Queen Susan the Gentle from the Chronicles of Narnia is a round peg for a square hole. I say that as nicely as I can, for I have never been one to follow the crowd. But Susan Pevensie continues to surprise me, kind of like that onion that you peel and keeps getting bigger.
As a child, I didn’t pay Susan Pevensie from the Chronicles of Narnia much thought. I was too caught up with the battles, the quests, and the adventure. (Spoiler alert: If you haven’t read The Last Battle, here’s a twist you won’t see coming!) Honestly, when I read that she was no longer a friend of Narnia, I wrote her off. I selfishly wondered if I could take her place in Narnia. When I read the books for the second, third, and 100 millionth time, I simply ignored her.
My fault was to judge her on how we see her at the end of Narnia. Fixated on that, I never considered how she lived and ruled in Narnia. Now as an adult with children, I find myself pondering Susan and studying what we know of her. I now find Susan to be a far more integral and necessary part of Narnia than I ever thought.
I wonder what she did during those 15 years they lived in Cair Paravel. (Don’t you wish there was more stories during that time period?) But we do know that Peter was fighting giants in the North a lot. I can easily imagine that Edmund was with him on many of those battles. So Susan must have run the castle and even the country. And I would even venture to say that she did it very well. I don’t think Peter would have left if Narnia was in disarray. This leads me to wonder if Susan created the most change for the citizens of Narnia by being involved in their daily life.
C.S. Lewis has been greatly attacked for her character. Due to the line about makeup and not getting into Narnia, people have accused him of being sexist. However, the longer I ponder Susan, she seems to be one of the most complex characters of Narnia.
So I gleaned what little insight to her character or action I could from the three books she appears in. Let’s leave the information about her in The Last Battle for another day. As I looked at her time in Narnia, I found six things about Susan that makes her extremely different from her siblings. (Click here for a discussion on whether Susan was more powerful than Peter.)
1. Susan Pevensie was not a warrior.
Sorry, recent movie versions of Susan. I know you are trying to make her cooler, and I know she had excellent archer skills. But she didn’t like duels, contests, and battles. In Prince Caspian, it is stated that she didn’t like to see anyone lose. And remember, Lucy got the healing cordial, something very useful after a battle. Susan got a horn that she could use to call for help.
Now, some people think this is sexist. They say that she should be allowed to fight if she wants. But they never consider if Susan wanted to fight. You can hand me a shoe to kill a spider, but I still don’t want to kill it, even with the weapon in hand. I can, and have, killed my share, but it’s equally traumatic for both me and the spider, and we’re both probably quite glad when it’s over. And if someone more fitting is around (ie, my husband), he gets to kill it and clean it up. It’s not a sexist thing. It’s a “I hate spiders, and I don’t want to do it” thing.
More convincingly, in The Horse and His Boy, we meet Lucy in armor participating with the archers in battle. Now if the youngest sibling made the choice to go into battle, surely Susan could have made the same decision.
However, I personally think that Narnia had enough warriors. Susan’s role was unique and designed for her special gifts and talents. Forcing her into a warrior role is not freeing as some think but instead denying her the opportunity to become who she was meant to be. I wouldn’t want to be forced into something I didn’t want to do, even in Narnia.
2. Susan was a peacemaker.
Remember when I said Narnia didn’t need more warriors? Or when I said Susan had a unique role? Let me challenge you with a little Narnian quiz. Ready? Here we go.
How many people in Narnia can you name as a peacemaker?
Ignore the movies and go back to the books. Starting with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis shows us that Susan strives to make the peace between her siblings and others. In Chapter Five of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Susan is already stopping fights between Edmund and Peter.
In fact, in The Horse and His Boy, Susan is more upset about the danger to her people and the trouble she’s caused by accepting Rasadash’s invitation to his country than she is about losing a fiancé. Could it be that she hates conflict more than anything?
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why she didn’t like battles and duels because they go against her nature to make peace. It’s easy to overlook this skill because wars make better stories to read, but when it’s in action, wars stop and lives are saved.
3. She was a comforter.
When Aslan’s grief was the heaviest, Susan was there. She walked with Aslan when He was on his way to sacrifice himself. And through her grief, she comforts Lucy as they watched Aslan die and mourned through the night.
I refer this in my post about the strength of Susan. But again and again, we see Susan comforting the hurt.
4. She values cooperation.
In the movies, we see Susan arguing with decisions and strongly stating what she wanted to do. Yet as you read the books, you find Susan more often stating the situation that they are in and then asking, “What should we do?” She doesn’t push for her way or argue.
When the children are trying what to do after discovering that Tumnus has been taken by the White Witch, Peter asks for Susan’s opinion. She says, “I don’t want to go a step further and I wish we’d never come. But I think we must try to do something for Mr. Whatever his name is-I mean the Faun.”
She doesn’t fight the decision or push. Susan lets it be known that she really just wants to go home and then agrees to do the right thing.
5. Susan was also called gracious.
We know her as “The Gentle,” but gracious is also used in reference to her. Since our culture has lost the usage of this word, I looked it up. The synonyms are courteous, kind, pleasant. With the Christian definition in mind, you get words like merciful and compassionate.
Again, we value the warrior. However, when I think of our dearest friends, they are some of the nicest people we know. Please understand that I’m not trying to de-value the warrior. We need the soldiers, the policemen, the ones who fight against wrongs and protect what they love. But we also need the gentle, the courteous, and kind. We need mercy and compassion. Without them, there is little left to fight for.
6. She was a deep thinker.
We mark it up to being practical when Susan points out that they weren’t quite taking the coats out of the wardrobe, but I see it as a sign that Susan was the first to grasp what was happening. She does it again when she’s the first to realize that they can’t outrun the witch’s sled. Then she asks if Aslan can work against the Deep Magic, already thinking about how to save Edmund. It’s Susan who has the first thought that Aslan may steal away in the night, which leads them to find him walking to the Witch’s camp.
After the stone breaks and the girls find Aslan’s body gone, Susan asks, “What does it mean?” She asks it again after they find him alive. She’s searching for an answer, looking for the big picture. She knows something has happened, far more significant than anything she’s heard or seen before, but she can’t sort it out in her mind because it’s too big and too wonderful to even imagine.
When I finally saw this side of Susan’s character, I thought of Mary, the mother of Jesus. While we can write many things about Mary, there is one verse about her that has always stuck with me.
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19
In this world filled with brave knights and daring quests, C.S. Lewis places a girl in it – one who doesn’t want to fight like the others, one who doesn’t strive to be royalty, one who longs for her family to be safe, one who sees the answers to the mysteries quicker, one who holds her siblings and country together.
Suddenly I want to have tea with her. I want to sit and ask her opinions about mysteries not yet revealed. Now I understand Peter’s pain when he answered Tirian rather shortly that Susan wasn’t a friend of Narnia anymore. A large piece of what made Narnia great was missing. Although I believe that the loss was only temporary, but we’ll discuss that later (as long as there are no spiders to kill).
What is your opinion of Susan? Did you write her off or see her good traits from the beginning? Leave your answer in the comments!