It is easy to dismiss fantasy literature as childish drivel. In a story that can often be filled with magic, mystery, and mythical beasts it is easy to see the genre as nothing more than an escape from real life. Yet despite the magic, the worlds we met in these stories are very rarely often peaceful utopias. Something is very often going wrong behind the scenes, something that will usually allow the heroes and heroines to rise to the occasion to save that world.
Harry Potter and his friends may not have to sit through boring school classes but their
school is often besieged by the forces of He Who Must Not Be named. Wonderland may be filled with random nonsense, yet Alice discovers it is ruled by a despot who will behead her subjects if they make even the slightest mistake or win in a game fair and square. Middle-earth is under the growing threat of the dark Lord Sauron. The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz dispatches her flying monkeys throughout the Land of Oz
So to, not long upon entering Narnia, does Lucy Pevensie discover the same is true for Narnia. It is when Tumnus the Faun has second thoughts about turning Lucy over to the White Witch that he reveals the sad state of affairs in Narnia, introducing her, and the readers to the villain of the story, telling Lucy,
“Why, it is she ( The White Witch) that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!”
Lucy asks if he wouldn’t do it, to which Tumnus tells her just how cruel Jadis could be to those who defected, saying,
“And if I don’t…she’s sure to find out. And she’ll have my tail cut off, and my horns sawn off, and my beard plucked out, and she’ll wave her wand over my beautiful cloven hoofs and turn them into horrid solid hoofs like a wretched horse’s. And if she is extra and specially angry she’ll turn me into stone and I shall be only a statue of a Faun in her horrible house until the four thrones at Cair Paravel are filled—and goodness knows when that will happen, or whether it will ever happen at all.”
Like the eye or Sauron in the Lord of the Rings, or even Big Brother in Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984, the White Witch appears to always be watching. Later Mr. Beaver would elaborate further upon this telling the children that even some of the trees are on her side. This helps establish her as a cold, cruel, and ruthless totalitarian dictator.
As Mike Alsford notes in Heroes & Villains,
“The desire to recreate the world in one’s own image is a powerful motif in the characterization of the villain. Characters such as Saruman from the Lord of the Rings…and the White Witch from CS Lewis’s Narnia novels all seek to establish what might be called a new world order. Each one wishes to structure a world that is a reflection of their own individual value system, to use force to create a world that is essentially an extension of their own will.”
To that end, though she is a fantasy villain, there is something about her that for readers when she first debuted in the books in the early 1950s that was vaguely familiar. For a generation of readers that would have just come out of World War II and entered the Cold War, spies and secret police were right out of stories from Germany and Russia as dictators like Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin employed the use of secret police and would engage in cruel punishments against not only their enemies, but their allies as well.
These were not nightmarish flying monkeys swooping down from the sky or a ravenous hoard of Orcs, but the kind of thing that could strike unexpectedly. A good friend could say something in public that denounces the authority, and the next morning they could be gone and their home destroyed. Even worse they could be anyone on the street as the operated in secret. Jadis would not be the first Totalitarian dictator in Lewis’ fiction. In That Hideous Strength the organization as NICE functions as one as they try to manipulate events to gain power, complete with their own secret service.
We even learn from Mr. Tumnus that she has made it so it is always Winter and never Christmas in Narnia. A similar thing happened in the Soviet Union as Christmas was banned and replaced with a state holiday and Santa Claus, due to his connections to The Christ Child, was replaced with Father Frost. Eventually even Father Frost fell away in favor of images of Stalin and Lenin. In Herbie Brennan’s essay “The War Between Dark and Light” from the book Through the Wardrobe, in examining how indirectly World War II influenced much of Narnia, noted that,
“The rise of the White Witch herself parallels that of Hitler…She even placed a ban on Christmas, a move that echoed the ideas of Hitler’s closest henchman, Heinrich Himmler who tried to abolish Christmas, replacing it with the celebration of an old pagan festival ‘for the sake of the children.’”
Apart from the historical dimensions Devin Brown suggests in Inside Narnia,
“…By having the Witch remove Christmas from winter, Lewis may be suggesting that she has stolen the magic and mystery of the season, the incarnation of life into a season where nothing seems alive, leaving winter as simply a tine of cold barrenness which is under her control.”
