Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being an adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
* * *
Susan couldn’t pinpoint exactly when she stopped believing in Narnia completely, but she knew when she started to stop. It was the term after the trip to America, when she finally became one of Those Girls.
Every school has Those Girls. They are the girls all the other girls look up to and want to be. They’re the prettiest, often the richest, the best groomed, the most fashionable, and the most sought-after. Those Girls are the gatekeepers; they determine who will be popular, who will be accepted, and who will be rejected. Susan, returning to school a year older, a year prettier, and full of tales of America (not to mention new clothing purchased in New York), found herself drawn into the inner circle of Those Girls. And she found it suited her perfectly. It was a good place to be, with Those Girls. It was safe. She no longer had to worry about being picked on, for she now was one of them that determined who was In, and who was Out.
Perhaps contributing to her general attitude, to be fair, was the fact that when she returned from her trip to America, she learned that Edmund and Lucy had taken another trip to Narnia. Peter was, naturally, full of questions, wanting to know every detail; but Susan felt oddly hollow inside. It was a combination of jealousy and frustration. Not only was Narnia now locked to her (and yet open to that brat Eustace), but shopping in New York seemed rather a small thing compared to sailing to the edge of the world with King Caspian. She excused herself from the gathering, pleading fatigue due to jet lag, and never made any special attempt to learn from Edmund and Lucy what had happened.
And then she became one of Those Girls at school, and it seemed easier just to put Narnia behind her and concentrate on being a Young Woman of the World. Late-night gossip sessions, parties, and dates distracted her.
One day, something almost disastrous happened. Lucy sent her a note, and Cynthia Martin-Smythe found it while some of Those Girls were chatting in Susan’s room.
“What in heaven’s name is Narnia?” Cynthia asked, and read from the note. ” ‘Remember that time in Narnia with–‘”
Susan quickly snatched the note from Cynthia’s hand. “It’s nothing. I mean, it’s just a game we all used to play when we were kids. We made up this country called Narnia, and we were kings and queens–just a lot of childishness. Lucy hasn’t quite outgrown it, I guess.” She forced a laugh even as she felt like she’d betrayed something.
Fortunately, Cynthia didn’t press the matter, preferring to gossip about how Sarah Featherstone sneaked her young man in the weekend before. Still, the incident further solidified Susan’s aversion to talking about Narnia. Over the holidays, whenever the others got on the subject, she’d find a way to get out of the conversation.
Summer was worse. For one, her parents disapproved of her wearing makeup, which seemed to her terribly old-fashioned, and she only hoped that none of her friends from school would see her bare-faced. For another, the others wanted to talk about Narnia constantly, it seemed.
“Isn’t there anything else to talk about?” Susan asked crossly one day. “I believe that you’re all making up half these stories, anyway. I don’t remember most of those things at all.”
“Su!” gasped Lucy. “How can you say that?”
Peter was more philosophical. “I know you’re disappointed we can’t get back to Narnia, Su, but not talking about it won’t mean it didn’t all happen.”
It irritated her. “And talking about it all the time, every single day, won’t mean we’re any closer to it. Maybe we’d all better forget about it and start living in the real world instead of mooning after talking animals!”
Knowing she wouldn’t be able to avoid a fight if she stayed, Susan stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her, and did her best to stay away from her siblings for the rest of the day.
The days went on. Summer ended, the new school term began, and Susan was again one of Those Girls. Slowly, the memories of Narnia began to become indistinct, more like the memory of dreams than real events; and soon, she’d pushed all those memories so far back in her mind that she never thought about them except when one of her siblings brought it up. And even then, it was easy to ignore. Alone, it was even possible to believe it was all a game they’d once played. With the others, it was more difficult. But Susan didn’t want to remember, and that made it easier.
That Christmas, Professor Kirke stayed with her family. Susan found herself trapped in a room with him and her siblings, and of course, Narnia came back to center stage.
“I don’t want to talk about it!” Susan protested. “It’s all just children’s games. Why can’t you all just grow up? Professor, you can’t honestly want to hash over all this again, can you?”
And the Professor looked at her very hard. “My dear,” he said sharply, “the thing about trying to make yourself stupider than you are is that you very often succeed.”
Susan flushed and left the room, determined never to speak of Narnia again. Come summer, she accepted an invitation from another of Those Girls to stay at her parents’ country manor for a few months. There, she occupied herself with preparations for living in the Real World, and she pushed Narnia from her conscious mind altogether.
