01. All This Beauty - The Weepies 02. Suddenly I See - KT Tunstall 03. Hammer and a Nail - The Indigo Girls 04. 32 Flavors - Ani DiFranco 05. Winter for A Year - Arcade Fire 06. Near Wild Heaven - REM 07. Hey Snow White - The New Pornographers 08. After The Fall - October Project 09. Enough of Me - Melissa Etheridge 10. I Have Lost My Dreams - Dar Williams 11. I’ll Try - Jonatha Brooke 12. Warning Sign - Coldplay 13. In The Sun - Joseph Arthur 14. Never Die Young - Lori McKenna 15. Other Side of the World - KT Tunstall 16. Life Is Short - Butterfly Boucher 17. Crystal Ball - Pink 18. Watershed - The Indigo Girls 19. Blackbird - Doves 20. Four Winds - The Killers 21. Adventures in Solitude - The New Pornographers
It’s 1952 in Oxford University, and Susan Pevensie is leaving the Lady Margaret Hall library for the last time.
Her classmates will be sorry to see her go - ask any of them “Who’s the young woman with dark hair and a blue coat?” and they’ll say “what, you don’t know Susan Pevensie? You must be new.”
But most of her friends don’t actually know that much about her. They’ll agree that she’s compassionate and charismatic, “and brighter than you’d think she’d have a right to be, with looks like hers - how come she gets beauty and brains?” but nobody knows anything about her childhood. Or her family.
“She’s lost someone,” says a first-year student with a permanent air of exam-induced panic, “she came here on an inheritance from somebody, and I’ll bet anything it’s her parents because she never talks about them, but we’ve all lost someone, you know? From the war or not, it doesn’t matter. Nobody’s going to make her talk.”
She’s graduating head of her class with a degree in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics; she wants to change the world, but really who expects her to do that? There’s a Queen on the throne and a dozen-odd women in Parliament, and many think that’s enough. She’ll make the perfect wife for some politician or businessman, at least while she’s young and pretty enough to be seen and not heard.
The shadows are chilly and long this time of year, so she almost misses the older woman leaving the Principal’s office, but the other woman steps directly into her path.
“Hello, Miss Pevensie,” she says. “I’m Agent Peggy Carter. How would you feel about a job in America?”
Maybe some time you could talk about Susan and what it would be like if she didn't desert Narnia
How about we talk about what might have happened if Narnia hadn’t deserted Susan?
What if, instead of sending a stag to lead them astray, the Pevensies had been given time to end their first rule– to have finished their reports, their negotiations and treaties, that letter in the bureau Lucy was half-done penning to Mrs. Beaver to thank her for the fruitcake and to ask about her grandchildren.
They had lived there more than a decade then, grown from children to kings and queens, to brave young adults with responsibility heavy on their shoulders. They had lived through storms and wars, peace and joy, lost friends to battle and old age and distance. They had made a home. What if they had been given time to say good-bye?
What if we didn’t tell Susan she had to go grow up in her own world and then shame and punish her for doing just that? She was told to walk away and she went. She did not try to stay a child all her life, wishing for something she had been told she couldn’t have again.
There is nothing wrong with Lucy loving Narnia all her life, refusing an adulthood she didn’t want for a braver, brighter one she built herself. But there is also nothing wrong with Susan trying to find something new to fall in love with, something that might love her back.
You can build things in lipsticks and nylons, if you don’t mind getting a few runs in them. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be pretty, especially when pretty is the only power left to you.
Let’s talk about being the last one left. No, really, think about it. You get a call in the middle of the night, in the little flat you can just barely afford, and you are told there has been an accident.
Think about it, that moment– you scramble over everyone you know, everyone you love, and try to figure out where they all are that night. There are things rushing in your gut, your fingertips, your lungs, your ears– there are words in your ears as the tinny, sympathetic voice starts to tell you: it is everyone.
They were on a train. Something went wrong. They probably died instantly. A rushing sound. A bright light. (You try to imagine it, for years. You try not to think about it. You imagine it, for years–a rushing sound, a bright light.)
Your little sister, who you always felt the most responsible for, who you never understood, really– Your big brother, who disapproved of your choices but loved you with a steadiness you could never regret leaning into– Your little brother, a smug and arrogant ass except for the days when he drowned in self doubt– Ed was going to go far and you knew it, were waiting for it, were shoring up your defenses and your eye rolls for the days when he’d think he ruled the world–
Your mother is gone. Your father, with his stuffy cigar smell and big hands and the way he got distracted telling stories– he is gone. Your cousin Eustace, who suddenly lost that stick in his ass one summer. That friend of his, Jill, who you’d never actually quite met. Gone. A rushing sound. A bright light.
