I remember loving the “Narnia” series as a kid. It was light, fun, and it touched on themes of war, love, sacrifice, and honor in ways I could understand. Also— due to its relatively overt Christian themes — it was one of the few fantasy novels I was allowed to read as a child. Then I grew up. I re-examined it in my adulthood. It was still captivating in a nostalgic way, but something about the first book in the series struck me as odd. Why are the other Pevensies presented as awful people for not believing Lucy? Think about it.
They are playing hide and seek, absolutely zero time has passed, and Lucy comes to them saying she has been in a magical world for hours hanging out with a rather pleasant if not overly anxious fawn, played by the ever delightful James McAvoy in the latest movie. To cap it all off, when they go investigate, it literally isn’t there. It’s just a wardrobe. So, Why WOULD they believe her? They are refugees from a bomb-ridden London. Magic doesn’t exist as far as they know, the world is a dark, gritty place for them.
The vibe here from C.S. Lewis has nothing to do with a lack of childhood imagination either, the world hid itself from them. In a way, he’s gaslighting his characters for not believing something when there’s actual provable evidence to the contrary (like time itself and…wood). The magic world actively hid itself from them, even though they played along with Lucy and went to investigate, but they’re supposed to just intuit that it exists somehow? Also, is the world sentient? What causes its wardrobe portal to close randomly?
So you might ask yourself, maybe this wasn’t the intention. Maybe there’s more than meets the eye here. However, when the children go to the professor, he begins by giving them a false dichotomy: Either your sister is crazy or she is telling the truth. There’s way more nuance even to real life conspiracy theories than this, and there’s less sexist ways to frame the conversation about your female sibling acting weird. Unpacking this logic in the reverse implies that if she’s not being entirely truthful, she must be crazy. Not cool. There are more than two options here. Maybe she just imagined it and wanted to share it with you? Then, when the conversation is over, we hear the professor talking to himself after their encounter, wondering what they’re teaching kids at school these days. Oh I don’t know, like…believe your eyes and there’s no such thing as magic? It’s a weird thing. What exactly does the professor wish that people learned in school? To believe in something despite the evidence? Maybe that tells you something about trends in modern politics, but I don’t want to get too much into that here. The worst part is, if you’ve read The Magician’s Nephew, he has literally been to this world already. He knows it is real. Why doesn’t he say that and help them out?
And yes, Lucy’s siblings could have absolutely been way nicer to their sister about it. They were dicks about it once she wouldn’t let it go, but that’s not what C.S. Lewis even seems to care about, as seen through the words of the professor (an analogy for the author himself, I think). He wants us to know that the proper thing is to believe there’s a magical pocket dimension when they had seen zero magic in the world at all up until this point, even though upon investigation it wasn’t there.
Eventually, the world relents and reveals itself to them, but inconsistently and only for a time. There are times when it shuts itself off again, and this brings me to my final point. I think that this attitude towards unbelief and adult thinking culminates in one of the most heart-breaking moments in the series. Narnia’s weird algorithm manifests in Susan eventually being left out of heaven because she was too interested in “lipstick” and “nylons”, which certainly sounds like a way of implying that people who grow up and dress a certain way aren’t the type of people Aslan wants in his magical heaven that lies up the waterfall at the edge of the world (super cool concept for a driveway by the way). This facet is highly debated amongst lovers of the series. It isn’t crystal clear why Susan is left out, but Lewis mentions lipstick, nylons, and invitations. Sounds like she’s growing up to me.
Yet, Aslan’s country has room for people who followed Tash, the ol’ dirty bird god, which is refreshingly universalist for a devout protestant, but also inconsistent with the way Lewis kicked Susan to the curb (eternally) for failing to be interested in magic once she grew up and, ya know, had to get a job and dress like a grown-up. That’s without even mentioning the fact that the other children died young in a train wreck at the ages of 17, 18, and 21. Susan lost her whole family. The others never had to balance growing up and having their faith evolve and grow as they got older, much less get jaded and traumatized by your entire family dying really young in a single day. They never had to figure out how to pursue a child-like faith when you’re not an actual child. It’s so disingenuous to assume that someone doesn’t want to live forever simply because they grew up and had to get a job and didn’t have as much time for things. Maybe Susan was grieving her family too. Hearkening back to the first book, whatever happened to “once a King or Queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen in Narnia” and all that?
At the end of the day, I think that this issue is an even deeper window into Lewis’ faith schema than the actual story itself, which is really quite beautiful and fun. Sacrifice, friendship, forgiveness, magical creatures. Love that shit. Faith is powerful. Believing in something beyond yourself can be a healthy thing. I certainly have found that to be the case in my own life. However, when you gaslight other people for not following you when the only evidence is your own personal experience, that’s a problem, and I think that’s on display here. Making people feel bad about growing up is also a bad thing.
What’s the solution? In the first book, Lucy is upset that the others aren’t believing her. In response, she just straight-up goes back into the wardrobe to explore the world on her own and find meaning there. I think that was the right call and a good analogy for how we all could act when someone disagrees with our subjective beliefs. Don’t be angry at other people for not accepting your metaphysic on its face when your evidence is experiential, just live that life if it gives you meaning and walk back into the wardrobe to explore it. They’ll follow you if they find it too, but they aren’t bad people if they don’t, and if there’s an actual afterlife pocket dimension, the Susans among us shouldn’t be left out of it because they grew up and put on lipstick.