I’m going to start off this little feature with one of my favorite and complex characters Susan Pevensie from the Narnia books. (Please no eye rolls… I’ve been on a Narnia kick lately!)
Introduction: Susan is the eldest daughter, and second eldest, of the Pevensie children who are main characters in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. She appears in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; and briefly in A Horse and his Boy. She is also mentioned in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle, but does not actually appear in either. Susan is first seen in 1940 when she and her siblings discover Narnia in LWW, and is last seen/mentioned in 1949 which is when the series ends. She is from England; it’s not actually stated WHERE in England she is from but from the introduction in LWW it can be concluded that it’s a targeted area (during WWII) because she travels with her siblings to the country. Susan is a good character to spotlight because throughout the Narnia series she is probably least developed but most controversial of the siblings. There are hundreds of ways you can speculate why she is they way she is, what made her turn from Narnia, etc.
Just the facts, ma’am: Susan is 12 when she first appears in the series. During her time in Narnia she is known as Queen Susan, the Gentle. In the LWW, she is given a magical horn that when blown will bring her help wherever she may be. She is also given a bow and arrows, ultimately becoming one of the best archers in Narnia. She is not involved in battles though, preferring to stay behind. While in Narnia her first time, Susan is sought out for marriage by many men; at one time she is almost engaged to the prince of Telmar, a nearby country, but calls it off after realizing he is a horrible man rather than just a pretty face.
Digging Deeper: To the world, Susan first appears as a wet blanket – a favorite insult of her younger brother; she has a tendency to be kind of a wuss, worried about the “what ifs” rather than be adventurous like her other siblings. She sort of blends into the background, doesn’t really “do” anything. While her brothers are great fighters and wise, her sister brave and cheerful, Susan is best known during her time in Narnia as gentle and beautiful. While I can totally relate to this (ha) it’s easy to pass Susan over for her siblings. Susan’s downfall is apparent, hinted at during Prince Caspian as she believes in Aslan but doesn’t want to admit he’s there due to her fear. This foreshadows her final acceptance of her fear towards the end of the series, the acceptance that ultimately keeps her from returning with her siblings.
Place in this world: Susan isn’t an obvious ground-breaker. She didn’t create new molds for characters or pave the way for other characters. What she does do, however, is show us what happens to characters as they age. Often we don’t think about characters being able to lose their imagination or move away from their past; Susan is a prime example of one who does. Susan Pevensie has been criticized by some of today’s most popular writers, including J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman, being thought of someone who has been cast out of “heaven” for her discovery of sex (although it’s never actually stated in the series that she discovers sex – it’s a kids’ series, for crying out loud). Despite her controversial fate, Susan’s true path is left to the reader’s interpretation.*
I love you/I hate you:I’ve been back and forth between loving Susan and hating Susan. When I first met her, I was in 4th grade and loved her; Susan was pretty and kind and loved by all. 4th grade Candice was very shallow in what makes a good character to her. But then I remember watching the BBC movies of the Narnia books and felt like I wasn’t very drawn to Susan. She was so Plain-Jane, very vanilla in them.
After rewatching them as an adult, I realized they really missed the mark with casting Susan. I think this is why I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Susan; I based her on these movies. I think that’s why I was never drawn to Susan because I thought she was a little bland with not much personality. And sorta… I dunno… “Oh I’m so good and I’m helpless and silly and blah blah blah.” Not sure what the adjective for that is. I reread the Narnia books, looking for clues (for a past project) on Susan’s development and hopes that maybe as an adult my opinion of her would change. Sadly… they really didn’t. But then I came across this line: “Susan was the worst. “Supposing I started behaving like Lucy,” she said”I might threaten to stay here whether the rest of you went on or not. I jolly well think I shall.”” The line is found in Prince Caspian when the siblings are arguing over whether they should follow Lucy to see Aslan, even though none of them besides Lucy has seen him, and Susan is mad because everyone decides to follow Lucy. When I read that I laughed and thought “Now that’s the Susan I want to write about.” Whiny, obstinate, pitches-a-fit but redeems herself later Susan. She’s not so bland of a character after all; she’s actually pretty sassy, which makes me truly love her.
*My personal interpretation (that I’ve made up) is that maybe Susan was still hurt from being “kicked” out of Narnia, from being removed from her home so many times. I think that’s what I got when I put myself in her shoes. She’s thrust into this world, one she doesn’t want to be in, but when she finds her place in it, Narnia becomes her home. She becomes a beloved queen, good and revered, only to be removed from Narnia, despite her warnings about not leaving. She’s thrust back into England and has to readjust to her life as a child. But as soon as she becomes readjusted, she’s brought back into Narnia, given a second chance to see her home, only to be told at the end that she can never return. If I were Susan, I’d be a little miffed about all this and would probably wash my hands of Narnia too. My interpretation of Susan for after her siblings were killed, in pursuit of returning to Narnia, is that she was probably bitter about it, angry that this world that had cast them out stole her siblings from her. I think eventually she would have found her way back, found a way to deal with the bitterness and anger, found a way to return to Narnia as queen.
For more information: