By Alexis Record
“Susan should be there too! No, wait, that would mean getting killed in the train. Never mind.”
“Her getting to live is supposed to be a punishment. She gets left behind.”
“Yeah, she misses out on dying! Don’t sign me up for that!”
“Would you want to go to Narnia heaven?”
“Only if all my friends and family could come, too. And only if I could come back home later.”
“That’s probably what most people would want.”
“Not these brainwashed kids! They’re just so happy when Aslan does anything that they don’t care about anyone or anything else!”
Eustace has already been thrown into the stable; next, Jill gets thrown in by her hair. Lastly Tirian is cornered by the captain of the Calormenes and they fight right into the doorway of the stable. At the last moment Tirian grabs the captain and they both go through the wooden doors. A deafening noise, an earthquake, and a bright light appear. It’s over. The door of the stable has eaten them.
When Tirian recovered enough to remember who he was, he noticed he was outdoors. There was bright sunlight and grass. The door to the stable stood in a field, alone and unattached; Tirian could even walk completely around it. Yet a glimpse through the crack in the wood showed the nighttime stars, the Calormenes soldiers standing around, and the bonfire all still there. Seven years after The Last Battle gave us a stable with an “inside [that’s] bigger than its outside” (a line said by Digory in the next chapter), a TV series produced in the same country would introduce us to a Time Lord with a TARDIS that’s “bigger on the inside.” Coincidence? Or do we owe Lewis some credit for inspiring a major aspect of the longest-running television series of all time?
Queen Lucy follows up the whole “bigger than its outside” line by saying, “In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” Then everyone gagged on the blatant Jesus preaching. (Or maybe just me.) Little Bit was confused by this line and kept waiting for it to be explained. It never was. I asked if she knew what it meant after the chapter was over.
I just figured everything is going to be weird now.”
(Spoiler: Everything is indeed going to be weird now.)
The Calormene captain has no time to enjoy himself in this new world since his god, Tash, comes for him. The book mentions how terrified the captain was when he began to suspect that the demon was real. It was too late for this unbeliever. (That’ll teach him for all that willful unbelief!) Tash even gets this dopey line (speaking with his beak mouth I guess) about having been called there. I expected some demon screams or something, but we get the queen’s English, doubtless to drive home the point people call demons with their actions.
Tash scoops the captain up to take him away and no one tries to stop him. Instead we hear a voice say, “Begone, Monster, and take your lawful prey to your own place: in the name of Aslan and Aslan’s great Father, the Emperor-over-Sea.”
(No no no! Gods don’t get to own people. That’s wrong. This thinking is backwards and shameful and devalues human life.)
My childhood church taught that something similar would happen to my unbelieving relatives as they were thrown into fire and I happily played with Jesus. Now I realize it would be pretty psychotic to not only allow my loved ones to be tortured forever, but to be happy and cheerful about it since there’s “no sorrow, no concern” in Heaven according to Revelation 21:4. (Four verses later is the part about people being thrown into Hell—literally four verses removed from a happy, feel-good verse that churches quote all the time.)
The speaker who invoked Jesus and God (Aslan and the Emperor) was none other than dead Peter, the dead high king of Narnia. He was there with dead Edmund, dead Lucy, dead Jill, dead Eustace, dead Digory, and dead Polly—the gang from the dining table that Tirian once visited as a ghostly apparition. They were dressed in royal clothes with crowns, and Polly’s beauty was restored. I imagine Digory’s wrinkles and grey hairs also vanished, but since he’s fully human (read: male) and not some object that always has to be pretty (read: female) it doesn’t get emphasized.
(Dead) Tirian realizes that his own attire has changed, and the blood and sweat has disappeared. He greets everyone and asks where Susan was.
“’My sister Susan,’ answered Peter shortly and gravely, ‘is no longer a friend of Narnia.’”
Then several of the royal party start in with the trash talking. Eustace says Susan never wants to come to their Narnia meetings anymore. (Waaaaaaah.) Jill says Susan is only interested in “nylons and lipstick and invitations” (we’ll return to this) and is “too keen on being grown-up.” Um, so? Then Polly chimes in that Susan loves being mature and couldn’t wait to become a young adult and now wants to enjoy it for as long as possible. As if that is a bad thing!
Yep the girl totally deserves rejection by Aslan. What an evil woman!
(Keep in mind that the thing Susan misses out on is dying violently in a train crash. Children are supposed to be jealous of those who die. I couldn’t wait to die. This life, the one we know for sure we have, is just a blip, I was told.)
Peter must step in to prevent this petty dogpile and get them all to talk about something else. Gossip and judgement will be a major thing in heaven, apparently.
In Christian theology it’s sin that keeps you from God. (Isaiah 59:2; 2 Thess 1:9) So what sin did Lewis imply Susan committed? It seems she grew up. Worse, though. She grew up into a woman.
