September 14, 2010: Screw it.
I don't know; maybe Jack Lewis never meant the Pevensie children to remain Kings & Queens in Narnia past their mid-20's, never meant them to have married & had children in Narnia. But this is the story that I have to tell, consider it an interpretation, or re-interpretation if you like.
Appropriate music: Sometime Anywhere, by the Church
She cried for her lost children, and for their lost kingdom (though of course, from their point of view, it was not actually lost until generations later).
She cried for her lost lover & beloved, her husband born of the stars.
She cried until she could not bear to remember they were real.
To be ripped from them in the richness of adulthood, on the cusp of middle age, & made again a young lass, a child really; that was obscene. She had lived in Narnia longer than in England, indeed she was a Narnian more than an Englishwoman by that time.
On returning to England, both times, Susan was shoved back in her body as it was the hour she left England, like being rewound, with old memories sliding & spilling out of her head as if her brain didn't have room for them. She remembered the outline of her life that was, & yet every memory of Narnia, where she had lived her whole adult life—& indeed every memory of her life itself—was a phantasm, shimmering & uncertain. And she had to grow up. Again. In lousy old England.
In the days of King Caspian, she & her siblings had found themselves again in Narnia, yet somehow reduced to children, not much older than when they had arrived at the beginning of their own Golden Age. In time she dared to look in histories that were as much myth as history by then, to learn what she could of what had happened to the children left behind. Her own offspring had indeed reigned in Narnia after she & her siblings had left. And in time that kingdom had faded away as all kingdoms of men fade. Her knees buckled in terror of what she knew, & of what it meant to her that she knew it.
Peter found her weeping in a room of what once been their castle.
“It's not your fault.”
“Isn't it? We left, Peter. From their point of view, we just disappeared.”
“It's not your fault that our dynasty eventually failed. We've been gone for millennia—”
She looked at him bitterly, disapprovingly. How could he be so dense?
“—and the rest is not your fault either. We left behind a legacy that would be able to serve Narnia well for ages to come. We did our duty & were sent—”
“Don't you dare say home.” She glared at him with eyes that sparkled like stars. “This was home. And we lost all those days with our families when we left. Years, Peter. I used to hope that something like this would happen, that we would get to return in time.”
“To return home.”
“Indeed. And I would get to continue my life. My real life, Peter. To have to go back & 'grow up' & be educated in England was bearable if I had hope that they were still there for me to go back to.
“But this—to return to a world where time has flown on so far ahead of us while we plodded slowly along in England,” (here the word dripped with contempt), “to find all of our spouses & children dead—this is an insult. A horror.”
And then the Lion would send them back to England & tell her & Peter that they would never return. I think the Lion meant it as a mercy, in his own way. But to Susan, who had been Queen Susan & was now plain common Susan Pevensie, it was the final insult.
Over the ensuing years, as her body grew & aged again, her dreams echoed unbidden memories of her life at each age in her own world, in the real world—not just the bare facts, but physical memories, emotions, the stuff of beating heart & touch & scent. How many nights would she wake up from memories streaming back into her her head of her husband inside her, or her children pulling at her, or the smell of onions on her sheets in their rooms near the stables, only to know that they were dead & gone, long gone, indeed as far as the rest of this stupid gray world was concerned they had never existed.
Occasionally she wondered if really the her that was in England was just split off from the her that was in Narnia. The histories she had read were so many centuries on, & she had had so little time to investigate. Maybe she really had lived out her life in Narnia, & the Susan she was now was just a splinter of consciousness, to go back home & comfort her English family, while the Narnian Susan got to live out the rest of her life normally. That would be good for her family. Not so good for poor English Susan though, not to know. And no one ever found out if there was really a Susan that had lived out her life in Narnia, or if she & her siblings really had, as it appeared, simply been plucked from the woods in the western marches & sent back to England.
Indeed, after the adventure with Caspian, she knew that magic could take one out of one's body, have one experience a length of time in one world, & then set one back in the same moment. Was it too much to hope that one day all this dreary English life would be over & she would be back in those woods, that she would ride home to Cair Paravel & her husband, the very same day she left?
