Why Susan Can’t Come Home
By Lia Harrison
**Spoilers – LWW and The Last Battle**
Those who have read all of the Chronicles, particularly The Last Battle, know that Narnia as we know it comes to an end and that all of the heroes and heroines from all of the stories unite in the “real Narnia,” which compares to the Narnia of the tales in the way that the real world compares to Aristotle’s cave, with one notable exception. When meeting the children from the other world, Tirian brings Susan’s absence to the high king’s attention. Peter replies simply that “Susan is no longer a friend to Narnia.”
This, obviously, is the reason that Susan is not there. Taking this statement out of context, we wonder what it means. After all, Susan fought in the battle that led to the defeat of the White Witch, the embodiment of evil and Narnia’s greatest foe, and was for a time and thus forever Queen of Narnia (“Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen.”). If that’s not enough, what is required to be a friend to Narnia?
We find, though, with some elaboration from Eustace, Jill, and Polly that Susan has changed. Even after they went back to England, Peter, Edmund, and Lucy still remembered as they grew older, as did Eustace and Jill. Even Digory and Polly who were given more time to forget than all of them remembered and waited for the time when they could return to Narnia. Susan, however, overpowered by the world of the “Shadow-Lands” around her, stopped believing. Polly said of this, “She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age.” Lewis is commenting on the tendency of people to fix upon the world around us and our time on Earth instead of concentrating on our eternal souls and our time after this life. Susan has become so deeply immersed in her world of “nylons and lipstick and invitations” that she ceases to believe that Narnia and Aslan even exist, just as many people don’t believe that Heaven and Jesus–as he is to the Christian religions–do not exist. Eustace recalls her saying at the mention of Narnia, “What wonderful memories you all have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.”
Then we wonder how a queen of Narnia could stop believing. If we pay close attention when we read, we find that Susan’s faith is not as strong as that of her siblings nor is her willpower. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, she seeks a course of action from the others. When talking with the professor about Lucy’s presumed lies or possible madness and upon first entering Narnia, her question is, “What do we do?” When she does have an opinion, it leans toward caution and safety. She advises against continuing into Narnia when they find the news of Mr. Tumnus’ arrest, and she advises against continuing the hunt of the White Stag–the success of which being rewards limited only by the borders of the imagination–upon encountering the lamp-post and the strange feeling of what lies beyond it. In Prince Caspian, she advises against the exploration of the unfamiliar land and against clearing out and exploring the building they find even in the face of the realization that it is the ruins of their own Cair Paravel. She tends to follow the others because her preference for the safety of numbers overrides her preference for the safety of the known. In The Horse and His Boy, she does not even go to fight the invading Calormenes. By this time, she is “not like Lucy, you know, who’s as good as a man, or at any rate as good as a boy. Queen Susan is more like any ordinary grown-up lady. She doesn’t ride to the wars, though she is an excellent archer.” Not only does this preface what we learn later about Susan concerning herself more with clothes and boys than Narnia, but it calls into question the depth of her devotion for Narnia. We know that it’s possible for all of the kings and queens to leave the castle at one time because they all go to hunt the White Stag at the end of LWW, but Susan will not even go to defend a country against a warring party that is advancing toward her own Narnia. Even her gift from Father Christmas in LWW is a distance weapon. Both Peter and Edmund wield swords, requiring them to be in the midst of any battle. Lucy carries her vial of healing potion that requires her to tend the victims. Susan, however, receives a horn and a bow and arrows. Both allow her quite a bit of distance from the events that affect the future of a country she is to rule. Therefore, it’s not terribly surprising that, of the four, she is the one who stops believing.
Still, though, she had done much for Narnia. This then begs the question, what makes this crime so awful that she cannot join the others in their final and greatest adventure? It’s considerably more passive than Eustace’s selfish and dishonest behavior upon his arrival in this world in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and, as a crime against Narnia, is not even in the same league as Edmund’s outright betrayal in LWW or Emeth the Calormene fighting against Narnia in the name of Tash (the antichrist) in LB. The difference is that each of these characters realizes the error of his ways and allows Aslan to fix them. After trying unsuccessfully to do it himself, Eustace allows Aslan to peel off his dragon skin. When Edmund joins his siblings on Aslan’s side, Aslan dies for Edmund’s sins. When the Calormene soldier recognizes the dishonesty that goes with serving Tash and the goodness that goes with serving Aslan, Aslan counts all the good deeds he’d done in the name of Tash as good deeds done in the name of Aslan. They realize the error of their ways, but Susan persists in her belief that Narnia is just make-believe. How can Aslan fix that?
Aslan shows us the answer to this question with the dwarfs in LB, who fight against everyone because they cannot see what is right in front of them. As a demonstration of what he can and cannot do, Aslan presents them with a “glorious feast” and “goblets of good wine,” and they only taste rotten vegetables and dirty water. He cannot fight free will, and the dwarfs, as well as Susan, have made their choice.
The Bible states in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” All that is required to be a “friend to Narnia” is belief, and, though she never opposes Aslan, Susan denies him, commiting the same betrayal Judas did.
Like the second coming of Jesus, Aslan comes to the “Shadow-lands” one final time to take the true believers to live happily in the “real Narnia” for eternity. Lewis is pointing out the falsehood in the commonly held belief that God is all-forgiving or that all sins are automatically forgiven because Jesus died. Realization of the wrong done and repentance for it are required before forgiveness can be given. No matter what kind and good things Susan has done or how good a person she may have been, she is left behind to face judgment because does not believe.
At this point, Susan cannot be redeemed. The way to the “real Narnia” is through the Narnia that we know of through the stories, and that Narnia is ended. If there were another way, Lewis would have mentioned it as he mentioned that the end of LWW was the end of the wardrobe but the beginning of Narnia. It could be said that Susan’s siblings along with Eustace, Jill, Digory, and Polly had to go to fight that last battle of Narnia, but why the Pevensie parents, as well? They all had to go because it was their last chance. Aslan gave Peter the order to shut the Door. Then Peter “took out a golden key and locked it.”