Lewis once wrote to a child reader about Susan’s fate. He told the child that Susan was a “silly, conceited young woman.” But he adds that there’s “plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end.”
Mend what exactly? The sin of silliness? What even is that? Or is it the sin of acting in a way Lewis doesn’t prefer? (A good life goal for any person.)
Philip Pullman in an interview with Laura Miller wonders, “Where are the nice women of childbearing age? […] There was a level on which of course [Susan] doesn’t get to heaven because she’s just like the witches, and they wear dresses and they’re pretty.”
My daughter recently saw a cartoon with Poison Ivy in it and declared with no small amount of reverence, “One of her powers is kissing people to death!” Before I could react (kids sure keep you on your toes) she added, “Can I wear lipstick to school?” Her excitement about wearing something that would make her feel powerful was palpable. What could I say? Deny my child a killer look? (Heh.) We have no rules against adding color to hair, body, or clothing (this applies to all genders in my home), so I agreed. (Although I did have a talk with her about kissing… and killing.)
It was Little Bit’s first-time wearing lipstick. When she got to school, one of her girlfriends responded in a tone of pure judgment, “You’re wearing lipstick? Really?” To this young girl, lipstick was forbidden for kids her age since her parents had taught her it was sexual. It couldn’t be colorful or fun or anything else. Like the male creators of Poison Ivy, female lips were dangerous. And female sexuality? Now that’s just darn right scary! Any hint of it is anathema. This kind of repression turns a ten-year old with a thin line of “Pink & Proper” across her lip into a scandal.
In The Problem of Susan, a short story by Neil Gaiman, we get to see how life was like for Susan after the events of The Last Battle. She has dreams of “bodies on the grass” from the battle with the White Witch. She remembers seeing throats slit and flies on the corpses. In Gaiman’s story Susan is now a retired professor and an eager young journalist is interviewing her about her life’s work in literature. Gaiman’s Susan answers Lewis’ absurd charge of vanity when she tells her interviewer there was no “opportunity for nylons and lipsticks” when she found herself destitute without caretakers. She went on to talk about another hard aspect to finding herself the sole survivor: identifying her family’s bodies. When the interviewer gets a bit flippant about the experience, Susan responds:
“There were a lot of people dead in that crash. I was taken to a nearby school, it was the first day of term, and they had taken the bodies there. My older brother looked okay. Like he was asleep. The other two were a bit messier. […] I remember thinking what a great deal of damage a train can do, when it hits another train, to the people who were travelling. I suppose you’ve never had to identify a body, dear?”
When the journalist says no, Susan continues:
“My younger brother was decapitated, you know. 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? Like a cat, getting the last ounce of enjoyment out of a mouse.”
Now, nylons and lipsticks are not only signs of vanity, but more dangerously, they denote female sexuality. Neil Gaiman interprets, I believe correctly, that it’s Susan’s sexuality that keeps her from heaven. In response, Gaiman embraces that same sexuality in The Problem of Susan by having her happily recall her first sexual encounter or stare at a centaur’s penis, albeit in a dream.
Others have argued that it was only vanity, and not female sexuality, that condemned Susan. However, as Laura Miller points out:
“Bree’s vanity is a minor flaw in an otherwise good character, and Uncle Andrew’s pride runs much deeper than just a preoccupation with appearances. Although Susan is not yet damned and still has a chance to ‘mend,’ the implication, in both Lewis’s novel and the letter to his child reader, is that if she keeps on as she has been, preoccupied with feminine nonsense, this alone will be enough to bring her to a bad end. And that prompts a question: Why does Lewis consider an interest in lipstick, nylons, and invitations such an especially pernicious form of silliness? What makes these amusements so much worse than pipes and beer and “bawdy” with your buddies at the pub? Why is feminine triviality so much worse than its masculine counterpart?”
Miller’s question is a solid one since Lewis was known to enjoy pipes, beer, and bawdy (although some say his “bawdy” talk was rather tame). He obviously didn’t feel he must “mend” his ways to achieve the perfect deathly destination.
The women in Narnia of “childbearing age” as Pullman puts it, are boring, and often unnamed. They have to be boring; almost everything else is considered a sin.
Also, female sin means missing out on a heaven that’s filled with men. By the numbers, there are more men than women (and boys than girls) in the Narnia stories, and that also applies to the Narnia heaven. Having one less girl (or woman depending on how old she was at this point) is rather like salt in the wound. This highlights Christianity’s historical and major sexism problem. “God’s” inspired word even declares:
“One good man among a thousand I have found, but a woman among all those I have not found.” Ecclesiastes 7:28
Maybe the trick is to commit as many female sins as possible (like talking, teaching, or thinking) to avoid dying in a horrific accident orchestrated by Aslan/Jesus and going to a heaven populated by religious men and judgmental gossips.
September 22, 2018
Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at the Chronicles of Narnia