So just who is this ruthless dictator of Narnia who tries to tempt Edmund to sell his soul, and his siblings with candy? It would be easy to say that she is the devil of Narnia, but that would only scratch the surface of Jadis. Jadis was not created as a good being by Aslan who fell to evil, unlike the biblical devil who began as an Angel created by God. In fact despite the lack of explicate allegory in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, characters like Sauron and Saruman are more akin to the biblical devil then Jadis, as former started out as angelic beings that fall to evil.
She is arguably one of the most well known characters in the book, due in no small part to her being the “Witch” in the title for the book, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. In terms of villains, Lewis raised the bar and as such others that would follow in the books seemed to lack something. She is cold, cruel, and can turn on someone as quickly as a winter day. She is heavily inspired by the titular Snow Queen in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. Like The Snow Queen, Jadis arrives in a sledge drawn by reindeer, dressed in white and invites a young boy into her warm embrace and promises to treat him like a son.
Compare her to other villains in the Narnia books, and she always comes out at the very top of the deck. King Miraz in Prince Caspian for example, craves his brothers throne so much that he would his brother, and exile seven of his brothers closest allies in a power play to take the throne and be willing to do the same to his nephew once Miraz and his wife have a son, but he does have a sense of honor and is willing to accept a duel with Peter. Prince Rabadash in The Horse and His Boy may have sought the hand of Susan in marriage and sought to wage war on Narnia when she refused him, but in the end he was more of a petulant brat with no respect for anyone, even his father who urged him to let this go, yet when he is punished by Aslan he changes his ways. The humans can change or act honorably, not so with Jadis.
When one of his young readers wrote, inquiring if eating the apple from the tree in The Magician’s Nephew was meant to represent Eve eating the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden in Genesis , Lewis stated,
“Jadis plucking the apple is, like Adam’s sin, an act of disobedience, but it doesn’t fill the same place in her life as his plucking did in his. She was already fallen (very much so) before she ate it.”
Yet there is a level of subtly to her evil, one that better enables her to masquerade as an angel of light. As actress Tilda Swinton said in an interview with Dark Horizons in 2005, when asked about the complexities of playing the character,
“In a way I don’t play a character at all because I am not a human but this epitome of all evil, which is really a free pass into all manner of nonsense…But there have been stereotypes of evil before now and very early on, Andrew Adamson and I shared a secret with each other that the sort of stereotype of evil, which involves shouting, screaming and getting all hot under the collar, has never really frightened us. So we wanted to look for something different and it occurred to me that not just in terms of my experience as a child but my experience with young children in my own life, that getting all hot under the collar doesn’t frighten them because if anything it makes them know that grown-ups get hot too. So the thing that children find really unfathomable, is to be cold, emotionally disengaged and to be entirely sort of dominating and quiet.”
While the good Narnians include mythical creatures like fauns, satyrs, centaurs, unicorns and winged horses, as well as a whole menagerie of lions, leopards, bears, beavers, badgers, dogs, horses and mice, Jadis’s army is something of nightmares, as is described by Lewis in the first book when Aslan approaches the Stone Table,
“A great crowd of people were standing all round the Stone Table and though the moon was shining many of them carried torches which burned with evil-looking red flames and black smoke. But such people! Ogres with monstrous teeth, and wolves, and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants; and other creatures whom I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups would probably not let you read this book—Cruels and Hags and Incubuses, Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets, Sprites, Orknies, Wooses, and Ettins. In fact here were all those who were on the Witch’s side and whom the Wolf had summoned at her command. And right in the middle, standing by the Table, was the Witch herself.”
She had apparently also become the executioner for Aslan’s Father, the Emperor Beyond the Sea, which gave her legal rights to any traitor, such as Edmund. We also learn that even after her death she still held some sway. In the original novel, Prince Caspian, Caspian calls Truflehunter the Badger and Nikabrik to a secret war council. Their friend Trumpkin has not returned yet and though they summoned the four children with Susan’s horn they have yet to see them or Aslan. Hope is dwindling and it is because of this that Nikabrik suggests something more unholy.