Lucy came to visit once. She was becoming a young lady, and a very pretty one at that, and Susan felt she’d make an excellent addition to the next generation of Those Girls, if only she’d apply herself.
“I’m only concerned for your welfare, Lucy,” said Susan. “School can be a hard place. I know you were teased by Anne Featherstone and her crowd a lot last year, and I remember how awful it felt for me when I was your age. I won’t be around next year, and I just want you to be happy and have friends.”
“I know, Su,” said Lucy. “I appreciate it, I really do; but I don’t mind Anne Featherstone or any of her clique. I really don’t. You don’t need to worry about me.” Lucy looked at her sister. “Listen, I know you don’t . . . but would you come back to the Professor’s town house for one last chat? Everyone will be there, including Aunt Polly, and it just won’t be the same without you. Please, Susan?”
Susan pulled away. “I’ve more important things to do than sit around jawing about silly daydreams and old games. I’m almost an adult now, and at least I’m starting to act like one.” She tried hard not to see the hurt in Lucy’s eyes.
“But you know it’s not just imagination,” Lucy insisted. “You were with me at the Stone Table, Su; you must remember.”
Flashes of the horror of that night broke into Susan’s consciousness, and she pushed them aside. She shook her head. “It’s no use, Lucy. It’s not me anymore.” She hugged herself. “Go without me; I’m sure you’ll all enjoy yourselves more if I’m not there.”
That was the last time Susan saw her sister.
* * *
The railway crash took everything important from Susan’s life and replaced it with money. She was sole beneficiary of her parents, Digory Kirke, and Polly Plummer; and though individually, none of them
were rich, the estates and life insurance policies combined added up to a tidy sum. In addition, British Railways was forced to settle a lawsuit brought against them by the families of the victims (the train had crashed due to faulty maintenance procedures).
For a time, Susan had to live with Harold and Alberta Scrubb, her uncle and aunt. They’d never particularly cared for her, nor she for them, but they were her mother’s sister and brother-in-law. In a way, however, it was good for Susan’s future that she did land with them. Harold, for all his bluster, actually was very good with money, and in addition, he loved to show off how good with money he was. He helped Susan set up a trust and investments, and by the time she left their guardianship, her financial situation was a good deal more than secure.
Her emotions, however, were not. They seemed to have flown away the moment she learned of the train crash. She’d spent the funeral dry-eyed, unable to do much more than watch as her family was lowered into the ground. A picture taken that day revealed her as pale-faced, gaunt, and vulnerable, the perfect image of grief to grace a sensational tabloid headline about British Railways’ scandalous lack of attention to safety.
For over a year, Susan walked about in a fog, never knowing quite why she was doing anything. The grief, when she touched it, was so painful she shied away from anything that reminded her of her family. But slowly, she came to the realization that she must do something with herself, find some sort of meaning, or she’d go mad. Therefore, she began Lucy’s Fund, a foundation to benefit war orphans.
It was a spectacular success. Susan’s youth, beauty, and tragedy sold the fund almost without any marketing. She was embraced by the leaders of British society, and eventually by much of mainland Europe as well. She had become the adult version of Those Girls, invited to every social event, welcomed in the highest circles. Everything she had dreamed of in school was materializing. And none of it mattered. The trappings of adulthood she’d clothed herself with back then seemed like little girls with dress-up dolls to her now. Adulthood was pain. It was pasting on a smile in hopes of doing something good for the world, all the time never being certain of whether it really mattered or not.
But once in a while, she would catch sight of herself in an evening gown and tiara and remember Queen Susan the Gentle. Or she’d hear a voice or smell a scent or see something out of the corner of her eye that felt like Narnia. Those moments would send into her heart stabs of joy so strong, so real, that they hurt terribly.
And Susan would hide away again.
* * *
Another Christmas season, another benefit ball. Another year alone. And Susan wanted to escape.
Not from the ball, necessarily (though a cup of tea and a good book sounded quite a lot nicer than standing in her heels for another moment), but from Cynthia Cresswell, nee Cynthia Martin-Smythe.
“. . . quite the scandal, of course, and she’s only lucky she didn’t end up in the tabloids over it, but I say, if she’s not careful, Decent People will start giving her the Cut Direct,” Cynthia babbled as Susan wondered precisely what her lung capacity might be. Cynthia had, of course, married Old Money right out of school, and the idea that there was more to life than parties and entertainment was quite foreign to her.
