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Neil Gaiman Addresses the Problem of Susan

09/30/05
Submitted By Jon

Well-known fantasy author Neil Gaiman has written a short story titled "The Problem of Susan" (which I've not read), and was asked about it an interview by The Onion's AV Club. As many of you know, there has been much discussion about this problem of Susan ever since The Last Battle was published... namely, why is that Susan "falls away" from Narnia?

I'm not sure what Gaiman precisely thinks about it... but here's a bit of insight from his interview:

AVC: Your short story “The Problem Of Susan,” about C.S. Lewis’ Narnian character, has finally been published, though for years you said it could never see print because of the copyright issues. Did that turn out to be a problem in the end?

NG: Nobody’s sued me. Some of it was trying to figure out how to craft the story so that C.S. Lewis’ estate lawyer would say “I probably couldn’t get an injunction against this. This is borderline, but you could probably get away with it.” And I think that I probably did. I hope. It’s a problem story. Every now and then, someone comes up to me and says “That was an enormously wonderful story,” and other people get really offended by it. One woman described it as “blasphemous,” which I loved, that a potshot at a fictional lion from a series of children’s books could be seriously described as blasphemous. It’s just one of those moments where you look at a children’s book and there’s a thing that sticks in your head and irritates you. I was amused to see an interview with J.K. Rowling in Time where she started going off about the problem of Susan again. It’s the thing that sort of Philip Pullman hates about the books, though he hates the books and I love them. But that’s the thing he focuses on most of all. So I was trying to write a story that would address that issue, and also the wider issue of how people relate to children’s books and death. It is an intensely problematic story, and I don’t actually know if it’s any good.

AVC: It’s a difficult story to interpret, because the original characters had such defined symbolic values, and it’s hard to tell whether you’re creating your own symbolism, or subverting C.S. Lewis’.

NG: And also the fact that when you start getting into it, is what part of the text actually belongs to which of the characters in it. And for that matter, quite literally, whether the Professor is meant to be seen as what Susan grew up to be, or is merely an interpretation. Mostly, it just seems to be a story that people either love, or it pisses them off. American Gods did that, which took me rather by surprise. I was so used to doing stuff that people either really liked, or didn’t read. So for the first time with American Gods, I found I’d written something that people liked or hated. And the people who hated American Gods are absolutely articulate about why it never should’ve been published in the first place, why it’s a book of astounding terribleness. And people who love it can similarly tell you why it’s one the best books they’ve read in their whole life. Both points of view left me rather puzzled.

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