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The problem of being Susan

Jul. 4th, 2006 | 6:35

In the very long and interesting (and tangled) skein of comments to rj_anderson’s essay ‘The Problem of Susan’, several people expressed their frank disbelief that Susan Pevensie could ever forget her time in Narnia to the point of thinking it had all been a silly childhood game. Actually this is the most grimly plausible of the suppositions behind Lewis’s treatment of Susan in The Last Battle. I can say this from personal experience: I have suffered something very like it myself.

When I first read The Lord of the Rings at the age of twelve, I was horrified — ‘transfixed’ would not be too strong a word, even before it lost so much of its original vigour through casual overuse — by the sufferings of Frodo and Sam in the last stages of their journey to Mount Doom. The Ring tortured and brainwashed Frodo, sealing him off from himself bit by bit in its attempt to take over his mind and break him:

‘Do you remember that bit of rabbit, Mr. Frodo?’ he said. ‘And our place under the warm bank in Captain Faramir’s country, the day I saw an oliphaunt?’

‘No, I am afraid not, Sam,’ said Frodo. ‘At least, I know that such things happened, but I cannot see them. No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or star are left to me. I am naked in the dark, Sam, and there is no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I begin to see it even with my waking eyes, and all else fades.’

That speech of Frodo’s has haunted and terrified me ever since. So has Job 3:25: ‘For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me.’ And, as it turns out, with grim good reason: for these two terrors have intersected in the events of my life in a peculiarly unpleasant and damaging way. I beg your indulgence for going on at length about my extremely unimportant self, but I must if I am to explain what I mean by this, and how, in a sense so exact that it almost ceases to be figurative, I myself have been Susan.
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Happy Fourther!

Jul. 4th, 2006 | 6:40

Happy birthday, carbonelle! I understand that the U.S.A. is putting on a nationwide celebration with fireworks and parades and such in your honour. It seems slightly excessive to me, perhaps, if some of those people don’t know you; but as I have observed many times before, the generosity of the American spirit is an amazing thing. And so, ma’am, is your spirit, what I’ve seen of it.

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