“Where’s Susan?” asked my daughter as I read to her The Last Battle, the final book in The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis.
Susan is the child queen who helped her siblings save Narnia from the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. However, she is conspicuously absent from an early scene in The Last Battle that includes every character who traveled to Narnia as a child.
“Daddy, where is she?” my daughter asked again.
“We’ll see,” I said, with a tinge of sadness.
Although I’ve read The Chronicles of Narnia dozens of times since I was a boy, Susan’s tragic end gets me every time. The book eventually reveals that Susan grows up and outgrows her love for Narnia. We get few details about her until the end of the book, when High King Peter responds to an inquiry into his sister’s whereabouts.
“My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.”
“Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says, ‘What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.’”
“Oh, Susan!” said Jill. “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly site too keen on being grown-up.”
“Grown-up, indeed,” said the Lady Polly. “I wish she would grow up. 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. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”
This is more than just a poignant side note about a woman who lost her memory of an alternate universe. If Susan renounced Narnia, then she necessarily renounced Aslan, the resurrected, Christ-like lion she once loved. In Lewis’ symbolic world, she was essentially a Narnian apostate.
As if it couldn’t get any worse, Susan’s demise is further compounded by the revelation that all seven other British friends of Narnia died in a train wreck in England and are beginning their new lives without her in heaven, or “Aslan’s country,” as they call it. But in reading The Last Battle to my daughters, I noticed something new: Susan’s parents died in the train accident too.
I don’t know how I missed it before. Peter alludes to the possibility that his parents happened to be on the same train, and he catches a glimpse of them in heaven. And then at the end, Aslan explains, “‘There was a real railway accident.… Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.’”
For the first time, it dawned on me that Susan’s story wasn’t over—not at all. It couldn’t be. One day, Susan was obsessing over “lipstick and nylons and invitations,” and the next, someone would telephone her to tell her that her mother, father, sister, two brothers, a cousin, and three old friends were dead.
I began to imagine the impact of Susan receiving such horrific news, and I called my dad to ask him for insight. Dad, who is a lover of the Narnia series, lost two children in a plane crash when I was a toddler.