by C.S. Lewis
Quick Susan recap: Susan is the older of the two Pevensie sisters and, when she was queen of Narnia, was known as Susan the Gentle. And boy do we see this part of her personality shine through in Prince Caspian.
This girl takes motherly to a new level. You'd think that would make her, if not important, then at least an admirable character in the novel, right? But hold your horses, because this doesn't seem to be the case.
Same Old, So Old
Susan's role in Prince Caspian is an odd one to analyze because, well, she's got nothing to do, really. She saves Trumpkin from the Telmarine soldiers, then beats him in a shooting competition, and then… follows everyone around. Looks like words will have to speak louder than actions this time around.
Susan's motherly 'tude returns from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe but with even more of a negative bent this time. Why? Because she takes on the position of "grown-up" amongst the Pevensies. While other stories might praise a character for taking on such a role in dangerous circumstances, Susan is definitely sketched in a far dimmer light than her counterpart, Lucy, who is the "heart of a child" character countering Susan's tall-folk attitude.
Before we go any further, let's take a look at some examples, so you can see what we're talking about:
- When Susan asks Lucy what she thought she saw, Lucy responds, "'Don't talk like a grown-up'" (9.63). Since we know Lucy saw Aslan, the grown-up cut is definitely a hit to Susan's character. If you really want to burn someone in Narnia, a "you so grown-up" joke is the way to go.
- Susan further refuses to believe Lucy because "'none of us except you saw anything'" (9.79). Well, that's kind of nasty.
- When Lucy wakes the group to follow Aslan, Susan tells her, "'You've been dreaming, Lucy. Go to sleep again'" (10.77). A disregarding response that just rings of something every child has heard her mother say, don't you think?
- Finally, when Lucy says she'll leave with or without the group, Susan "was the worst" and criticizes Lucy's response as childish (11.13).
We rest our case. Susan's grown-up attitude is definitely a downer.
Susan is also the last of the Pevensies to see Aslan. The reason? Aslan tells her, "'You have listened to fears, child'" (11.44). And when Aslan calls you a child, that means you're a child.
She cries, and Aslan breathes courage into her—a father/daughter relationship if we ever saw one. While you might think that returning to a state of childhood is backtracking, in Prince Caspian, and for Susan in particular, it's more redemptive than anything. Susan, you've been Narnia-saved.
Children's Book: Adult Edition
And this brings us to the weirdest oddball scene in the whole novel.
After Peter, Edmund, and Trumpkin go to help Caspian, Susan and Lucy stay with Aslan. Cue a giant lion roar and a procession of deities coming in from the forest. Among them is Bacchus, Silenus, and the Maenads. All these deities represent wine, parties, and the like, but they're also associated with ecstasy and, um, uncontrolled sex.
As Susan tells Lucy during the revelry:
"I wouldn't have felt safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we'd met them without Aslan." (11.65)
It's as though Aslan is protecting Susan from another part of her growing older: her sexuality.
While Bacchus and his cohorts have their place in Narnia, they're still considered dangerous for young women like Susan, and Aslan provides the necessary protection. This idea is confirmed when we consider Susan's fate at the end of The Last Battle, but… no spoilers here. Keep reading, and when you get there, come on back and see if this reading holds up.
Oddly enough, that line about Bacchus and his girls is the last noteworthy action Susan has for the rest of the novel. Sure, she hangs around until the end, but she doesn't say or do much of anything. She's just kind of there.
Now that we think about it, it's the last notable thing she does in the entire series (depending on where in the order you read A Horse and His Boy). She's only briefly mentioned in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and again, you'll have to read The Last Battle to discover her controversial fate.
In the end, Susan's character seems to be a warning to children and girls in particular: (a) don't grow up and (b) be wary of your sexuality. While staying a child at heart certainly has some value, it's not exactly a warning we can really heed, now is it? And even if we could, would we want to?
The answer to those questions, we leave to you, dear Shmooper.