Susan Goes to Hell: The Final Chronicle

In The Natural History of Make-Believe, John Goldthwaite has a lot to say about the Chronicles of Narnia, very little of it good. One thing he mentions is the “summary damnation of Susan,” which is indeed troublesome, although I have to wonder if Goldthwaite is overstating the case a bit. The bit in question comes at the end of Chapter 12 of The Last Battle. King Tirian asks why Susan is not present with her three siblings, and the following exchange occurs:

“My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.”

“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.'”

“Oh, Susan!” said Jill. “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipsticks and invitations.”

Aslan later confirms that the other Pevensies and their parents died in a railway accident, and the new Narnia is essentially the afterlife. Some readers apparently think Susan was also on the train but DIDN’T go to Heaven/New Narnia when she died. Personally, I never read this into it. I always figured Susan was still alive and could potentially find redemption at some point. C.S. Lewis himself said something to that effect. That’s not to say that I agree with Lewis’ decision to make Susan “no longer a friend of Narnia.” It doesn’t make any sense, and I can’t say I disagree with Goldthwaite when he says, “It is preposterous to think that anyone would turn apostate who had visited another world and there actually met Christ in the flesh…Lewis would have us believe of this Mary Magdalene that she sloughed it all off shortly thereafter for some lipstick and a pair of nylons.” That said, I don’t think this theme was entirely original with Lewis. Although I can’t think of any examples offhand, there are other fantasies that have adults forgetting about the magical adventures they had as children. I don’t think it’s all that logical, since I think anyone who experienced real, honest-to-god magic in childhood would bloody well remember it, but it’s a useful trope for writers who want to make fairyland the exclusive province of children. And I think there is some symbolic meaning in it, because I constantly hear about parents who are totally unable to understand their children’s point of view, not to mention teenagers who blow off cartoons and video games as too childish. They don’t actively forget, but they push away, you know? Combine with this Lewis’ obsession with Matthew 18:3 (“And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”), and it’s not too surprising he’d incorporate this idea into his Chronicles. I just think he took it too far, especially with her siblings just dismissing her and presumably putting her out of their minds entirely. Is that really a good example of Christian love? The Last Battle had a lot of problems, though.

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20 Responses to Susan Goes to Hell: The Final Chronicle

  1. Glenn I says:

    I recently reread the Narnia books and enjoyed them. Except Last Battle, which I take pains not to recommend, finding it creepy at best. After rereading Narnia I tackled Lewis’s Space Trilogy. The problem with incorporating fantasy elements and Christian theology, I found, was the Christian theology just ends up more fantasy – rather confirming my own views, I suppose.

  2. vertue says:

    And yet there is something about lucy’s dismissal of Narnia that I recongnise. Think of interpersonal or religious experiences which can seem very important and significant at one time, but later seem to fade out of memory when your point of view changes to such an extent that it can no longer support the emotional commitment associated whith these experiences. Something like the process of cognitive dissonance. Whithout an active attemt to reinterpret these memories or re-evaluate your current worldviews, they may simply be forgotten or at most loose their – once convincing and overwhelming – emotional force.

    • Nathan says:

      Maybe, but I don’t think a talking lion is something anyone is likely to ever forget!

      • Erin says:

        I don’t think she forgot, I think she blocked it out and pretended over time it didn’t exist. In Prince Caspian she is more eager to leave than Peter and wants to return home while the others did not, even then.

  3. Pete says:

    Susan definitely goes to hell. I remember, as a child, feeling smug about this…especially in middle school when a lot of formerly very nice girls turned into superficial, materialistic byotches, and stayed that way through high school graduation. I’m obviously over that now, but the fact that C.S. Lewis wrote it this way makes me think that he had some dealings with nice girls who turned into crappy women. I still think it’s funny. While I don’t particularly think there is a heaven (or a need for heaven, if you’ve lived a life with meaning), I often hope there is a special place of retribution :)

    • Nathan says:

      But Christians aren’t supposed to be smug about things, are they? Lewis might well have been drawing from experience, but it doesn’t seem entirely fair coming from someone representing a religion that’s allegedly all about forgiveness.

