The Problem of Susan

I'm a big fan of Neil Gaiman, having rediscovered him years after my first exposure during his Sandman years. One of the earliest things I read during this newer prose period was Fragile Things, and the story that probably struck me the most in that book was "The Problem of Susan." Today I came across (by way of Elizabeth Bear) a remarkable review of that story written by Sarah Monette, who has a lovely blog over at livejournal. She really nails how Gaiman criticizes Lewis for his treatment of Susan, and it's not necessarily where you'd think:

In my posts on Narnia, I talked a lot about Lewis's negative portrayal of adulthood, particularly adult femininity, and the way that all his "good" characters sneer at Susan for choosing that over Narnia. That seems to be Susan's sin in Lewis's eyes, and I think it's interesting that Gaiman doesn't articulate that directly, but his critique of Lewis's stance captures perfectly what's wrong with it:
"I don't know about the girl in the books," says the professor, "but remaining behind would also have meant that she was available to identify her brothers' and little sister's bodies. [...] My younger brother was decapitated, you know. A god who would punish me for liking nylons and parties by making me walk through that school dining room, with the flies, to identify Ed, well . . . he's enjoying himself a bit too much, isn't he? Like a cat, getting the last ounce of enjoyment out of a mouse."
She also analyzes the story on a couple of other layers as well, and after I read the thing I was left with another chill down my spine, something else to think about. This is what makes great literary criticism - the ability of the essayist to make you look at a piece of writing in a new way, to have a new "a-ha!" moment.

04 June 2008


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