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Warning: Narnia spoilers ahead! And also much, much text.

 

At the end of chapter 12 in The Last Battle, the final installment of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, we are told that,

“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 now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight 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.”

So clearly, in a rather Peter Pan-like way, Susan had ‘grown up’ and no longer believed in Narnia. She had, at some point, shut off her ability to believe (like Digory’s uncle did originally) and had locked herself in our world.

Now, I’ve spent the past few months intermittently reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time, and I don’t recall coming across any parts where this is really explained in detail. In Prince Caspian, there’s the bit about Aslan guiding the Pevensies, with Lucy being the first to see him and Susan being the last and most hesitant one—but she does eventually come around and regains her faith:

“Lucy,” said Susan in a very small voice.

“Yes?” said Lucy.

“I see him now. I’m sorry.”

“That’s all right.”

“But I’ve been far worse than you know. I really believed it was him—he, I mean—yesterday. When he warned us not to go down to the fir wood. And I really believed it was him to-night, when you woke us up. I mean, deep down inside. Or I could have, if I’d let myself. But I just wanted to get out of the woods and—and—oh, I don’t know. And what ever am I to say to him?”

“Perhaps you won’t need to say much,” suggested Lucy.

[…]

Then, after an awful pause, the deep voice said, “Susan.” Susan made no answer but the others thought she was crying. “You have listened to fears, child,” said Aslan. “Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”

“A little, Aslan,” said Susan.

Maybe my memory is just bad, but I don’t recall any mention after that that Susan had lost her faith, until that rather negative description of her in The Last Battle. At this point in the book, I was rather expecting another turn-around for her—I had wondered why she wasn’t there and assumed that she would somehow be reintroduced to the story.

But she wasn’t. She is not mentioned again at all.

Towards the very end of the book, we find out that the jolt that brought Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Eustace, Jill, Digory, and Polly back to Narnia one last time (and eventually to, erm, ‘Super-Narnia’ for lack of a better name) was in fact a train crash. In our world, all seven of them died, and they will therefore spend their afterlife (or whatever we want to call it) in Super-Narnia.

That leaves Susan.

Seen from Susan’s point of view, she essentially loses all her siblings, some of her closest childhood friends, and her parents (if Edmund is correct that they were on the same train going down to Bristol) in a terrible accident. She never finds out that they (not counting the parents) are taken back to Narnia—as far as she knows, they just die and she’s left behind as the only survivor. The only person in the world who knows of the existence of Narnia, in fact.

Even in Super-Narnia, none of the others seem to spare a thought for their sister and friend whom they now know they will never see again.

That seems to me rather a tough deal for Susan. Lewis must somehow have considered Susan particularly unworthy to exclude her like that. In fact, in the entire series, I cannot think of a single other example of an essentially good character going ‘bad’ and then not eventually repenting and being forgiven for it. Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, etc.—all misguided betrayals, and all forgiven and redeemed.

But not Susan. Susan is, in religious terms, kept in purgatory and out of paradise permanently. And there isn’t even any real mention anywhere of what she did to earn this tragic fate without even the opportunity to repent and be forgiven.

What (either in or out of universe) was the motive for giving Susan such a hard lot without even explaining what led to it?

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    When I re-read The Last Battle as a teenager, I thought that if Lewis had any "ulterior" motive in what he said about Susan, it was more of a comment on the emerging concept of "the teenager" with their own (loud, raucous) music and fashions who wouldn't tow the traditional line of being children until they left school and then being adults, rather than specifically because Susan was female. If the Pevensies had been Peter, Simon, Edmund and Lucy, for instance, then "Simon" could have been "more interested in girls and going to the cinema and motorcycles and guitars than Narnia". – Wallnut Oct 31 '16 at 13:59
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    For further reading, Fred Clark wrote about this issue, and also went through the trouble of linking to a bunch of other's opinions and writings on the matter in his post, Redeeming Susan Pevensie. – Joshua Taylor Nov 2 '16 at 15:49
  • Some interesting but very lengthy comments here; I've archived them in chat. – Rand al'Thor Jun 6 '17 at 20:46
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    @Wallnut apropos of nothing, in the phrase "toe the line," the word is spelled/spelt "toe" rather than "tow". That is, the subject has to get all his toes back behind a line, not drag a line along after him. :-) – Ti Strga Nov 24 '17 at 20:32
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    Susan and Lucy were queens and they ruled well and proudly. Honored their Lord and their land, rang the bells long and loudly; they never once asked to go back to their lives, to be children and chattel and mothers and wives, but the land cast them out in a lesson that only one learned, and one queen said "I am not a toy!" and she never returned... – Shadur Jan 12 '18 at 13:11
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According to a letter to a young fan, Lewis made the decision to keep her out of Heaven because he felt the alternative would be too complicated a story for him to write. He then asked the girl to consider concluding the story herself.

