Sunday, September 6, 2015

Five Fandom Friday: The One Fandom Death I Never Got Over

Generally, when it comes to melodrama and death and such in stories, I have a heart of stone. Or, really, I don't, but 90% of the time deaths are written so poorly, especially in YA and typical fannish stuff, that any emotional impact is lost and I'm left more annoyed at this crap, overrated writing than crying into my beer.

There are deaths that make me angry, though. Really, really, really angry.

The One True Bullshit Death for me—the one that will never fail to make me rage—is Susan Pevensie.

"But wait!" you're saying. "Susan Pevensie survives. Her siblings are the ones that die in that subway Underground accident!"

No, you're right. Susan Pevensie doesn't die. Instead, she suffers a fate worse than death: complete and utter character assassination. Also, getting shut out of Narnia is basically like dying—the rest of her siblings get to chill with Aslan and Reepicheep and Caspian forever, now that they're dead, but when Susan finally dies she will....not go to Narnia? Which I guess in C. S. Lewis's kiddie theology means she's...stuck in hell?

It's bullshit for so many reasons.

1. Susan's fall from grace is a hot, problematic mess. I won't call it "misogynistic" because I'm in a forgiving mood today, but it definitely has some shady attitudes towards "lady" things. Susan gets sniped at for being interested in nylons and make-up and meeting boys, what? As if there aren't "manly" interests someone can develop that are sneer-worthy? Her budding interest in lady things is directly connected to her disinterest in Narnia, which is certainly implying some things, Mr. Lewis.

2. It makes no fucking sense. While her siblings sometimes reminisce with each other about Narnia, Susan laughs it off as just some imaginary stuff they did as kids. How could anyone retcon their own experience like that? Maybe with something traumatic or terrible (it's a coping tactic that a lot of people use), but Narnia was baller. She was a queen! She went on adventures! She has absolutely no reason at all for wanting to forget that, or for wanting it not to be real. Beyond that, she was old enough that Narnia wasn't something that could be lost in that hazy unreal morass that is childhood memories. There is no way she could just be confused.

I can totally understand her not wanting people to think she and her family are loons and wanting them to keep the whole Narnia thing a secret except in trusted company, but the whole family already does that. They're already keeping their Narnia secret on the DL really well—there's no reason for her to need to laugh it off as a silly childhood game. Instead, it's her sister and brothers that she's talking to when she says, "Oh, yes, that silly imaginary game we played..."

So, C. S. Lewis decided to 1) make Susan an idiot, 2) shit on "womanly" interests just because, and 3) tear her away from her family.....why? For no good reason at all that I can see. Her falling away from Narnia and not returning for The Last Battle serves no particular plot purpose. There's no moment when someone goes, "OH MAN IF ONLY SUSAN AND HER HORN AND HER ARCHERY SKILLS WERE HERE." It just seems like a terrible little morality tale. Okay, yes, Narnia is all about morality tales, but they're usually more subtle than that.

Beyond that, pride and appearances and concern "fitting in" were never even core parts of Susan's temperament to begin with. Holding the Idiot Ball on Narnia's ontological status would be one thing if she had always been a bit vain, or a bit shallow, or a bit proud—but she never was.

Of course, it took me a long time to realize how and why this death was bullshit. When I first read The Last Battle, I was more disappointed that nearly all of the Pevensies were dead! That's also some bullshit writing—can't think of a better way to get them back to Narnia except to kill them? what???—but I mean, whatever. I could have bought that. I was a sensitive child who was gutted at the thought of characters I liked dying, I guess (I hadn't yet developed my heart of stone) even if from the book perspective they're not actually killed off at all. I didn't like it, but I pushed through.

There's something about the rest of the book that I just found to be uninspiring as well. The rest of the Narnia books were and are beloved childhood favorites and I would read them over and over. I read The Last Battle once, just so I could get the 100% completion rate, and then never again. The imagination, the world-building, the wonder just wasn't there.

It was only talking with other book nerds as an adult that I realized exactly what had happened and to what extent Lewis had assassinated her character. This has bothered other people, too—I know that Neil Gaiman wrote a short story about it, but I don't think I'll get around to reading it anytime soon. Instead, the Narnia books end after The Silver Chair in my headcanon. Too bad Lewis never wrote a seventh one, but six great books is still a pretty good run!



  1. Man, I haven't read the Narnia books in years and years and I honestly don't remember the later books:/ I can definitely say though that yeah, it seems pretty silly that C.S. Lewis had to strip Susan of her character. I wonder what purpose that served in his mind, if it wasn't apparent to the audience. I feel like I stopped enjoying the series after The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (in chronological order), but I'll have to go back and reread the books and see it I get as mad as you did:P

    1. I remember not liking The Silver Chair *as much* as everything else before it, but the transformation scene where the witch turns into a serpent caterpillar monster thing was pretty cool and even now I remember really liking it. But The Last Battle was just.....meh.

      I didn't give much thought to Susan's fate as a kid (I didn't pick up on the whole extended religious allegory until I was a teenager) but thinking back on it now leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Ugh!!