Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Names may or may not be accidental...
I sailed past Hainault station on the bus this morning and had to hike back. Why? Well, I was thinking. (No laughter at the back, please.)

Yesterday, there was a discussion over on madfilkentist's LJ about Prince Caspian which he had been reading as a preparation for seeing the movie. It struck him (and I hope I am paraphrasing him correctly) that there is a dangerous message in the book, which is basically, believe what people say rather than reason for yourself. (Yeah, "Trust the Force, Luke." Sometimes I hate Lucas.) In particular, that Trumpkin – always one of my favourite Lewis characters – is mocked and scared silly because he thinks rather than just believes what he is told.

At one point I (probably slightly mis)quoted Lewis in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where there is a conversation where Eustace says, "In our world a star is a ball of flaming gas," and the reply is, ".. that it is not what it is but what it is made of." madfilkentist responded with this exchange between Susan Sto Helit and DEATH:

Susan: "Oh, come on. You can't expect me to believe that. It's an astronomical fact."


Susan: Really? Then what would have happened, pray?"


He wondered if Pratchett was echoing Lewis, then remarked on the comment threads being invaded by Susans.

Which led me to this morning's speculation. It may be that what follows has already been discussed at length. Though I have a copy of Guilty of Literature it's years since I read it, and I know that there is masses and masses of literary criticism around on both authors. Terry may have been asked about this and denied it utterly. Furthermore, I tend to steer clear of trying to analyse books in any depth because I also read and listen to people like Clute and fjm and peake, and trail behind them going, "Gosh, I never thought of that."

But, on a superficial level, Susan Sto Helit and Susan Pevensie have a good deal more in common than the name. Enough to wonder if Susan Sto Helit's first name was deliberately or unconsciously chosen because of Susan Pevensie.

For a start, Pratchett doesn't use very many ordinary, everyday English names. Granny Weatherwax is Esme, of course, and Vimes is Sam... But Sam is plainly meant to recall Sam Spade. Susan? It's a down-to-earth name for a down-to-earth character and I rather thought that was all it was. Is it meant to recall another Susan?

Compare Susan Pevensie with Susan Sto Helit. Both were brought up with heavy supernatural influences, Susan P. with Narnia and Aslan, and Susan S.H. with DEATH. Both women reject them and prefer to live in the sensible, everyday world, and enjoy it. Both are deeply alone (referring to Susan P. after the end of The Last Battle, when every member of her family dies.) Both are practical young ladies, rather good with weapons (remember Susan P's skill with the bow and arrow?) Hell, both of them have even met Father Christmas/Hogfather. And, by gum, Susan Sto Helit is the epitome of logic and reason and practicality – the very qualities that Lewis seems to reject in many of his books in favour of blind faith, Biblical authority and mysticism.


I don't think that any of the books featuring Susan Sto Helit are meant to send up Lewis specifically, but I do think that, consciously or unconsciously, Pratchett has created a heroine called Susan who has more than a touch of Susan Pevensie about her, and who embodies practically everything unLewisian.


  • 1
I think you may be overanalysing it personally... and by the way it's Sto Helit not Hilit...

Thank you.

Spelling, even of names, is not my forte.

It's quite possible.

Another problem with Prince Caspian:

Red Dwarves good.
Black Dwarves bad.

Yes. They would be Black Dwarves, wouldn't they? It is true of other creatures, too. What's more, as Aslan created all the creatures of Narnia, either he built the evil into them at the beginning, or the White Witch corrupted them - but how could her magic corrupt Aslan's creatures? And why specific kinds?

Of course, what it means is that he didn't think it through. [grin]

I think there are interesting parallels there, although there is clearly more to Susan Sto Helit than just a comment on Lewis's character (I think there'd have to be more about lipstick, were that the case). There are definitely assumptions about what 'a Susan' is or should be, and that comes at least in part from other Susans in children's books. Susan Walker would be another interesting one to look at.

Slightly beside the point: isn't Granny Wetherwax's full name actually Esmerelda?

Probably. I'm talking through my hat a bit, because Pratchett is one of those authors I don't re-read...

Of course, Pratchett also names characters after people he knows, and he probably knows a lot of Susans, including frostfox.

I thought of Susan Walker, too. I have quite a lot of sympathy with her and Susan Pevensie, because I think they both suffered from being eldest daughters and expected to take on a "maternal" role towards their siblings.

Isn't there a Susan in Weirdstone of Brisingamen, too? But it's a long time since I re-read that and I can't remember much about her.

Just a thought:
there is another Susan who had an ... unusual ... grandfather. Ask ian Chesterton & Barbara Wright.

True, but he's not supernatural. Oh, well, maybe he is in his present incarnation...

Turns out his daughter is Buffy (or as close as RTD can get without being sued)

The eldest child should be a daughter and she should be called Susan so that she can do all the sensible stuff while the next child should be a boy called John who can then have all the fun.

This would be a case of art imitating life, of course.....

(For some of us there will always be a Susan who knows far more than we do.)

On subject. I think it was a Victorian belief that the eldest daughter must be the 'dutiful one' who is made responsible for her siblings in childhood and her parents in old age etc. Susan being the most popular name for girls in the fifties just made it inevitable that so many 'heroes' would get the name.

I think Terry did subconsciously subvert the Susan character of Lewis, though his Susan is rather closer to the Alice of Wonderland fame, being 'just so' and unflappable about everything.

And, by gum, Susan Sto Helit is the epitome of logic and reason and practicality – the very qualities that Lewis seems to reject in many of his books in favour of blind faith, Biblical authority and mysticism.

Oooooh, doing well up to there. C.S. Lewis doesn't have anything against the use of logic, he's just really bad at using it.

Lewis loves using logic to make a point, it's just that his logical arguments are full of holes. His his 'lord, liar or lunatic' argument meant to be expressed in logic. He even refers to a variation of it in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in order to demonstrate that Lucy has not gone nuts (when the professor exclaims "don't they teach logic in school?").

Nevertheless, Susan in the Discworld series does indeed favour the kind of down-to-earth logic without the hideous errors that Lewis seems to love to make so much.

I was using the word 'logic' in a rather loose sense, and for that I apologise.

But surely your examples make him a user of false logic? Of course he thinks he is being logical and reasonable - we all do, don't we? However, he shows little approval of characters who think rationally - look at his treatment of Trumpkin! Then there is his treatment of scientists, particularly in That Hideous Strength, where his villain is, apparently, a libelous picture of J.B.S. Haldane.

Incidentally - and I can't resist this, so sue me - I have a picture of Lewis reading The Worlds of Null-A and muttering, "What do they teach them at these schools?", particularly as the philosophy in the Narnia series seems to have stopped with Plato!

  • 1

Log in

No account? Create an account