Further concerning Susan's "distractions" in The Last Battle, I also interpreted her focus on materialistic things as a coping mechanism. I read an article once, I forget where, that said that Susan, due to the lack of a certain security in herself, didn’t possess her siblings’ faith in Narnia. Even while they were there, she was always concerned with what, to her, was most “grown up,” (which in itself is not a very mature thing to do). This insecurity, while harmless and sometimes helpful (1/3)
prevented her from building the same faith and resolve in Narnia that her sister and brothers were able to maintain. Like a child, she was driven by a desire for permanence, as well as for something that fulfilled her idea of what was most “grown up.” In Narnia’s physical, incontrovertible absence, she strove to fill the hole it left, and subdue her insecurities that told her she was very silly for having kept up an imaginary game for so long, with material things like “lipsticks and invitations” that the physical, incontrovertible world she was living in there and then approved of as “grown up.” My two cents anyway, and I agree with you about Lewis’s choices of distraction. It was nothing sexist, merely appropriate to the person he was writing about.
Thank you for adding this, anon!! I never considered, as a child, whether Susan was trying to fill the gap left by Narnia, but it seems to be a universally accepted conclusion and one that’s hard to escape.
I’m just going to leave this snippet from the end of Prince Caspian here:
“This way,” said Susan, who seemed to know all about it. “Back into the trees. We’ve got to change.”
“Change what?” asked Lucy.
“Our clothes, of course,” said Susan. “Nice fools we’d look on the platform of an English station in these.”
“But our other things are at Caspian’s castle,” said Edmund.
“No, they’re not,” said Peter, still leading the way into the thickest wood. “They’re all here. They were brought down in bundles this morning. It’s all arranged.”
“Was that what Aslan was talking to you and Susan about this morning?” asked Lucy.
“Yes—that and other things,” said Peter, his face very solemn. “I can’t tell it to you all. There were things he wanted to say to Su and me because we’re not coming back to Narnia.”
“Never?” cried Edmund and Lucy in dismay.
“Oh, you two are,” answered Peter. “At least, from what he said, I’m pretty sure he means you to get back some day. But not Su and me. He says we’re getting too old.”
“Oh, Peter,” said Lucy. “What awful bad luck. Can you bear it?”
“Well, I think I can,” said Peter. “It’s all rather different from what I thought. You’ll understand when it comes to your last time. But, quick, here are our things.”
At the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when Lucy and Edmund receive their walking papers, we get some insight into that unseen conversation.
“Dearest,” said Aslan very gently, “you and your brother will never come back to Narnia.”
“Oh, Aslan!!” said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.
“You are too old, children,” said Aslan, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.”
“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”
“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are – are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.
“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This is the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
The Pevensies have a purpose in their own world which might, in the scheme of things, be greater even than the one they serve in Narnia. They have to bring what they have learned in Narnia into the ordinary business of their everyday lives.
It’s clear from the way he speaks, after he learns this, that Peter is sad - but he can bear it, because he understands it. He has begun to catch on to the fact that Aslan is not one thing in one place only. (Susan, by contrast, is a little brisk. Throwing her emotions on the subject aside, intent only on getting back into her ordinary clothes and not embarrassing herself on the train platform. Foreshadowing?)
By the time we see Lucy in The Last Battle, she, too, has come to know Aslan by his true name: "In our world, too, a Stable once held something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”
They were supposed to become closer to their own world; those were their instructions. By never making the adjustment, Susan becomes more, not less, detached from her surroundings. Not only has she failed to find Aslan in our world, she’s now willing to deny that she ever found him anywhere else.
A lot of people see the loss of Susan’s siblings as a punishment. “A god who would punish me for liking nylons and parties by making me walk through that school dining room, with the flies, to identify Ed, well … he’s enjoying himself a bit too much, isn’t he?” says an older woman who may or may not be Miss Pevensie in Neil Gaiman’s utterly sickening short story The Problem of Susan. “Like a cat, getting the last ounce of enjoyment out of a mouse.” I couldn’t agree more, if the train accident were a punishment. But Susan, you must remember, never did what she had to do in the real world–whatever that was. She’s still got a life left to live. Possibly a very long one.
And she’s the representative of her family on Earth. Father Christmas gave Susan her horn because she was the most doubtful and frightened of her siblings. In contrast to Lucy, whose bottle of healing cordial makes her the helper everyone is looking for, Susan’s horn ensures that she will always be able to find help–someone will come to her assistance if she needs it. Aslan has taken a special and deliberate care of her. It’s fascinating, then, that when another person uses the horn, it’s Susan herself, with her siblings, who comes to the rescue. And that’s my hope for Susan in the Shadowlands, that she goes from being aided to giving aid. There might be hundreds of people in the real world who need her. Short of a quick trip to Narnia, is there a better fate than to be the answer to everyone’s prayers, to be the one who comes at the summons of the horn?
The horn which, by the way, Caspian kept at Susan’s own insistence. Lewis leaves the door wide open for her to rejoin the others. But not until the time is right.