I could not write that story myself. Not that I have no hope of Susan ever getting into Aslan's country, but because I have a feeling that the story of journey would be longer and more like a grown-up novel than I wanted to write. But I may be mistaken. Why not try it yourself?

Lewis also wrote in his Letters to Children that Susan may one day reach Heaven by a different path, as well as further explaining why she hasn't made it yet.

The books don't tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there's plenty of time for her to mend and perhaps she will get to Aslan's country in the end... in her own way.

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    Excellent find, +1! I still wonder why her turning into that silly, conceited woman happened so entirely off-screen when it had such a huge impact on one of the main characters in the series… but I rather get the feeling from his reply here that he was perhaps a bit tired of Susan and just couldn't really be bothered devoting more time to her. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 30 '16 at 23:39
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    With respect to that first letter, did you find the original? I’ve seen at least one apocryphal Lewis letter floating around. – Adamant Oct 31 '16 at 0:11
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    @JanusBahsJacquet (pt 1) Consider from a story perspective the four Pevensie children: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. Lucy gets designated as perpetually faithful from the start, the one that always believes with the faith of a child regardless of evidence (see Prince Caspian). Edmund was the redeemed traitor, so he can't go back without hurting characterization. Peter was the High King, so losing his presence in the story would hurt the story. But Susan from the start was shown as hesitant, though eventually willing, to believe. So of all the characters, she made the most sense to use as the – Turambar Oct 31 '16 at 13:33
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    (pt 2) person whose faith goes through the most trials and doubts, but ultimately would still come around. It's just that Lewis's Narnia stories ended in the middle of Susan's story. Edit: Whoops, didn't realize that other comments and answers covered this. I'll leave it, if only so other readers know to look further for more detail. – Turambar Oct 31 '16 at 13:35
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    @Adamant The precise letter from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy has been found. – Rogue Jedi Nov 1 '16 at 12:23
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What (either in or out of universe) was the motive for giving Susan such a hard lot without even explaining what led to it?

Lewis wanted to show that one could fall from grace. It had to be a character that we cared about. Let's look at the lead characters from the series:

  • Peter - the natural leader of the group. It would have felt out of character for him to fall.
  • Edmund - he had already fallen and been forgiven/redeemed.
  • Eustace - he was fundamentally changed by his time in Narnia. It would have been silly for him to fall.
  • Digory - he was portrayed as wise and still a believer in his old age. He couldn't really fall.
  • Polly and Jill - were both only covered in one book. It could have been one of these two but they weren't quite as central to the story. One may have assumed that Lewis accidentally omitted them if he were to have picked one of these two.
  • Lucy - was obviously Lewis' favourite. She had already been tempted by vanity and jealousy and had resisted the temptation in Voyage. It may have been more shocking but less in character for Lucy to have fallen.
  • Susan - central to two of the books but not as important as Lucy. The obvious choice to portray as the "fallen" one. Susan was never quite as well fleshed out as her siblings and so despite her prominence, she was the most malleable major character for Lewis to do this to. Note that in the books she was never as close to Aslan as Lucy and was always the most sceptical of the children.

Susan's sin was not "discovering sex" or womanhood (as some have suggested), rather, her sin was vanity. Being more concerned with appearances and socialisation than with Narnia (remembering that Narnia was an allegory for the Christian faith).

We are never really told the conclusion of Susan's story. It's clear from the texts that she was not with the others at the time of the train accident. She could well be alive now (albeit in her 80s). One of the themes of the Narnia stories was that of redemption. I think Lewis wanted the reader to think on this and picture themselves as Susan, essentially posing the question "are you going to let frivolities consume you or will you focus on your Christian faith?" The fact that Lewis left Susan's fate open was intentional. There was still hope for the character if she turned away from her vanity.

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    Didn't someone write a book or short-story with that as it's premise? About an old woman, remembering how her siblings and friends had died in a train-wreck. While it never actually mentions her name; from what she remembers of their childhood adventures, it's obvious it's Susan from Narnia. – Baard Kopperud Oct 31 '16 at 1:35
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    @BaardKopperud linked above in Imperator Helvetica's answer, it's The Problem of Susan by Neil Gaiman. – svavil Oct 31 '16 at 11:49
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    I’m sorry but this answer feels a lot like post-hoc rationalisation, stemming from the fact that you are trying hard to avoid implicating Lewis’ view of women. As several other answers show, this is simply not possible: pointing out that he objects to Susan’s vanity rather than her womanhood, in particular, is begging the question because Lewis’ view of what constitutes “vanity” is dangerously close to a typical female teenager growing up. – Konrad Rudolph Nov 2 '16 at 16:35
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There isn't a great deal of in-text evidence - other than Susan having grown too worldly and her fascination with lipstick, nylons and invitations having replaced her faith in Narnia.