  4. Lewis says:

    About the fact that it should be impossible for Susan, a person who had met and seen God (Aslan), the Bible (if you believe it) clearly gives many examples of people who met and witnessed the miracles and power of Jesus and did not believe it. Or, to hit even closer to home, Judas, who was a follower of Christ and was in fact one of the twelve, fell away and we know by what the Bible says that he is now in Hell. I would suggest that everyone who is interested in CS Lewis read Mere Christianity. It is brilliantly written and it “clears up” all of the things that people like Nathan (who commented about forgiveness) seem to be confused about. The Bible clearly says that there will be an end and that at that time there is no redemption. Peter closed the gate with the key and Susan was not there. Therefore, Susan must be in hell.

    • Nathan says:

      Doesn’t the presence of multiple universes affect the idea of when the end is, though? Even though Narnia comes to an end in The Last Battle, our own world does not.

    • Debra Anise Hudnall says:

      You obviously forgot, when you were telling the story of Judas, that Jesus already knew it and it was a part of his plan that Judas inform the roman soldiers where he was.

  5. Erin says:

    I think it made it more realistic personally that she lost her belief. Rarely does everyone keep the faith from childhood, especially when vanity sets in

  6. Jessica Sexton says:

    actually it makes total sense!!! After all judas betrayed Christ himself after following Jesus for years!!! And the bible says that there will be no sadness In heaven so that MAY be why they weren’t too upset…and in actuality most atheists (in my experience) were once Christians but I agree with you about Susan being alive…it seems to me that her future redemption was implied throughout the text

  7. Bobby says:

    CS Lewis planned to write a book called Susan of Narnia, which would tell what happened to Susan after The Last Battle and possibly have her return to faith. Sadly, he died before he could write it.

  8. ally says:

    It plummets your credibility when you don’t quote accurately. Authors typically know basic grammar; therefore, although I have not checked, I am sure CS Lewis used the correct “you’re,” not “your” in the line: “Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games.” Grammar DOES matter, as it conveys the writer’s intelligence to the reader.

  9. Graham says:

    I know this is a necro so forgive me for that… and also forgive me for the rest of the reply, but these are only my PERSONAL opinions…

    I wish the end of The Last Battle was written better (in the sense of, the train the kids were on, crashed into the train their parent were on and they all died and went to some kind of *afterlife*) well… if that was the case, allow them to REMEMBER that they died (after all in the majority of Christian and other *folk-lore* <<< i will explain in a bit – every spirit who dies KNOW they have died and how (because the pain and sadness of it has gone) so why do the kids not say something like **… oh our train crashed and we are dead… this must be heaven and GASP! that must mean Aslan was God/Christ all this time…!** etc… Otherwise it just loses the impact it was trying to make through the entire series!

    And concerning the previous books – there is NOTHING to state that Narnia (the one thw Snow Queen (or whoever she was) ruled over) was some kind of intermediary to any afterlife (it all comes across as some kind of dream/parallel universe).

    … The reason i call Chrisitanity *Folk-lore* is simply and honestly the point of the fact that NO ONE who is currently alive can state with any HARD evidence that ANY religion is REAL… Has ANYONE come back from the great beyond and presented themself to the entire world and stated **ALL IS REAL!!!**??? the honest answer would be OF COURSE NOT! (this does not mean i refuse to beleive any of it, because i actually do beleive in some kind of here-after just not nessacarilllay **spelling** a religious one!

    The final ending let me down SOOOOOOO much!

    • Nathan says:

      I have to wonder if Lewis had the idea of Narnia being destroyed and replaced from the beginning. Since it’s part of Biblical theology, it’s certainly possible, but the details do seem a little lazy when he actually does it.

  10. Pingback: The Great Dust-Up | VoVatia

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