Bringing in two of his allies, a werewolf and a hag, he suggests dropping the four children and Aslan from their reckoning for winning the battle and suggests summoning someone else. He doesn’t even need to say the name for them to jump back in terror. Nikabrik tells them,
” Sit down again. Don’t all take fright at a name as if you were children. We want power: and we want a power that will be on our side. As for power, do not the stories say that the Witch defeated Aslan, and bound him, and killed him on that very stone which is over there, just beyond the light?”
Trufflehunter argues that Jadis’ victory at the stone table. Badgers in Narnia have a long memory and can recall their history, and he knows full well that Aslan came back from the dead and was the one who not only freed the captives from Jadis castle but defeated her in battle. Nikabrik dismisses the charge, saying,
“Yes, they say…but you’ll notice that we hear precious little about anything he did afterwards. He just fades out of the story. How do you explain that, if he really came to life? Isn’t it much more likely that he didn’t, and that the stories say nothing more about him because there was nothing more to say?… And anyway…what came of the Kings and their reign? They faded too. But it’s very different with the Witch. They say she ruled for a hundred years: a hundred years of winter. There’s power, if you like. There’s something practical.”
In fact just before Peter, Edmund and Trumpkin intervened Nikabrik and his associates were going to use their dark magic to summon the witch. The 2008 film included them actually brining back her specter, mainly as it made for an excellent visual sequence, and to find a way to work in actress Tilda Switon’s bewitching performance as the icy villainess. Later in the film adaptation of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Jadis became the embodiment of Edmund’s worst nightmare in the Dark Island.
Even before this, she has often been mistakenly believed that she was also the Lady of the Green Kertle in The Silver Chair. Much of this was due to one edition of the books that had a character guide in the back said in her bio that “She was especially dangerous, even in The Silver Chair.”The fact that the same actress who played Jadis in the BBC version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe also played the Lady of the Green Kirtle in The Silver Chair only furthered the confusion for fans.
So just who is this white witch? Jadis’ own story is filled with leis and half truths as Mr. Beaver even tells the children in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when he informs them that all things will be set right in Narnia when not only Aslan returns but two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve sit enthroned in Cair Paravel. Only a human can rule Narnia under Aslan, and Peter naturally asks if the Witch is Human. Mr. Beaver tells him
“”She’d like us to believe …and it’s on that that she bases her claim to be Queen. But she’s no Daughter of Eve. She comes of your father Adam’s—” (here Mr. Beaver bowed) “your father Adam’s first wife, her they called Lilith. And she was one of the Jinn. That’s what she comes from on one side. And on the other she comes of the giants. No, no, there isn’t a drop of real Human blood in the Witch.”
Lilith, as Paul F. Ford notes in Companion to Narnia, was,
“A female demon of both Babylonian mythology and Hebrew children who murders newborn babies, harms women in childbirth, and haunts the wilderness on the lookout for children. In the Chronicles…true to her heritage, ( Jadis) spends most of LWW trying to do away with the Pevensie children.”
In biblical canon “Lilith” was referred to different names depending on translation, including Night hag , Night Monster, Night-specter, Vampire, and the night creature. Regardless of her name in the various translations, one things becomes clear by Lewis tie-in to Lilith, Jadis may not be the devil, but she is a demon, a seductress, a witch, and a monster who will devour all in her path to power. However it is worth noting that Mr. Beaver told the children that being at al associated with Adam is what she would like the Narnians to believe.
In fact fans are quick to note a discrepancy between Mr. Beaver’s account of who Jadis was and the true origins of the White Witch in the prequel, The Magician’s Nephew, in which it is revealed that she hails from the long dead world of Charn, thus making her an invader of Narnia. Many fans have sought to try to reconcile the differing accounts through their fan fiction writings to varying degrees of success. Lewis himself notes in The Magicians Nephew that there was some giantish blood in the descendants of Charn, but never got to elaborate further.
It is certainly a good explanation for how it is to Digory and Polly she appears so tall, imposing and strong. Digory is quickly enamored with her beauty and caught under her spell. Polly, on the other hand sees through it all and thinks to herself at one point, as the witch forcibly handles her and causes her great pain,
“This is a terrible woman…She’s strong enough to break my arm with one twist. And now that she’s got my left hand I can’t get at my yellow Ring. If I tried to stretch across and get my right hand into my left pocket I mightn’t be able to reach it, before she asked me what I was doing. Whatever happens we mustn’t let her know about the Rings. I do hope Digory has the sense to keep his mouth shut. I wish I could get a word with him alone.”
