Awhile back, someone sent me an ask about this drabble on Susan Pevensie, wondering if my little story was agreeing with JKR’s quote or disagreeing. I answered a bit then, but I wanted to talk a little more about it if that’s alright.
“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.” - JK Rowling
So, here we go: yes, I agree with Rowling. I have a big problem with that. (I think I read it more as she discovered vanity, rather than sex, but same idea).
Susan doesn’t show up in The Last Battle. She is not saved. That, alone, is fine— this is a story about faith, and having someone who loses faith is important to that story.
BUT the way Lewis explains to us that Susan is lost is something along the lines of she started liking lipstick, nylons and invitations.
He gives us a couple of lines from people who are not Susan, and they sum up her existence as lost. Because lipstick.
Let’s look a bit closer at this. There were so many choices here. She could have discovered Nietzsche, or atheism, or both. She could have told too many stories to her mother, who got her counseling and medication for her hallucinations. She could have gotten bullied at school until she bowed under the pressure. She could have gotten angry, gotten furious at being kicked out of a world she loved, at doing puberty twice, and shoved all of it away, lost faith as an act of retribution.
That would have made her a kind of vicious, sure, cutting off her nose to snub her face, but at least she would have been doing something. Here, other people tell her story. Here, “lipstick, nylons, and invitations” is used like it’s a complete thought.
I don’t have a problem with Susan losing faith, but it bothers me that “faithlessness” is synonymous with these things, these stereotypical assets of a young woman. Oh lord, she cares about her appearance. How can she also believe in a magical land and the bravery of childhood and the faith of the innocent if she cares about her appearance?
Susan is shamed for growing up. Now, there are a lot of ways to grow up as a woman, let alone a person, but this is the way we are told to grow up: a coming of age, boys and banter, giggles and lip gloss. We’re sold this brand of femininity. Susan embraces it and she is dismissed as a person for the crime of acting out the story they were selling her.
She cares about her appearance, just as we tell women they should, so she is vain. She is vain, so she is silly, she is foolish, she is faithless.
To be fair, this is a story they still tell about women. That caring what you look like makes you vain, and not caring makes you sloppy. We want beautiful girls. We want them to be all-natural. “You’re prettiest without makeup on,” they tell some girl who spent fifteen minutes this morning plucking her eyebrows and putting on invisible foundation to cover her blemishes. It makes sense why Lewis told this as Susan’s story and thought it was enough. I don’t think he did something wrong writing it. I think he did something ignorant, but that doesn’t make the story any better.
Or maybe this isn’t me being fair. Maybe this is me being furious: this is a story they still tell about women.
Is there a word for the thing where a successful artist with a generally family-friendly image attempts to reinvent themselves as edgy and hardcore, fails embarrassingly, then later claims that that entire era of their career was really an elaborate piece of satirical performance art?
People who post pictures of awesome baked goods without including a link to the recipe offend me on an existential level.
When I woke up this morning, I honestly did not expect that I’d be tagging for chapped badger ass today.