The explanation, considering the author is probably most simply that Lewis had a dim and uncharitable view of women. Girls were fine - see Lucy and Polly as innocent, inventive, nurturing figures - Jill has a little more agency, but is still more a 'plucky gel adventurer.' Grown women however seem to have a rougher time in his work - Jadis (the White Witch) being central.

Lewis's strong Christian faith seems to cling heavily to the 'sins of Eve' idea of womanhood. Even though it's Edmund who succumbs to temptation, he repents and Jadis is to blame as the tempter. Given his era, and general priggish attitude, Lewis was of the opinion that women were the weaker and more fallible sex and that their role was best as helpmeet. Mentioned in that while Aslan gave all the Pevensie siblings weapons, Lucy and Susan were cautioned not to use them except in dire need as he (Aslan/Christ/Lewis) did not intend them to fight.

His Pelelandra novels also repeat the theme of Eve/Woman being the weak link which the Adversary can exploit. In this novel it's for his rugged Christian hero to debate the tempter, to protect Tinidril (space-Eve) as she can not be trusted to withstand evil.

Finally, Lewis's general approach to society and morals valued the virtues in the Pevensie siblings, but saw male virtues (as held by Peter and Edmund) as ones which remained through life because men did not get distracted away from them through fripperies and moral weaknesses (as discussed obliquely in The Screwtape Letters.)

This is in keeping with an Edwardian upbringing, and he was known to be resistant to ideas outside of his own - the classic academic 'If I'm not interested in it, then it can't be important' viewpoint. Hence his dismissal of lipstick, nylons and invitations as being wasteful distractions, unlike presumably his tobacco, correspondence and drinking with the Inklings.

It could also be that Lewis just needed an example that 'Not everyone gets saved' and that living a moral Christ-devoted life was part of it (he disliked the Catholic idea of absolution through 'words not deeds') and needed a character to be distinguished.

Neil Gaiman wrote a interesting little short story on The Susan Problem and Phillip Pullman cites it as a key inspiration for his Dark Materials Trilogy (His Anti-Narnia series.) Rowling has also mentioned it (as Adamant points out in the comments) but given the core position of Narnia in the British Children's literary canon it's a question every reader must have asked themselves.

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    "Lewis had a dim and uncharitable view of women" - I disagree with this. His attitudes were somewhere around the cultural norm for his time. One theme that comes up in Narnia is the idea of vanity being a temptation away from faith. Lucy is tempted by it in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Looking at the male characters, Peter was always portrayed as the leader, Edmund and Eustace had both been redeemed and Digory was portayed as wise in his old age. That left Jill, Susan or Lucy to fall from grace and Susan is the obvious choice. – Stephen Oct 30 '16 at 23:23
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    I think that you are mistaking the value of innocence that comes up often in the series with a hatred of women. The young have the strongest faith Men and women walk away but boys and girls believe. As children grow up then cannot return to Narnia except in death (last battle). There are foolish and evil men like Uncle Andrew and the Calormen bring evil into Narnia and enslave its people. It is the youngest character Lucy who has by far the strongest faith (she always sees Aslan when the others don't) and is arguably the bravest. – sdrawkcabdear Oct 30 '16 at 23:46
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    Jadis is condemned as the tempter not because she was a woman, but because that was her role in the story - she doesn't fulfill Eve's role in Genesis, but the serpent's (starting from The Magician's Nephew, at least). Note also, that in A Horse and His Boy, Lucy fights with the archers in the army (I believe Susan was back in Cair Paravel at that point). I need to re-read Perelandra, but I'm not really remembering space-Adam doing much better. – Clockwork-Muse Oct 31 '16 at 2:40
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    It is actually quite annoying that this answer is the most upvoted. It ignores the evidence, besmirches the author and is more speculation than answer. – Stephen Oct 31 '16 at 5:52
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    I think this answer is spot on. As for the responses... "His attitudes were somewhere around the cultural norm for his time"? Well, yes, the cultural norms of that time were sexist. – ognockocaten Oct 31 '16 at 14:16
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Here is an interesting quote from The Horse and His Boy:

“And where is the Queen Susan?”