As she paused for breath, a very welcome voice broke in. “Susan, there you are,” said Christopher Huntington, weaving skillfully through the crowd. “Oh, dear, am I interrupting?”
“Not at all, Christopher,” said Susan, deeply relieved. “Cynthia and I were almost done here. Cynthia, dear, I do hope to catch you again later.” She took Christopher’s arm.
“You looked like you needed to be rescued,” he said as they walked away.
“Cynthia is an old schoolmate of mine,” said Susan. “She hasn’t changed a jot, and I’m afraid that’s not a compliment.”
Christopher chuckled. “Isn’t it odd how you can simply adore someone in school, and then come to despise them for the very same reasons years later?”
Christopher Huntington was intelligent, well-mannered, handsome, and a good man–and one of the more unsettling people in Susan’s life. Unsettling chiefly because he quite obviously admired her a great deal, and just as obviously wanted to deepen their relationship. And Susan could think of no good reason she shouldn’t be agreeable to such a relationship, except that she wasn’t. She accepted his friendship, but kept him at arm’s length. She wondered what would happen if he really knew her.
“So are you just rescuing a damsel in distress, or are your aims more nefarious?” asked Susan.
“I don’t know about nefarious, but I do seem to recall that you wanted to be introduced to my uncle, and he’s here,” said Christopher. His uncle was, in fact, head of the International Red Cross in all of Britain.
“Excellent!” she said. “I would dearly like to set up a meeting with him. We’ve worked with the Red Cross in the past at Lucy’s Fund, but–“
“Susan, it’s Christmastime!” laughed Christopher. “You need to have a little fun outside of business. Come, I’ll introduce you to Uncle Warwick, and then I fully intend to ask you to dance.”
Susan forced a smile. Fun was a foreign concept these days, and Christmastime without her family seemed perfectly pointless.
Warwick Huntington, when she met him, reminded her greatly of a walrus–big, loud, and wearing a very ugly mustache. Nonetheless, he was a warm and pleasant man, much like his nephew.
“Your work, my dear, is thoroughly admirable,” he declared in his basso profundo voice. “You have a great heart for all the young people displaced and made bereft.”
“Thank you, Mr. Huntington,” she said, not feeling admirable at all. “I do hope that perhaps, after the holidays are over, we can meet in a more formal capacity to discuss certain matters.”
“Of course, of course. You have but to call me, Miss Pevensie, and I’ll have my secretary clear my calendar for you. But as it is the holiday season, I should like to express my admiration for your efforts in the traditional manner–with a gift.” He produced a jewelry box. “My nephew picked it out, I must admit; but I thought it fitting, given your tireless efforts on behalf of your charity.”
Susan blushed and accepted the box with a smile. Both men beamed as she opened it.
Inside, shining against the deep-blue velvet, was a gold pin in the shape of a lion, with a diamond eye. The past rushed in on Susan, nearly knocking her senseless with its force.
“Susan?” Christopher’s concerned voice broke through the fog, and she felt his hand grasping her upper arm. It occurred to her that she must say something.
“It’s-it’s beautiful,” she managed.
“Are you quite all right, Miss Pevensie?” asked Mr. Huntington. “You’ve gone quite pale.”
She needed to get out. “I’m–it’s the heat. I’ve a headache. I think I should take my leave now.”
“You’ve been working hard,” said Christopher. “Come, let me escort you out.”
Susan indicated the jewelry box, which she’d closed. “Thank you very much, Mr. Huntington. We’ll speak soon, I’m certain.”
Mr. Huntington kissed her hand and said goodbye, and Christopher walked with her to collect her cloak.
“You’re shaking,” he said as he put it over her shoulders. “I’ve never seen you like this, Susan. Whatever is wrong?”
She shook her head and walked out into the blessedly cold night air. Christopher waved over his driver. “Miss Pevensie is feeling ill,” he said. “Take her home, Jones.” He turned back to Susan. “I’ll call on you tomorrow afternoon.”
“Tomorrow is Christmas Eve,” said Susan, an unexpected bitter edge to her voice. “You should spend it with your family.”
“I can stop by before services. And there are few people I would like to spend time with more than you.” Christopher kissed her hand. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Susan. Do get some rest.”