Upon meeting them , Jadis inquires of how Digory and Polly came into her realm. They were mere children to her and she could tell they possessed no power of their own and was quickly intrigued by Uncle Andrew’s skill and surmised that perhaps he saw her beauty through his power and sought her out. As she leads them through the crumbling ruins of her palace she points out many disturbing locations in her palace, including her dungeons, her torture chamber, and the banquet hall where her great-grandfather murdered several nobles at dinner due to “rebellious thoughts”.
Then after they watch as she destroys an door way with her power they hear the tale of how Jadis brought Charn to an end at the culmination of that world’s last great war. Throughout her account, Jadis puts the full blame on her sister, and claims she was ready to make peace, but her sisters pride and use of magic drove her to it, as they promised not to use their powers. But Jadis had another secret: the Deplorable Word. No interruptions from Digory or Polly deter her as Jadis tells the children, all while never showing a hint of remorse for her actions,
“That was the secret of secrets…It had long been known to the great kings of our race that there was a word which, if spoken with the proper ceremonies, would destroy all living things except the one who spoke it. But the ancient kings were weak and soft-hearted and bound themselves and all who should come after them with great oaths never even to seek after the knowledge of that word. But I learned it in a secret place and paid a terrible price to learn it. I did not use it until she forced me to it. I fought and fought to over-come her by every other means. I poured out the blood of my armies like water… The last great battle… for three days here in Charn itself. For three days I looked down upon it from this very spot. I did not use my power till the last of my soldiers had fallen, and the accursed woman, my sister, at the head of her rebels was half way up those great stairs that lead up from the city to the terrace. Then I waited till we were so close that we could see one another’s faces. She flashed her horrible, wicked eyes upon me and said, ‘Victory.’ ‘Yes,’ said I, ‘Victory, but not yours.’ Then I spoke the Deplorable Word. A moment later I was the only living thing beneath the sun.”
After all, many of the inhabitants of Charn were probably innocent people who did no wrong. Then Digory hears her echo the words of his cruel uncle as justifies his disobedience of his dying Fairy Godmother’s last command to destroy the Atlantian dust that led to the forging of the rings that could transport people into another world, and barbaric and unholy experiments on the guinea pigs and Polly as she tells them,
“Don’t you understand? …I was the Queen. They were all my people. What else were they there for but to do my will…I had forgotten that you are only a common boy. How should you understand reasons of State? You must learn, child, that what would be wrong for you or for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I. The weight of the world is on our shoulders. We must be freed from all rules. Ours is a high and lonely destiny.”
The narrator tells us that while Polly already didn’t like her, however upon hearing her story, and then her proclamation to go to Earth and conquer that world is enough for Digory to quickly regret his decision. Now he sees her for the cruel despot that she really is and the same fear that grips later Narnian heroes now grips him. As Sarah Beth Durst notes in Missing the Point, from Through the Wardrobe, an essay that looks at how some readers may in fact not see the biblical parallels in Narnia right away,
“We don’t have a fallen angel or a cloven-footed red guy. There’s no fire and brimstone. Instead we have snow and ice, we have Jadis, the White Witch, the last Queen of Charn…The White Witch doesn’t need to be seen as a direct parallel to Satan to be understood as evil. CS Lewis was able to establish her as a source of evil through her actions and through others reactions to her. In fact he sets her up as the Bad Guy before we even meet her by showing us Faun Tumnus’s fear of her.”
Indeed, even when she seems to be at her weakest she is a force to be reckoned with as Digory and Polly learn when she grabs a hold of Polly’s hair as they leave for the Wood between the Worlds. While Polly speculates that the witch was shamming them, the witch seems to take ill in that world and they turn their back on her as they prepare to return home, which was when she grabbed Digory by the ear. She then leads Andrew on a madcap dash through London that results in the constable being called as she engages in a brawl outside their house.
Even when she arrives in Narnia she displays her cruelty as she throws an iron bar at Aslan as he sings that world into existence. However, when the bar simply glances off his head and hits the grass, now it is the Witch’s turn to be afraid as she shrieks and runs away from him. Now at last there is a power that can challenge even hers.
