The Problem of Lucy: Notes towards an exploration of Women in Narnia

Neil Gaiman has an excellent short story entitled “The Problem of Susan” in which the elderly Susan is interviewed after the events of Narnia. As critics and boggers, including myself, have noted, CS Lewis is harsh on Susan. Though it is her horn (surely this comes from Lord of the Rings) which brings the children back to Narnia in Prince Caspian after Miraz has usurped the throne and the land is fracturing; though it is herself and Lucy who guard Aslan after Jadis shears his mane in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; Susan is forced to abandon Narnia by her parents when they go abroad, leaving the other Pevensie children behind in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Lewis’s comments that “Grown ups thought her the pretty one of the family and she was no good at school work (though otherwise very old for her age)” (Voyage of the Dawn Treader, CS Lewis (Grafton, London, 2002), P8). In one sense this echoes the reason that Aslan bars her from re-entering Narnia: she is being made to grow up by her parents, she is no longer the child who entered Narnia and perhaps, like Lewis did, has forgotten her faith in Aslan. She engages with the real world. In one sense this is a very Victorian view of children: they must remain innocent and non-experienced. Susan becomes experienced of the world and its workings whereas Lucy appears to remain innocent.

Lucy is the reason why the Pevensie children become embroiled in the world of Narnia. It is she who goes in to Wardrobe (in the land of Spare Oom!) and it is Lucy who, on the return in Prince Caspian, is the first to see Aslan. She sees him because she believes whole-heartedly in him whereas her brothers and sisters have to come to their own renewal of faith before they can see him again. Lucy is essentially an innocent who never develops in the novels. It is her want to believe in the world that propels through its issues in Caspian and Dawn Treader. She is preserved in amber; perpetually in the thrawl of the cult of childhood.

The issue of faith and its renewal is perhaps an easy one in terms of being biographic for Lewis. He uses the children as a cipher for his own coming to terms with his belief after a period of atheism. He is heavily influenced by E Nesbit whose books he enjoyed and, coupled with his own male-dominated world, he is unable to progress the children as people.

Lucy, by inference from Susan, retains her childlike curiosity which allows her access to the fairy world. She believes in it (and I mean this on a deeper scale than just Christian belief) and engages with the world at its own level in much the same vein as Tolkien had argued must happen for fairy tales to work. It is Lucy , as much as  Aslan,  who is the  driver of Narnia.

Yet this is where a disturbing dichotomy comes in. Lucy is the systolic to Aslan’s diastolic for Narnia to work. Yet in the essay “Christianity and Literature” (Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces), Lewis re-iterates the Pauline construction of God to Man to Woman  (1 Corinthians 11:3) but fails to really repudiate this, meekly arguing that St Paul does not mean the sexes are inequal.  Both Lucy and Susan are kept out of the battle against the White Witch in LWW and Lucy is patronised by her older brothers. She is not believed. Lucy is second fiddle to Eustace and Edmund in Dawn Treader. Jill Pole in the Silver Chair and Polly in Magician’s Nephew both play character’s less equal than the male protagonists, though are equally the drivers for the novels.

At one level, belief in the High Church of England, the conservative wing, and use of one set of Medieval literature underpin Lewis’s writings as does the denial of psychology in children’s books. There is no chance for the women to develop and grow since the models used as Guinevere and Morgan Le Fay, both presented as poisonous to the chivalric Arthurian cycle. I find it intriguing that women are actively left out of the joy of fantasy if they dare to grow up and develop. Like Tolkien, Lewis’s literary models centre on the male heroic figure but unlike Tolkien’s sources, Lewis follows with a disdain towards women developing and changing.

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