A few months ago I blogged about “the problem of Susan” — a reference to C.S. Lewis’s book The Last Battle, the last of his series of Narnian stories.

lastbatDavid Levey had read a paper On reading irreligiously, in which he had mentioned that some irreligious critics of C.S. Lewis were hung up about “the problem of Susan”, one of six children who had previously visited the land of Narnia, but had lost interest in it as she grew up. The meme was perhaps expressed most strongly by J.K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame), when she said:

There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.

David Levey mentioned this in his paper, though he was talking about Philip Pullman rather than Harry Potter, and you can see some of the background here and here. As Philip Pullman put it

And in The Last Battle, notoriously, there’s the turning away of Susan from the Stable (which stands for salvation) because “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.” In other words, Susan, like Cinderella, is undergoing a transition from one phase of her life to another. Lewis didn’t approve of that. He didn’t like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life when he wrote the Narnia books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up. Susan, who did want to grow up, and who might have been the most interesting character in the whole cycle if she’d been allowed to, is a Cinderella in a story where the Ugly Sisters win.

These criticisms suggest that what C.S. Lewis was objecting to in Susan was that she had grown up, and did not remain an eternal child. But I am not alone in thinking that both Rowling and Pullman have seriously misinterpreted Lewis at this point. Because the problem was not that Susan was growing up, but that she wasn’t. ‘Grown up indeed,’ said the Lady Polly. ‘I wish she would grow up…’

And now someone has come up with the perfect illustration of the difference.

Susan’s idea of growing up is in the picture on the left, and the Lady Polly’s idea of growing up is in the picture in the right.

girlslifeSusan’s idea of growing up is to be an airhead consumer; the Lady Polly contrasts this with becoming a thinking adult.

And the article at that site is worth a read too.