However, while she may be afraid of Aslan, this is not the last that Digory and Polly would see of her. On their quest to retrieve a fruit from a tree that once planted would help protect Narnia, she showed up at the garden with an offer for Digory, telling him,
“I know what errand you have come on…For it was I who was close beside you in the woods last night and heard all your counsels. You have plucked fruit in the garden yonder. You have it in your pocket now. And you are going to carry it back, untasted, to the Lion; for him to eat, for him to use. You simpleton! Do you know what that fruit is? I will tell you. It is the apple of youth, the apple of life. I know, for I have tasted it; and I feel already such changes in myself that I know I shall never grow old or die. Eat it, Boy, eat it; and you and I will both live forever and be king and queen of this whole world—or of your world if we decide to go back there.”
Digory refuses, but the witch is persistent, even takes on her guise of false compassion she would later use on Edmund by urging Digory to take the apple home to his mother, using his love for his parents against him and calling him cruel and thoughtless for doing otherwise. She even casts doubts his way about Aslan, telling him he owes Aslan nothing.
Her lies are persuasive and it causes turmoil for Digory. It’s only when she suggests leaving Polly behind, as she would be the only one who would know that he disobeyed Aslan, that he refuses. Jadis, who had spoken the Deplorable Word and killed her sister and everyone on her world has no sense of love, compassion, or loyalty in her. All that mattered to her is gaining power at all else and it never occured to her that someone like Digory would remain loyal to Polly after all their misadventures together.
She is kept out of Narnia thanks to the apple, and it is not until the tree is felled that she is able to enter Narnia again and impose her rule. Readers are never told when and how she came to power or established her secret police, or how she became the “Emperor’s hangman.” What matters is that her wickedness was so vile that Aslan was going to do all he could to keep her out for as long as possible, until the time came for her to be defeated as was prophesied.
It is because of her wickedness, that Aslan gives Digory and Polly a warning as he sends them back to their own world. He takes them back to the wood and shows them that the pool to Charn and they remember well just what happened to that world. The absolute power that the witch possessed corrupted her through and through to the point that there was no room for compassion. She didn’t care if she killed an innocent child so long as it secured her place as ruler. While a simple reading of her character may be to compare her to the devil, she is because of this warning a vital warning sign of just how dangerous power can be if not tempered by humility and compassion. It is a path that can only lead to doom.
Polly asks if humans have become as bad as Charn, Aslan only answers with a warning, much like the Ghost of Christmas Present in Dickens Christmas Carol warning Scrooge of the children of greed; Ignorance and Want. It is a prophetic statement, one that seems to encompass much of what would happen in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Yet at the same time, there Is a sense of hope as it could be avoided, if only we heed that warning. As Aslan says,
“ But you are growing more like it. It is not certain that some wicked one of your race will not find out a secret as evil as the Deplorable Word and use it to destroy all living things. And soon, very soon, before you are an old man and an old woman, great nations in your world will be ruled by tyrants who care no more for joy and justice and mercy than the Empress Jadis. Let your world beware.”
Andersen, Hans Christian “The Snow Queen: A Tale in Seven Stories” The Snow Queen and Other Winter Tales.2015. Barnes & Noble Inc. New York, NY.
FILM: Adamson, Andrew (Dir.)The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Starring Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, William Mosely, Anna Popplewell, James MacAvoy, Tilda Swinton, Ray Winston, and Liam Neeson. Ann Peacock,Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely ( writers). 2005. Walden Media/Walt Disney.
FILM: ” ” The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Starring Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, William Mosely, Anna Popplewell, Ben Barnes, Eddie Izard, Peter Dinklage, Sergio Castellitto, and Liam Neeson. Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely ( writers). 2008. Walden Media/Walt Disney.
Alsford, Mike Heroes & Villians pgs. 97-98. 2006. Baylor University Press. Waco, TX.
FILM: Apted, Michael ( Dir.) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Starring Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, Will Poulter, Simon Pegg, Ben Barnes, William Mosely, Anna Popplewell, and Liam Neeson. Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely ( writers). 2010. Walden Media/20th Century Fox.
Brennan, