The Last Battle of Queen Susan the Gentle

The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there’s plenty of time for her to mend and perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end… in her own way. –C.S. Lewis

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Sue stands in front of her wardrobe for a moment, summoning her courage, and then she yanks the doors open, breathlessly, and pulls out the first black dress she sees, slamming the doors shut in its wake, as the rest of her dresses rock and and forth behind the wardrobe doors. She breathes again. She pulls the dress over her head.

 

She tries not to be pleased when she looks at herself in the mirror, but pleased she is, running her cold fingers through her hair and liking the feel of its warmth and fineness. She likes its pale color. She feels beautiful, and she pushes this thought away, boxing it up with a thousand others.

 

For a final touch, she takes out her lipstick, and pauses, stopping just short of running it across her mouth in a straight line. It is very red, she thinks, attempting to evaluate its color in the mirror with scientific objectivity. Her brothers would have hardly approved. Her sister would have chided her, in her mocking way. At this, her eyes sting. Poor old Lu. She had always thought of herself as the spiritual oldest. The special one. The favorite. 

 

Most of Lu’s things were on their way to being in boxes. She had a good deal of toys, though she had never thought of them as such. Relatives had boxed up her bow and quiver, queer rocks and an old horn a professor had given her. And her legion of stuffed animals. Those remained scattered around Sue’s room. A relative had deposited them there yesterday as a kindness, suggesting Sue might want to keep Lu’s prized collection in memory. Sue accepted it like a grown-up and was now looking for enough trunks to put them in, which would be no mean feat. There were bulls and leopards and rats and horses—a white stag and a golden eagle. All grand creatures that Lu had loved dearly, their majesty muted by button eyes and plush paws. Sue was anxious to put them away.

 

And then there was the carved lion Lu had found at a market. That Sue had boxed up immediately. 

 

“Sue, dear.” There is a knock and gentle Marjie enters. She is a broad woman, kind and fussy. She takes in the sight of Susan the way everyone seems to: with admiration. Fires lit in people’s eyes whenever they saw her.

 

“People are asking after you,” Marjie says, and then she sees the wet redness in Sue’s eyes and stumbles over to her, arms outstretched, as if to catch her before she falls, and she sets down on the bed with her.

 

“Oh, poor dear,” says Marjie, stroking her hair. “Poor, poor dear.” Sue puts her head on Marjie’s shoulders, but the tears are already subsiding. The dam had burst, but there was no river to speak of. Is this what it’s like to be grown-up? she wonders. 

 

“Dreadful,” Marjie coos, still stroking Sue’s hair. “There’s nothing else to say.”

 

“I know.”

 

“No sense to it,” she says. 

 

“Thank-you,” says Sue, straightening. “You’re terribly kind.” 

 

“The least I can do, dear. Simply the least.”

 

“I’ll be down shortly.”

 

Marjie nods and sniffs up her own tears, before taking her leave. She is so stocky she nearly waddles, Sue thinks.  

 

Sue tries again not to be pleased when she looks at the mirror, and feels some relief at her swollen eyes. Perhaps she is not so beastly after all. She applies the lipstick and smacks her lips and walks out of her room, down the stairs and into the crowded, sniffling parlor. 

 

Nobody speaks to her, but then, few people are speaking at all. It is all quivering tea cups, cake crumbs and delicate whispers. The whole affair is as prim and fragile as a cracked vase, and far too bright. Like morning. She thinks it odd that she does not recognize more people. They are all so quiet, and their quietness fills her like a mighty roar of judgement. She wonders what they are thinking of her and her lipstick, and again she feels ashamed, and again she starts to cry. This gives her relief, but only for a moment. Is she crying because she has not been crying? Oh, she thinks. It is all too awful. 

 

She hears the tut-tuts and “poor dears” as she walks through the parlor and up to the small, solemn table of crosses and photographs. They were old photographs (the Pevensies had never taken many), still as stone, back when they had been very young. 

 

She imagines them on the train, just before the crash. So full of life, she thinks. Such playful spirits. She wonders if they were talking about movies or America. Or perhaps the holidays. Her brothers—so stern and grown-up, but still happy to indulge Lu’s games. She turns away from the photographs and she does cry now though not for their deaths and she hates herself for that too. Why can’t she just cry because they are dead, she thinks.

 

“Hullo, Sue.” It’s her Uncle Scrubb, whom she has never liked. He is thin and stern, with a great shock of blonde hair and an untamed beard. “Dreadfully sorry.”

 

“Thank-you,” she says and she accepts his embrace cooly. Why is everything so bright?

 

“I’m certain you’re growing tired about hearing what fine people your siblings were,” he says. “But I must tell you, I’m grateful. Our Eustace was never the same after your brother and sister spent the holidays with us. Remarkable children.”

 

“Thank-you,” she says again. She had forgotten about that they had all been together while she had been in America. Eustace was a horrid beast and it must have been miserable. “I loved them all dearly.” 

 

“I shouldn’t call them children, should I?” Uncle Scrubb says. “They were—you are—awfully grown-up.” 

 

“They were,” Sue agrees, straightening. “Smart, brave and kind as beavers.” 

 

Uncle Scrubb nods. 

 

“Very kind,” she corrects herself. 

 

“Very kind, indeed.”

