Character: Susan Pevensie, aka Queen Susan the Gentle of Narnia
From: The Chronicles of Narnia
First Appearance: The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe
Last Appearance: The Last Battle
Created by: C. S. Lewis
Portrayed in TV/Film by: Sophie Cook, Suzanne Debney, Anna Popplewell (pictured), Susan Sokol, Sophie Winkleman
Character History: A young British woman from the first half of the 20th century, Susan Pevensie and her three siblings, Peter, Edmund, and Lucy, are sent away from their parents to live with Professor Kirke and Mrs. Macready, his servant. The children become bored in the large house, until the youngest, Lucy, discovers a portal into a magical world called Narnia through the back of a large wardrobe.
Susan doesn't believe in Narnia's existence until pulled in, but once there, she quickly joins Lucy in finding their lost brother Edmund, who has been tricked by the evil White Witch. With the help of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (talking animals), they meet both Father Christmas (who gives Susan a bow and arrow) and Aslan, Narnia's Christ-like savior and creator. Aslan manages to arrange his own sacrifice to save Edmund's life, and Susan and Lucy bare witness his death and resurrection. With Aslan's help, Susan, Lucy, and their brothers defeat the White Witch and her army. They are crowned Kings and Queens of Narnia.
During her reign, which is considered the golden age of Narnia, Susan is courted by the prince of Calormene, but she refuses him after taking the advice of her brother, Edmund. She returns to their castle at Cair Paravel, after escaping by their ships. Some time later, the four Pevensies are hunting a White Stag, which Susan feels will lead them to something new. In reality, the four Pevensies fall back through the wardrobe. They are de-aged and returned to only moments after they originally went through.
Susan returns to her normal life, until Narnian magic pulls the four Pevensies back to Narnia on their way to school the next year. They appear at Cair Paravel, but it is in ruins, because some time has passed. They encounter Trumpkin, a dwarf in the service of Prince Caspian, Narnia's rightful but displaced ruler. Susan defeats him in an archery contest to prove their identities, and Susan and her siblings journey to meet with Caspian.
Along the way, Susan does not believe that Aslan is helping them this time, but Lucy does. Finally, Aslan appears to Susan as well, and she believes again. The four Pevensies help return Caspian to his throne. When Aslan sends them back to Earth, but Aslan tells both her and Peter that they are too old to return to Narnia again.
Susan's memories of Narnia, or her ability to reconcile her adventures with the real world, fade as she grows up. She becomes more interested in make-up and boys, and becomes a true beauty. While her younger siblings and eventually her cousin go to Narnia, Susan never returns and begins to doubt its existence.
In a horrific train accident, all of Susan's family, including her siblings, cousin, and parents, as well as Professor Kirke (who had been to Narnia himself as a child) are killed and reawakened in Aslan's Country, or Heaven. Susan does not appear in Heaven, and it is unknown whether she survived the accident, was even on the train, or whether she was condemned to Hell for her lack of belief in Narnia.
Personality: Susan, as a child, was intelligent but not very curious. She read, but did not have the imagination of her sister Lucy, nor the bravery of her brother Peter. She liked to do things correctly. In Narnia, Susan was braver, and sure of her faith and place in the world, but was not as quick to believe in magic as her siblings. She still listened to her brothers, however. As an adult, Susan grew into a beauty, and became obsessed with worldly things, such as boys and lipstick. She had lost her faith in Narnia.
Archetypes: Susan is primarily a Skeptic, the one who, when faced with the unknown, chooses to rely on what she already knows. She also fulfills the role of the Good Sister, caring for her siblings above all else. As an adult, she is a Pretty Girl, who likes pretty things.
Analysis: Susan's fate has struck me harder than the fate of any other fictional character, mostly because its simple implied cruelty. Lewis, well-known for his disdain for sex and his love of the Christian faith (simply put, he will probably be remembered for Narnia nearly as much as he is remembered as one of the foremost Christian writers of the last century), and his friendship with Tolkien (who shares similar problems with adult female characters). I find it hard to reconcile the sheer misogyny of Susan's fate with the fond memories I have of these books from when I was a child.
It's interesting to note that so many writers were similarly affected by Susan's fate (and the women of The Lord of the Rings) that it could be why fantasy and science fiction were one of the first places women entered equality with men in the fictional world. Narnia and The Lord of the Rings are considered the first true fantasy novels, so it's not surprising that later writers want to fix the genre's problems. Buffy, Xena, and Ripley have helped form the female consciousness and changed pop culture on screen, while Hermione, the Belgariad's Polgara and Ce'Nedra, and Jacqueline Carey's Phedre represent the salvation of Susan in the current fantasy novel.
But as a character, Susan just sticks out not only for her character's fate, but because of what Lewis does to get her there. In The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe, Susan is equal to her brothers and sister. She fights in the battle with the Witch, and witnesses Aslan's sacrifice. In the first book, despite Susan's reluctance to believe in Lucy's story originally, there's hardly anything to suggest what will happen later.
Chronologically, The Horse and his Boy come next, but not in publishing order. This book was written later, and gives us the newer version of Susan. Even as Queen of Narnia, before being de-aged, Susan relies on Edmund to make her decision about whether or not to marry the foreign prince. She relies on him to make the escape plans. She is not the independent thinker she was in The Wardrobe.
Notice the differences apparent between Susan of the novels and the Susan of the modern films, portrayed by Anna Popplewell. She's almost a completely different character. The novel Susan disdains violence and doesn't actively fight in any battle but the one with the Witch. In the movies? She is on the front lines, alongside her brothers. (She's also given a romance sub-plot with Prince Caspian, which either reinforces her Pretty Girl status or gives her a more Post-Feminist slant, depending on how you want to look at it.)
I might be a man, but I do hate it when women in literature become the scapegoat. Lewis needed one of the characters to fall from grace - and he apparently had it in mind that the only fully developed woman of the series would be it. In fact, the other adult woman besides Mrs. Pevensie (who never actually shows up in the books, really), in the train accident is Polly, who the reader sees as a child but hardly ever as an adult. She reappears only just before her death, really.
Essentially, I'm glad the modern films have redeemed Susan in whatever way they can. I think it speaks to the growing knowledge that women must be protrayed in equality with men, because let's face it, they are equal to men, people. Literature and art were one of the first bastions of the fight for equalit, and whether it was the Bronte sisters writing under male pseudonyms or Emily Dickinson's hidden poems, women have been producing literature alongside men for several hundred years.
Susan Pevensie deserved a better fate than the one she got. I'm glad that modern audiences recognize this fact, despite Narnia's classic status.
Other Versions: Susan has been portrayed in film, television, and cartoons multiple times, most recently with Anna Popplewell as Susan in the films released in the 2000's. This Susan was more stronger-willed than her novel counterpart and fought alongside her brothers, as well as having a romantic relationship with Prince Caspian. The character has also been parodied in films like Epic Movie and was featured in a short story by Neil Gaiman called "The Problem of Susan". She appeared in the comic book series The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles along Dorothy Gale, Wendy Darling, and Alice from Alice in Wonderland.
Appears in: The Chronicles of Narnia