We know we are not to judge by appearance, but I must admit that I did when I first met Molly the Mustang. (Trust me. I get to Susan Pevensie in a moment. Stay with me for a bit…) In my defense, I’ve only seen a wild horse a couple of times, and I’ve read lots of books filled about the beauty of mustangs. And to be terribly honest, I was disappointed. Molly didn’t have any great beauty. She cautiously lipped the grain from my hand but leapt back five feet when I reached to pet her nose. I decided that there was nothing special about her.
Then my two year old daughter joined me at the fence.
Of course, every two year old is a tornado, but my middle daughter is a force of her own. So here she comes in this kaleidoscope of colors – blue hat on her blonde curls, green coat, and yellow rain boots. She trips, she falls, she’s everywhere at once, but she has one focus.
Gates clang, boots slip, and I finally convince my daughter that it’s okay to stand on the ground, not on the top of the fence. With treats firmly in her hand, she keeps chattering, “Horsie! Mommy, look! Come here, horsie! Owie. I fell. I ok. What horsie name? OH! Molly! Come here, Molly.”
I’m sure Molly had never seen such a sight.
If I was that mustang, I would have been gone. But the wild horse didn’t even jump. Instead she walked over to us, put her head down, and let my daughter pet her nose. The horse I couldn’t touch.
We don’t normally put the word gentle with Christian fantasy. It’s not a popular attribute in our culture. And yet in The Chronicles of Narnia, Susan Pevensie becomes Queen Susan the Gentle.
Courageous. Redeemed. These are words to describe a hero. But gentle?
Just what do you do with gentle?
As a kid, reading The Chronicles of Narnia, I just ignored Susan. I knew her outcome and could never understand why she made certain choices. (More of that later.) But it wasn’t until I grew older that I began to understand to the great power of gentle.
1. Gentle Comforts the Broken
It’s easy to overlook Susan. But she was there when Aslan walked to the White Witch. While grief hung heavy on him, she comforted him. She was there when he was killed. And not only was she witness to the horrible event, she comforted Lucy the whole time.
I just recently caught a new fact about Susan in The Horse and His Boy although I’ve read the book multiple times. It’s just after Shasta has been mistaken for Corin and is taken to the Narnian rooms in Tashbaan. Susan greets him and reminds him that they have been good friends to him since his mother died. Once again, Susan the Gentle was right in the middle of grief. And since Corin was with them in Calormen, I think it’s fair to say that she didn’t leave when the first tears dried. She remained a friend, a support, a comfort.
Comforting the broken takes someone strong enough to withstand the fury of grief while tender enough to wipe away tears.
2. Gentle Stands Strong in the Storm
The events in The Horse and His Boy must have shaken Susan badly. She thinks she finds a prince to love. But when she visits his home, she finds him mean, conceited, and cruel. She puts Edmund, Tumnus, and herself with a number of other friends into danger where only trickery saves them. Even when they were free, they had to wonder if they would be hunted down and dragged back to Tashbaan. Then upon arriving at Cair Paravel, Susan finds war knocking on their back door.
This is where I misjudged Susan. She stays at the castle while Edmund and Lucy ride to battle. I assumed she sat at home drinking tea and enjoying the comforts. Doing nothing.
But do you remember what his plan was? Destroy Archenland and lay siege on Cair Paravel. And what was Susan’s fate if all should fail? Life as a slave to the man who destroyed her family and country. Her only hope, if Edmund and Lucy should fail, was to hold the castle until Peter returned from the north.
I picture her calling for Peter to return ready for battle. She would prepare for the siege by stockpiling food and medical supplies. She would have to alert those Narnians who lived outside the castle of the possible danger. (And I bet a lot of that would be awfully embarrassing since this is the man she almost married.) And she had to do all this in just a few short days.
She could have sat there consumed with worry. Her brother and sister, her friends, rode into battle. Whether in Narnia or our world, these four siblings were not strangers to the perils of war. She knew the reality of what might happen.
Looking at Susan now that I’m an adult, I bet she rolled up her sleeves and braced for battle. And I bet Edmund and Lucy went into war without one worry about the state of Narnia. I also bet that she didn’t sleep much while waiting for their return. It’s not easy to wait. But in this case, Edmund, Lucy, and Susan worked as a team. They rode to war, and she prepared Narnia for a horrible possibility.
By being too gentle for war, Susan was strong enough to withstand the storm.
3. Gentle Wins Battles
Perhaps it’s easier to show this in our world. Remember Rosa Park? When she changed the world, she didn’t wield a weapon. She sat. She didn’t yell or scream. As far as I know, she didn’t say a thing. And yet her gentle protest sparked a wildfire of change for good.
I find it interesting that Susan the Gentle was there in Aslan’s defeat and victory. Susan saw him come back to life, restore the ones the White Witch had turned into stone, and defeat the White Witch. Gentle is there in Aslan’s death and in his triumph.
I have no idea how much of this was intentional of C.S. Lewis. Was he trying to show us that gentle wins battles as well? That it’s not only a sword?
Whether or not C.S. Lewis put Susan the Gentle in pivoting moments to prove a point doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that in agony and victory, gentle comforts and celebrates.
As I watched my daughter delight in petting, feeding, and kissing the mustang, the mare grew more beautiful. I stood amazed as they traded nose kisses, each delighting in the other. But Molly’s change came out of a gentle heart, a love for those smaller than us. And while we know that Susan Pevensie was beautiful in looks, I can’t help to wonder if the real source of her beauty was her gentleness.
So what about my original question? Was Susan more powerful than Peter? Well, I’m going to let you mull that one over. What do you think? Does gentleness win over a sword?
P.S. My two year old daughter still has a better relationship with Molly than I do. Perhaps I should start shouting, “Here, horsie!” Here is their first nose kiss.