Susan murmured a farewell as she stepped i
nto the car. It seemed like only moments later that they pulled up outside her townhouse.
Her townhouse was a pleasant place, decorated with impeccable taste, as she often had to entertain there. Still, there was something almost sterile about it, as if she’d decorated only with other people in mind, and not herself. There was little that was truly personal; all the items she’d inherited from her parents or siblings were carefully packed away and stored, and everything on display in the townhouse was new. The only personality that came through was from her housekeeper, Mrs. Howard, and Nicholas, her dog.
Nicholas was a little over a year old. The previous Christmas, Mrs. Howard had discovered the golden retriever puppy just outside, shivering in the cold, and had brought him in. Susan took pity on it, and though she hadn’t intended to keep the dog, it had somehow managed to stay until she’d finally given up on the idea of giving him away. Mrs. Howard gave him the name Nicholas for St. Nicholas.
Nicholas came bounding toward her as she entered the house, followed by Mrs. Howard’s sharp reprimand that he not jump up on Miss Susan in her finery. As usual, Nicholas ignored her. Susan couldn’t help but smile at the overgrown pup’s enthusiastic love for her.
“Hello, Nick,” she said, scratching him behind one fluffy ear. He wriggled with pleasure and pressed against her in a doggy hug.
“You’re home early, Miss,” said Mrs. Howard.
“I got tired. I suppose I’ve been overdoing it lately.” Susan let Mrs. Howard take her cloak. “I’m rather eager to be out of this dress and these shoes.”
“I don’t know how you even walk in those things,” said Mrs. Howard. “I’ll fix you a nice cup of tea. How does that sound?”
“Lovely beyond words.” Susan walked down the hall to her room, followed by Nicholas. She stepped out of her shoes, sighing as her feet sank into the thick carpeting, and went over to her vanity to take off her jewelry. She set down the velvet box, fully intending to put it out of her mind until such a time as she needed to wear the pin for Warwick Huntington’s benefit. A strange compulsion grabbed her, though, and she found herself opening the box to look at the pin once again.
The gold seemed to light up from within, the diamond eye almost blinded her. She snapped the box shut.
“What are you doing to yourself, Susan Pevensie?” she murmured.
* * *
As the clock rolled around from December 23rd to Christmas Eve, after Mrs. Howard had left to go back to her own family, Susan sat on her living room couch in a nightgown and robe, a cold cup of tea sitting beside her. Nicholas snoozed on the floor in front of her. Aside from a single lamp, there wasn’t a light on in the whole house.
Nicholas stirred suddenly and got up, and, as if someone had called him, walked from the room. Curious, Susan got up and followed him down the hall. He stood outside her room expectantly, and she opened the door. They walked into her room together.
Only it wasn’t her room. It was a dark sitting room, one Susan felt she should know, and she shivered. She realized she wasn’t wearing her nightgown and robe anymore, but a fashionable blouse, skirt, and blazer from her teenage years.
Nicholas walked out the door into the outside, and again, Susan followed him. The sun hit his fur, turning it into burnished gold so bright she could barely stand to look at him, but still, she followed. He led her to the edge of a cliff.
No cliff had the right to be that high or that sheer. Far, far down, she could see raging water, like a swift river. The cliff and the water extended to each side as far as she could see, and she knew, as one always knows in a dream, that it went on forever. She looked out across the water and saw that it was a gorge of some sort, and there was land on the far side.
It should have been too far to see properly, but again, as it was a dream, Susan could see the other side quite well; and she could see just as clearly the figure standing there. Lucy, her sister.
Lucy waved, a beautiful smile lighting up her face, and she called for Susan. Her words were lost in the sound of the rushing waters below, but Susan knew Lucy was calling her to come over to the other side. And Susan wanted to go.
But the gulf was too wide, the cliffs too high, and the water too wild. It would have been more use to try to cross the English Channel in her galoshes.
“I can’t!” Susan cried back to Lucy. “It’s too far!”
Still, Lucy called on and beckoned her to come, and every moment, the desire rose higher to cross over. Tears streamed down Susan’s face.
“Lucy, it’s no use! I can’t get to you!” she sobbed. “How can I ever get across? Tell me how!”
“The way across is from your own world,” said a Voice next to her.
Susan knew that Voice. She had both dreaded and desired it for years. With infinite slowness, she turned. Nicholas was no longer at her side; instead, it was the Lion. Aslan stood with her.