 

There is a silence, as Uncle Scrubb runs out of things to say and so he turns his back to her and starts looking at the photographs. He too is judging her, she knows. Judging her lipstick and her beauty. Judging her for lingering on when the rest had gone further up and further in. 

 

“I am sorry,” she squeaks to her uncle’s great mane of hair. 

 

He turns. “Sorry for what?”

 

He knows, she thinks. He knows what she’s sorry for. And she promptly flees, leaving him puzzled and abandoned, holding a drink in one hand.

 

It is not my fault, she thinks. It’s not! They judge you for not growing up and they judge you for growing up. Without her, they would have played their silly games forever. Lu and the boys. Even when she had been playing, she never seemed to get it right. She wanted to make them understand but now they were gone, gone, lost forever to their games and their morning. Morning, she thought. Why does it feel like morning? She squints her eyes against it. 

 

“Can’t we get anything for you, Sue, dear?” says someone, she doesn’t know who. Some woman. 

 

“I’m quite alright,” she says. “I feel I need to sit down.” And with that, all the mourners arrange themselves for her as if she was royalty. 

 

“Make way!” cries someone, and she walks down to the sofa, flanked on either side by attendants. “Are you alright?” they chirp. “Are you alright?”

 

“I’m fine,” she says, unable to open her eyes into the light. “I just want to sit.”

 

They sit her on the couch, just across from the memorial table and the pictures of Lu and the boys. They are bringing her water. There is a kettle on 

 

“If someone could just pull the shades, perhaps,” she offers weakly.

 

“The shades are pulled,” says her uncle, wreathed in golden hair. “But it is not night yet.” She closes her eyes against his face, but it is there still, bounding towards her.

 

“I think I’ll go upstairs,” she cries, and all the attendants seem to echo her. “Up!” they say. “She wants to go up!”

 

She stands up, and she sees the photos of Lu and the boys, following her. The Magnificent. The Just. The Valiant. All looking at her beautiful face and her beautiful lipstick. “I am sorry,” she says again, her eyes brimming. ”It’s alright, it’s alright,” her attendants chirp, but Lu and the boys remain frozen. She goes to the stairs, but she feels carried aloft, and she feels as if their faces are held in front of her with each step, and the morning light shimmers all about. 

 

And when she enters her room, all Lu’s stuffed animals and gathered in a splendid array, as if to announce her presence. “Susan!” they cry. “Susan the Gentle!” She enters in great strides, with the mourning attendants behind her and the great gathering of creatures before her, in a line, leading up to her old wardrobe, from which the sounds of thundering and trumpets roll forth. The animals tear at her dress, readying her for her homecoming. “Make way! Make way!” And she throws open the wardrobe without hesitation this time, fearless as she once was. Young. 

 

Not an hour later, Marjie enters her room, and is surprised that Sue is not in bed. Instead, she finds her curled up in the wardrobe, heaving with sobs, scratching her nails along its cedared, swirling interior. 

 

“Oh, poor dear,” coos Marjie, pulling her limp, quaking body out of the wardrobe, over Lu’s animals, stepping over a carved lion that she did not recall having been there before, and moving her towards the bed. “The poor, poor dear.” 

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8 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Jessica Morris and commented:
    I don’t reblog other people’s posts. I try to keep this website as an archive or portfolio of my writing. However I read this short story by Tyler Huckabee and was mesmerised. As a fan of CS Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia, I hold the characters of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy close to my heart. I have always been upset about the ending in The Last Battle. The fact that Susan does not enter the true, eternal Narnia saddens me. For the first time, this story explains why she did not enter it with her siblings, and explores the possibility of her returning to Narnia.
    I’d encourage you to read this. Let the words carry you back to Narnia, to simpler times. This story truly is worth reading.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Jessica. Susan’s open ending has always haunted me (and Neil Gaiman’s take on the subject “The Problem of Susan”, has always struck me as deeply unsatisfying) so this is something I’ve been meaning to write for a while. Glad it hit home.

      Reply
  2. This takes me back to the heartbreak of reading Susan’s decision in the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time. I’ve always wanted to believe she changed her mind later. Thanks for a fresh perspective on some of my favorite stories.

    Reply
    • I could never pick a favorite book, but I’d say at least two of the books in this series qualify as my favorite story. Still, I’ve found Lewis’ handling of Susan to be one of the Chronicles’ weakest link (at this time, he struggled mightily with depicting compelling female characters—it was a flaw he corrected [and how!] by the time he wrote ‘Till We have Faces’). I hope this piece shows a little of the tension Susan must have felt in her disbelief.

      Reply
  3. This is wonderful. Susan’s elegance and desperation, her refinement and her rawness- what a juxtaposition. Even as the unbeliever of the four, it’s always seemed that she was in so many ways sympathetic…And after reading this, all the more.

    After all, haven’t we all left our own tearstains and scratchmarks in cedar wardrobe backings at some point or another?

    Reply
  4. Sofi

     /  October 12, 2013

    This was so beautiful! I never really thought about what it was like for the people who were left behind in the book. Your story brought that to life perfectly

    Reply
  5. Audra

     /  October 13, 2013

    This was lovely – made me cry. I’ve always related a lot Susan…not something that’s easy to admit, but overcoming unbelief is something I often revisit. This gave me hope!

    Reply
  1. honey&salt | what happened to Susan?

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