Go on. Walk through this with me. You can’t sleep all night long, because you still can’t understand it, still can’t quite breathe in a world where you are the last Pevensie. You finally fade sometime between midnight and dawn and when you wake up you don’t remember for half a second. You think ugh and you think sunshine why and then you remember that you are an orphan, an only child. You remember there probably isn’t anyone else to handle the funeral arrangements.
Get up. Make tea. Forget to eat breakfast and feel nauseous and empty all day. Call the people who need to be called. Your work, to ask for the time off. The mortuary, to ask about closed caskets. Distant relations. Friends. Edmund’s girlfriend and Peter’s boss. You listen to Lucy’s friends weep hysterics into the phone while you stare out the kitchen window and drink your fourth cup of tea. You call Professor Diggory, out at the old house with the wardrobe that started it all, and it rings and rings. You don’t find out for three days that he died in the train crash too. When you do, you stare at the newspaper article. You think of course.
You are twenty one years old. You have ruled a kingdom, fought and won and prevented wars, survived exile and school and your first day as a working woman. Nothing has ever felt worse than this. You have a necklace in your dresser you meant to give your mother, because she loves rubies and this glass is painted a nice ruby red and it is all you can afford on your tiny wages.
Excuse me, a correction: she loved rubies. She is dead. You never wear the necklace. You cry yourself to sleep for weeks. The first night you don’t cry, the first morning you wake up rested, you feel guilty. You wonder if that will live in the pit of your stomach all your life and you don’t know. The years reach out in front of you, miles and eons of loss. You are on the very shore of this grief and you do not know how you will survive feeling like this for the rest of your life. But you will survive it.
Get up. Make tea. Make yourself eat breakfast. Make plans with a school friend to do lunch. Go to work and try to bury yourself in the busyness of it. Remember that you’d promised to lend Peter a hand with some task or other, but you don’t even remember what it was– Collapse. Hide in the bathroom until you’re breathing again. Redo your makeup and leave work the moment your shift is over. Drop your nylons and your sweater and your heels in the apartment hallway. Fall into bed and pull the covers over your head.
Get up. Make tea. Eat. Don’t think about them for weeks. Don’t feel guilty when you remember. Feel proud. Spend an indulgent weekend in your pajamas, reading Lucy’s favorite novel and making Ed’s favorite cookies and remembering the way your mother smelled and how it always made you feel safe. Love them and miss them and mourn them. Keep breathing. Cry, but wash your face after in cool water. Wake in the morning to birdsong and spend three hours making breakfast just the way you like it.
Imagine the next birthday, the next Christmas, the next time you hit one of those days that herald the passage of time, that tell you how much you’ve grown and how much they haven’t.
Lucy, Peter, and Edmund will be at the same height for the rest of your life. Lucy will always be seventeen for the second time. You see, you think you know, when you lose them, what the dagger in you feels like. But it grows with you, that ache. You grow with it, too, learn how to live with that at your side but it grows, that ache, finds new ways to twist–
At the first friend’s wedding you go to, you cry because it’s lovely, those two smiling and promising and holding hands– but you also cry because you wonder what Lucy would have looked like in white, joyous and smiling and promising the rest of her life to a boy who deserved her.
Go on. You tell me if Susan deserted a world or if a whole life deserted her. You tell me who was left behind.
So yes, let’s talk about it– what if Narnia hadn’t deserted Susan? What if lipstick and nylons were things worn and not markers of worth?
What if we had a story that told little girls they could grow up to be anything they wanted– all of Lucy’s glory and light, Susan’s pretty face and parties, the way Jill could move so quiet and quick through the trees?
Because you know, some of those little girls? They were the little mothers, too old for their age, who worried and wondered, who couldn’t believe like Lucy or charge like Jill. Susan was reasonable, was hesitant and beautiful and gentle, was pretty and silly and growing up, and for it she was lost. She was left. And when Susan was left, so were they.
The little girls who worried louder than they loved, who were nervous about climbing trees and who would never run after the mirage of a lion, who looked at the pretty women in the grocery store and wondered if they would grow up pretty too– some of them looked at their little clever doubting hands, after they read Peter and Eustace and Jill scoffing at Susan’s vanities, and they wondered what they were worth.
Imagine a Narnia that believed in all of them. Imagine a Narnia that believed in adult women, lipsticked or not. Imagine Susan teaching Jill how to string a bow, arms straining. Imagine her brushing blush on Lucy’s cheeks, the first time Lu went out walking with a boy she was considering falling in love with. Imagine that when the last door to Narnia was shut, there was not a sister left behind.
I don’t think that Edmund, Peter, and Lucy were upset about Susan not going to Aslan’s Country with them.
