Dublin Press Reporter interviews Nan Rinella
The first in this SKETCHES series
Whatever Happened to Susan?
Reporter – “Where do you get your ideas?” is a common question asked of authors. So, where did you get the idea for your series THE CHOICE and the first two books, Dreams in the Distance and Hopes on the Horizon?
Author – “Whatever happened to Susan?” was the question left unanswered at the end of The Chronicles of Narnia. In The Last Battle, the seventh and final book of the series, all the leading characters perish in a three-train crash in London, except for Susan (who wasn’t at the scene). No tears please, they went with the great lion to Aslan’s country (heaven).
Reporter – Oh good.
Author – In 1957 a boy wrote C. S. Lewis asking about Susan. Lewis wrote Martin back that the books didn’t reveal what happened to Susan. She was left alive in this world at the end, by then a rather silly, conceited young woman. He suggested that there was still plenty of time for her to mend and maybe get to Aslan’s country in her own way. Lewis thought that as Susan grew up, she might have come to think whatever she had experienced in Narnia was nonsense. (C. S. Lewis: Letters to Children)
Reporter – This is Susan’s story?
Author – Yes and no. The question about Susan captured my curiosity. I actually began her story titled In Her Own Way, but soon discovered it would be copyright infringement. So, I asked myself, “Self, what would have happened to a 21-year-old English woman who lost her family in that actual 1952 London train crash.” So began Lily’s story.
Reporter – So there was a real train crash?
Author – Yes, on the morning of October 8, 1952. Three trains, like Lewis described it in The Last Battle, crashed at the Harrow and Wealdstone station in greater London. It was the worst peacetime rail crash in the United Kingdom, killing 112 and injuring 340. Lewis was writing the book in fall of that year, so obviously he used it.
Reporter – All of the major characters were involved but not Susan? Where was Susan?
Author – Not on either of two of the trains or standing on the platform. Earlier in The Last Battle her brother says that his sister is no longer a friend of Narnia. Another character says that Susan is interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations. Another comment by an older woman, “She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”
Reporter – As a female myself, and having gone through adolescence/young womanhood, I can’t imagine Mr. Lewis consigning Susan to damnation for silliness. Can you?
Author – Not at all. He did write in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (the first published book of the series) that once a queen of Narnia always a queen of Narnia. And she was Queen Susan of Narnia.
Reporter – Why then would C. S. Lewis leave such a hanging thread?
A – Well, in a 1960 letter he wrote that he could not write that story himself. “Not that I have no hope of Susan’s ever getting to Aslan’s country; but because I have a feeling that the story of her journey would be longer and more like a grown-up novel than I wanted to write.” He suggests that he might be mistaken and why doesn’t she try it herself?
Reporter – Is that kind of a challenge to you? Permission even?
Author – I actually think Lewis wouldn’t mind. But copyright rules don’t agree. And though I can’t use his characters or plagiarize his work (with the exception of using brief quotes properly attributed), there is no restriction against Lewis and his friend J. R. R. Tolkien appearing in my novels.
Reporter – So Jack may be smiling down on your efforts?
Author – I hope.