peter's feet on the ground.

In PC, when Susan won't follow Lucy (when L says she has seen Aslan in the gorge), she later admits it was because of fear and not disbelief. This is a time when her courage and heroism failed her.
On the other hand, she speaks the truth near the end of the story, which is a brave thing when the others might have ridiculed her. Heroism needs wisdom too.

I read the books in my late teens; I was quite saddened to read the explanation of why Susan wasn't there. However I knew plenty of people who had been keen believers in this world and had given up for the sake of something apparently good. They were no less brave and heroic, just unwise. I would hope that Susan, like those people, would regain her wisdom and heroism.
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