Hear me out. Aslan’s Country is supposed to be Lewis’s Narnian equivalent of Heaven. In the Bible, Heaven is described as being a place of eternal life and happiness where there is no misery or sorrow. Aslan says in the last book “You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be” (can’t give the exact page number because I’m using my ebook but it’s on the last page of the book). Aslan’s Country is meant to be this land of eternal happiness, this eternal happily ever after. The Pevensies have an eternity to go on adventures and meet people from the past and learn new languages and do so many things and have all the time in the world to do so. So, they’d be a bit too distracted to worry about their sister.
But, I feel like the most likely reason as to why they wouldn’t be too upset about Susan not being with them is because they had faith in Susan. They believed that Susan never truly forgot about Narnia, she was just hurt about being sent back to England - and they understood that. They, too, had been hurt by being sent back to England when their only wish had been to remain in Narnia. They understood that Susan’s coping mechanism was to push all thoughts of Narnia out of her mind. As someone with anxiety, I, personally, find it much more helpful to push all negative thoughts out and act like my problems don’t exist instead of actually dealing with them. While not the healthiest route, it definitely is the easiest.
By “forgetting” Narnia, Susan doesn’t have to deal with those emotions of betrayal and hurt because, in her mind, there’s nothing to feel betrayed or hurt about. Peter, Edmund, and Lucy are all very perceptive people, I would be surprised if they weren’t aware of the truth behind her “forgetting” Narnia.
They all felt betrayed and hurt by Aslan for pushing them out, but Edmund, Lucy, and Peter all eventually realized that it’s a test of their faith. I don’t necessarily believe that Aslan himself was testing their faith in him but I do believe that being pushed out of Narnia multiple times was their test of faith. Peter, Edmund, and Lucy were just able to overcome those doubts in Narnia and Aslan and come out with an even stronger faith. Susan, someone who had had doubts since the beginning, only had her faith crumble.
But there’s this sense of anger to her that her siblings probably noticed. Lewis said himself that he had been angry at God for not existing which was his argument for turning to atheism. Susan is going through that same process. She’s angry, she’s hurt, and it’s worse because she’s so blinded by her anger and despair that she doesn’t see her siblings going through the same process as her which makes her feel worse.
In all of her claiming to “forget” Narnia, it’s pretty obvious that she remembers. Her siblings know that she remembers. And while the other Friends of Narnia may believe that Susan is a lost cause, Susan’s siblings don’t. Peter, Edmund, and Lucy are the only ones to not say anything about Susan and her disbelief in Narnia (except for Peter’s “She’s no longer a friend of Narnia” which he says in a more disappointed manner than anything). Her siblings are disappointed that Susan turned her back on Narnia, but they still have faith in her. They believe that she will eventually return to her belief in Narnia, only that time it will be stronger than ever.
Nobody understood Susan better than her own siblings. They knew that they couldn’t force her to believe in Narnia, she had to do it herself. She couldn’t be forced into believing in Narnia, she had to come willingly - and her siblings understood that, too. And they knew that her “forgetting” wouldn’t last very long. She would come around, she just had to do it in her own time.
So, no, I don’t believe that her siblings were ever very upset over Susan not coming to Narnia with them during their deaths. It was never a matter of “if” but rather a matter of when she would join them in Aslan’s Country.
what about susan who got married and had a child while in narnia, and then returned to england as a child, a whole life and family left behind?
That Susan? That Susan does not embitter herself, does not brick her heart off, does not doubt like it’s a lifeline– not yet. She yanks open the wardrobe’s doors as soon as she finds her balance, shoves through the fur coats and mothballs, and slams into the solid back of it. She shuts the wardrobe and opens it; locks it and unlocks it; throws all the coats on the floor; gets wood splinters under her fingernails from trying to get through the back of it.
It is one things to lose a home, and it is another to lose a child. I don’t think she would ever stop looking.
Her little girl couldn’t have been more than four or five. Did she have Lucy’s cheeks? Edmund’s wit? Peter had been her favorite aunt or uncle, because he had been so patient with her. He had been teaching her to read.
Susan dredges up every arcane idea she’d ever heard whispered in Narnia, about its magic, about its origins, anything that might lead to a way back. She researches the wardrobe, its make, its history. She drags its purchase papers out of a sympathetic Professor Diggory, who has never had children and who does not understand, especially not with Susan’s present pubescent face glaring up at him.
When they send her back to her parents, when the war ends, she kisses her mother on the cheek and then runs away from home, to go find the wardrobe manufacturers, to find supposed occultists in cheap little flats that smell of garlic, to bury herself in library stacks.
And what about the child? Her mother, aunt, and uncles all gone on a single afternoon. Susan’s daughter was just learning to read, and now she is crowned princess heir. She has beaver nannies and centaur tutors, and she has stories about how beautiful her mother had been.
The last thing she had seen of her mother had been her riding away through Cair Paravel’s gate, long dark braid whipping behind her. She is afraid of horses all her life, but she rides them anyway when she is old enough. It would not do for a queen to seem frightened.
Her father is the sort of verybminor foreign royalty who had farmed his own little plot of land way out in the backcountry. They had needed to make an alliance, but for all Susan’s practicalities that was one place she remained– what was it exactly? Faithful. Childish. Stubborn. She wanted to marry for love, and she had.
But Susan disappears, the queen and king and high king with her, and her husband gets pulled out of tending his private vegetable garden to be his only daughter’s regent. He tries to keep her separate but teach her what she needs to know, all at once, so Susan’s child grows up with that weight on her shoulders early.
She does not know it, because the court artists always painted her mother smiling, but those stiff shoulders are one of the best connections she will ever have with her mother– Susan had been made the little mother too early, too, the one relied upon, who worried and herded and doubted because no one else was going to do it. Her child is a little queen, looking out and out over the acres of land and knowing what she owes this quiet piece of the world.
She rules in peace and in war, neither Gentle or Valiant but instead Wise. Her name is spoken with love and praise, and she raises her own children to be just, to be valiant, to be gentle, to be magnificent.
Susan has still not given up looking when her own horn calls her home to Narnia. It has been more than a year for her. It has been hundreds for her home. Cair Paravel might be overgrown, unrecognizable. It might be recently abandoned. It might still be thriving, vibrant, alive.
But this is what matters: Susan walks up to a high green hill and all the old standing stones propped up on its ridge.
She finds her husband’s name and drops wild daisies on his grave. She finds her daughter’s grave. She traces the dates of her rule, of her life, and she drops down and weeps.
They save Narnia, again, from invaders and war, and Aslan sends them back to England.
When she forgets about Narnia, seventeen and widowed, seventeen and her child grown and buried and unknown and decomposed– when Susan forgets about Narnia it will be, more than ever, an act of self defense.
Alternatively: Susan manages to shake news of the rings out of Professor Diggory.
She and whichever of her siblings wants to most stumble back onto Narnian soil: Peter wouldn’t leave the two younger kids alone in England; Edmund loves Narnia as much as anyone, still feels like he’s repaying it debts that it’s already forgiven him for, but Lucy has been crying since she crashed back down on her skinny knees on the upstairs bedroom floor in the Professor’s old country house. So it’s Lucy and Susan who take the rings, then. They kiss their brothers, their co-monarchs, on their cheeks and they go.
The girls hike with younger, childish muscles to Cair Paravel, their limbs growing and strengthening in the Narnian air, remembering themselves. They will not reach their exact old heights, not for years, but they are home and that is enough to send them sprinting and dancing and crying as they travel old known paths.
Susan is smaller and her child is older, closer to grown, but they slam into each other’s open arms as soon as they see each other in that royal courtyard– however close in size they get, her mother’s arms will always be the safest place she knows.
Lucy and Susan retake their crowns. Susan curls up in the warmth of her husband’s arm, buries her face in his shoulder, and tries to inhale every year she missed. He gives them to her in stories at the breakfast table for years, in ecstatic descriptions of carrot crops missed out on and fields of grain unseen. Narnian agriculture has seen a boost in the years of his regency.
There are years of Susan’s daughter’s life that she missed, and she grasps what she can of them in recollection and anecdote. She tells them about the desperation, much more amusing now, with which she searched for them. She and her daughter build something new between them, these two daughters of Eve. Lucy still gives the best piggy-back rides even when Susan’s daughter is almost of a height with her.
Lucy and Susan reign well–valiant and gentle, blinding faith and practical doubt. When Susan’s daughter is old enough, Lucy and Susan forfeit her their crowns and stay on as advisers. They never hunt stag again, but even as an eighty year old Lucy hobbles her way down to Mrs. Beaver’s daughter’s little house for tea and to hold baby beavers in her wise old lap.
When Peter and Edmund get yanked back into Narnia from a train stop, Susan’s old horn is not being blown by a Calormene named Caspian.
Susan is buried on a high green hill, Lucy on one side and her husband and daughter on the other. Their granddaughters and grandsons are scattered over the hill, and Peter and Ed do not even know their names.
The stones are worn by strong wind and long decades. They are overgrown with small white flowers. The boys will go up there, later, and they will cry like the earth is still dark and fresh over each of those graves. For them, it is.
But Cair Paravel is not overgrown, destroyed, or forgotten. It is centuries older and Peter and Ed do not recognize the new additions, the court fashions, or even some of the words whispered by the gathered crowd.
They do recognize the crinkled eyes on the young queen standing crowned and patient before them, a horn in her hands. She has Edmund’s best quirked grin, and they will learn she has Lucy’s talent at speech-making and Peter’s at tactics. They recognize her long dark hair.
“And Susan grew into a tall and gracious woman with black hair that fell almost to her feet and the kings of the countries beyond the sea began to send ambassadors asking for her hand in marriage. And she was called Susan the Gentle.”