Every barrier inside Susan broke down. She knew how long and how deeply she had lied to herself. More shame than she had ever imagined she could bear rose within her, and she couldn’t bear to look at Him. But she couldn’t look away, either.
“Susan, my daughter,” said the Lion. “Will you come to me now?”
“After all this time?” she whispered. “Do you still want me?”
“Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen in Narnia,” Aslan reminded her gently. “Come to me, Susan. Come away from this place.”
They were in the dark sitting room again, and this time, Susan realized where they were. This sitting room was the one in her friend’s country manor, the place where she’d learned about the railway crash. This was where her life had shattered.
“How can I leave this place?” she asked bitterly. “How can I deserve to? How can you ask me to? Why did you take them away from me?”
There was a growl from the Lion. “They are not to be pitied, Susan. Nor are you. They died and are with Me; you have been given the task of living on, but you have not taken it up. I have come to ask you if you will.”
“Not living on?” Susan asked. “But I have! Haven’t you seen the things I’ve done? Aren’t they good enough? What more are you asking me to do?”
“You have done much, but you have not begun to live again. You stopped living here, beloved. Will you not take up your life again?”
The dark, cold place crushed in on her, and Susan began to weep. “How can I? I betrayed them, betrayed You. I’m a worse traitor than Edmund ever was. How can You forgive that?”
Aslan paced out of the room, and Susan followed Him to the threshold. There, just outside, was the Stone Table.
“I died on this Table for a traitor, Susan. I died for you, and I live again. Will you not come to me?”
The threshold seemed suddenly as great a barrier as the gulf between her and Lucy, but Susan slowly gathered her courage, lifted one foot, and stepped over. Then she lifted the other foot, and she left the dark room behind.
Tears were falling thick and fast, and she was blinded as she stumbled forward. But then she was caught up in the softness and warmth of Aslan’s mane, and all the pain inside her heart seemed to break apart and melt as she sobbed against Him and His love filled her once again.
* * *
The doorbell rang, and Susan called out, “Come in!” Christopher Huntington entered the house and walked into the living room. To his surprise, Susan, looking somehow better than he’d ever seen her, was sitting on the couch reading a book.
“Phantastes, by George MacDonald,” she said. “I’d forgotten how much I loved these stories when I was a child. Father used to read them to us. I haven’t read them in, oh, more than ten years. I thought it was somehow too childish, reading fairy stories. How silly I was.” She looked at the cover and smiled a little sadly. “This is Lucy’s copy.”
“You’ve never spoken of your family to me before,” said Christopher.
“I don’t speak of them to anyone, I’m afraid,” she said.
“It hurt too much.” She shook herself a little. “And what a bad hostess I am. Do have a seat, Christopher. Can I get you anything? There’s hot water for tea, if you’d like.”
“No, I’m quite all right,” said Christopher, sitting. He looked at her hard. “I’m glad to see you looking well. I was rather concerned last night. I worried if I had offended you.”
Susan shook her head, setting down the book. “No. No, you didn’t. The gift you gave me–it reminded me of things I’ve tried to forget. Things I shouldn’t forget, because they’re good. I’ve spent so long trying to distract myself from–from my family.” She bit her lip, eyes moistening. “There was so much love.”
They sat in companionable silence for a time, and then Susan stood, and Christopher with her. “I recall,” she said, “that you mentioned Christmas Eve services. Would you mind greatly if I came?”
“No,” he said, breaking into a grin. “No, not at all. You’d be most welcome. My family would love to meet you, especially my sisters. I’ve told–they’ve heard so much about you.”
She smiled back at him. “And I’m sure I’ll love meeting them as well.” She picked up her cloak, and he took it to put over her shoulders. The lion pin glinted at him from the cloak’s folds.
Together, they went out to celebrate Christmas.
* * *
Susan Pevensie and Christopher Huntington were married the following Christmas. They had four children together, and they adopted three more. Susan was always known for her charity toward orphans and poor children, and there weren’t many days that you couldn’t find her at one children’s home or another with Nicholas, bringing comfort. She had become Susan the Gentle again.
The years waned on, and her children grew and had children of their own. There were weddings and births to celebrate, and deaths to mourn, but through it all, Susan was a steady light and rock for her family. And finally, when she was very old, after Christopher had passed on before her, Susan died, surrounded by those who loved her best.
And when she awoke from this life in Aslan’s country, Lucy was there to greet her.