But she thought of the Lion's words. She would never return. And the way he said it, it seemed that was according to her point of view, time as she experienced it, not as her nation would see it. Narnia, indeed the whole world she had known, was no longer for her, as if it had only been a children's playground & she had outgrown it. How could he give her that? Had she not been a Queen of Narnia as an adult, known the pains & pleasures of adulthood there? Did not men & women live their whole lives on that earth, from birth to old age? Did not her own husband & children? If it were only Narnia forbidden to her, that she could endure. She would happily lived in Archenland, or the islands, or Calormen, or the wild & dangerous lands of the west, & had Narnia forever forbidden to her eyes & to her feet, so long as she could have her life back. She could live a pauper in a strange land surrounded by speakers of strange tongues to have her man back. How dare the Lion deny that to her?
Was that to be it? Was she to live her life over, totally different, & never return? How strange it was going to be to find herself again the age she was when she was pulled back to England & childhood; & from then on simply grow old with this as her only world, only future, evermore. Given how time seemed to rush forward in Narnia, by the time she caught up with herself nothing back home she could recognize would be left. Continents could rise & fall, or move into different climates, in that time. It could even be a dead world, naught but dust. She imagined the Lion sometimes; saw him telling her there was nothing to be done, that even for him Time & Causality were such that she could not go back to the life she'd lost. Her life & world were millennia dead while she spent a single accursed year in England. Damn damned England.
In such a torment, can you blame her for wanting this cup of grief to be taken from her, for not wanting to speak of it, wanting to forget it all in a world where even her body itself told her that it had never happened, she'd never been a mother, let alone a queen?
When they had been back in England for some years, Peter came by & sat with her a bit, & granted that he understood how she felt. That was something.
Edmund didn't seem to know how to talk about serious emotional matters with her, & Lucy, infuriating merry Lucy, was no help at all. They were driven apart, unable to speak to each other, first about this, then at all.
Lucy, thought Susan, was lucky in a way. She seemed somehow to both remember & forget. To remember the wonder of Narnia like a child; & to forget, or somehow not notice, the pain of losing all she had lost. To Lucy, apparently Narnia was a fond memory (& she had even been allowed back once, even as Susan had been shut out). But the husband & children Lucy had lost seemed not to weigh on her at all.
(Of course, this is how different two sisters can be in how they cope with similar problems. Lucy had in fact left behind not only a husband, but quite a small child when they had been wrested back to England. But she kept her memories like jewels in a box, & in order to maintain some connection to a world that had somehow become unreal, could not bear to forget any piece of beauty that she could remember. To Susan, however, this was as having oneself kicked in the gut.)
(The Lion, I suppose, would not tell you these things. He was fond, said Dr. Lewis, of saying that he told no one any story but their own. But I am not the Lion. And I tell you this, knowing perhaps you had to hear it. And Jack Lewis, when he wrote the books about Peter & Susan & Edmund & Lucy, had himself never married nor been a father. It was easier for him to write the story for children, & in line with the propriety incumbent on stories for children of his era, not to confront this admittedly difficult matter. But I am not writing for children; rather for the grown men & women who read Lewis's books as children & now wonder about these things.)
And so Susan tried to reclaim adulthood on her terms, now she was stuck on the round earth of her birth. To forget, if that's what the Lion, damn his eyes, demanded. To be English, fine, but to be the best English she could be. And not to hold to what had been lost & was forever denied her.
Nevertheless, I do believe that Susan will dance with her beloved again, if only in the world at the end of time. Maybe Time & Causality are not so linear as all that, & there is a way back to that Golden Age. Perhaps she already has met him again in her dreams. Or she had to learn to set it aside while she lived in our world, until she can walk in Narnia again, this time as indubitably a grown woman.
She will see him again, & he will teach her to dance in heaven as the stars. Throw your mind forward to a world not yet seen, not yet born from our point of view, & look through a child's eyes up at the night. There she is, Queen Susan, glimmering brightly by her love.