“At Cair Paravel,” said Corin. “She’s not like Lucy, you know, who’s as good as a man, or at any rate as good as a boy. Queen Susan is more like an ordinary grown-up lady. She doesn’t ride to the wars, though she is an excellent archer.”

So it seems that Lewis thought most women are inferior than men. There may be some exceptions like Lucy, but not Susan.

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    Or perhaps Lewis thought that Corin would think that way. – Jeremy Friesner Oct 30 '16 at 23:07
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    I think this quote says much more about Corin, who's also shown to be irresponsible and a little selfish, than it does about Lewis. – MissMonicaE Oct 31 '16 at 16:45
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    You'll find the same "as good as a boy" line very frequently in Enid Blyton too. It's a product of their time. Middle-class boys were allowed a lot of freedom and agency, with an end goal of developing initiative which would help them later in finding productive work. Girls by contrast were trained almost from birth to run a house and look after a family, with no other end goal considered possible/acceptable. Girls/women who broke that mould, taking the freedoms (and responsibilities!) that a boy/man would take as his right, were exceptional enough as to warrant commenting on. – Graham Nov 1 '16 at 8:37
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    Whatever Lewis thought of women, if "ordinary grown-up ladies" generally at his time did not (for whatever reasons, right or wrong) "ride to the wars", then then as an explanation of why Susan was at Cair Paravel rather than at combat is merely descriptive in what were then commonly understood social norms. No one is arguing that things aren't different today, but we're guilty of presentism if we read into it a level of spite that we might if it were written today. Are you personally aware of your biases that will be frowned upon in 100 years? – jinglesthula Nov 3 '16 at 16:42
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    @jinglesthula Probably I'm not aware of my biases. So if I write some story and in 100 years somebody asks why I treated some character so unkindly, somebody else can say it's because of my biases. – Oriol Nov 3 '16 at 16:48
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Per @ImperatorHelevetia's answer above, The Problem of Susan takes this and runs with it. One thing that Gaiman points out is not just the cruelty in the afterlife, but the cruelty here on Earth by forcing a child to identify her family's mangled bodies in the aftermath of a train crash, as a clear outcome of the decision by Aslan that she was not fit to come back to Narnia. This is always the question that a sceptic asks a "believer" - namely, if there is a God, why does He/She/It allow these things to happen?

Lewis's own answer (repeated several times in "Shadowlands") is "God wants us to grow up", and all the suffering and pain is how he gets us to grow up, so that ultimately it's for our own good. Many sceptics (e.g. Philip Pullman) would see this as the god being actively evil and immoral. Believers may say that those judgements are beyond human comprehension. YMMV.

A separate possible answer is that God does not intervene, and that's how many people of faith reconcile their faith with the obvious problems in the world. Lewis did not take that approach himself, and it clearly isn't applicable to Aslan who does intervene in the affairs of Narnia.

It's worth pointing out though that this is a children's book. If you're old enough to work out second-order problems like this, then you're old enough to look beyond children's books for philosophy! :) He wrote plenty of books which explained his viewpoint in much more detail. I happen to disagree with him, but it's instructive to follow his reasoning, even if you can see the holes in the arguments.

none of the others seem to spare a thought for their sister and friend whom they now know they will never see again.

Lewis addresses this point in The Great Divorce in two ways.

The first is the time between the train crash and whenever Susan dies later. People arrive in Heaven at different times, and (if they get there and accept Heaven) are happy together regardless. Lewis tells us that time is not relevant to Heaven, because all times are the same. Heaven is guaranteed for those who accept it, so Susan may well get there another time, and it's all the same time, so there's no reason to be upset about a delay which doesn't really exist.

And the second way is that if someone chooses not to accept Heaven, then their family and friends in Heaven can't be brought down by them. Lewis is clear that God doesn't refuse people access to Heaven; instead each individual chooses whether to accept Heaven, and if their soul has been corrupted enough by evil habits then they will actively choose to reject it. So happiness in the afterlife is a choice. From that, Lewis argues that you can't allow someone who refuses to be happy to spoil things for others (else, as Lewis says, "ye'll make a dog in the manger the tyrant of the universe") because Heaven is a place of happiness.

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    + 1 for pointing out, essentially, that we're all way overthinking this. – Jared Smith Nov 4 '16 at 13:04
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If you consider the characters as free agents, Susan chose to throw it away. Why should that choice not be honored?

If you consider the literary perspective of writing the Last Battle and you want the symbolic number 7, one has to be excluded and there aren't too many options that don't break things.

But if you don't like the answer and want to be a writer, consider the following scenario:

A few days later, an official from London calls upon Susan, and returns to her the effects of her siblings found in the train wreck, including a box with some rings in it. She picks up a green ring, and then a yellow one, and screams and screams. When she's done screaming, pick a pool, any pool. The parallel time rules being what they are, this adventure can last tens of thousands of years.

And there's still no reason to believe she doesn't make it through in the end.

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    Hmmm. I agree with you about Susan choosing to throw it all away. I think that element needs to be tied into Lewis’s strongly Christian philosophy (God allows humans free will, etc). Maybe something from The Great Divorce would help illuminate this? – Adamant Oct 30 '16 at 22:32
  • @Adamant: You are correct. I can't cite into The Great Divorce, not even being sure I've read that one though. – Joshua Oct 30 '16 at 23:15
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    @Joshua It's not so much that she chooses to throw it away - and see my answer below about that tying into The Great Divorce. It's just that she doesn't choose it now. "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Adults have to leave that behind to become adults, especially by the social standards of Lewis's day. It doesn't mean they can't reclaim it later, like Digory, when in their "second childhood" it's socially acceptable for elderly people to be a little unusual. – Graham Nov 1 '16 at 8:30
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The entire series exists in a state of tension between the story as a story, and the story as a Christian allegory, and in The Last Battle in particular, the allegorical aspects clearly dominate.

In Lewis' Narnian version of Christian theology, it is possible (and even acceptable) to worship Christ (Aslan) without knowing it, but what is not acceptable to have known Christ (Aslan) and have chosen to value something else more. Lewis considers this a real and present danger for a Christian, and so he chooses to dramatize it in this book, as a (rather severe) warning to the reader. The fact that Susan's decision is seemingly both inconsequential and understandable is a part of the warning.

Whether this is good theology, good storytelling, or a good combination of the two, is a matter of considerable debate, but Lewis' motivations seem relatively clear. The series is intended to do real evangelical work, as well as entertain and enthrall, and if one goal has to be sacrificed to the other, it is never in doubt which one Lewis will pick.

4

CS Lewis was trying to draw a Christian analogy here (a common theme in Narnia). In this case, he seems to be touching on a thorny issue: Christians losing their salvation. I'll try to stay as on-topic for SF as I can for this but it does require some knowledge about Christianity in general.

Jesus once gave an analogy of a man sowing seed. One part of that analogy was seeds falling among thorns/weeds and being choked away. Based on what little we know of Susan's falling away, it seems that is the case here

“Oh Susan!” said Jill, “she’s interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight 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.”

What I've seen Susan as, in the end, is simply left out of the urgency to return to Narnia. I'm going to call the group of people killed in the railway accident the Narnia Club for simplicity. Consider how we got here

  1. Tirian appears before the Narnia Club as a ghostly apparition
  2. The Narnia Club decides they need to return to Narnia. The wardrobe hasn't worked since book 1
  3. Professor Kirke (who owned the infamous wardrobe, made from wood from a tree from Narnia) still had the rings from The Magician's Nephew
  4. While trying to convene everyone to use the rings, a railway accident happens, killing the entire Narnia Club

Susan just missed out.

The reasons why seem simple enough. Susan clearly went on with her schooling and likely fell in with the popular crowd. How do you explain to them that there's a real world with talking animals? Oh, and she doesn't know how to go back there either to prove what she's saying is true. I mean, if I told you Middle Earth was a real place I had personally been to, you would demand proof and, if I couldn't produce it, you would think me crazy.

Welcome to the world of faith. It's not easy to believe in things that cannot be empirically proven as real. It's not surprising that Susan got caught up and abandoned her faith in a bid to remain popular. Given Lewis' letter, I don't think he meant to leave her there. But, as he said, her path would have been longer and far more adult. Lewis himself, sadly, just ran out of time to tell it himself.

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    An interesting element there is that Eustace and Jill do return with evidence - their Narnian clothes and weapons. For the Pevensies who spent an entire adult life in Narnia, their evidence would be in the shape of the skills they learnt over however many years they were there. Lucy doesn't have any clear skill described (her healing is somewhat dependent on the potion), but Edmund is an expert with a sword, and Susan and Peter are exceptional with longbow and sword respectively. There can't be many pre-teen master-level swordsmen out there! – Graham Nov 7 '16 at 13:55
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    Quite true. But it's important to note that there's nothing to definitively overcome a skeptic. Swords and clothes can be made in our world. Mastery of skills could be explained away. A skeptic would want to go there. – Machavity Nov 7 '16 at 14:02

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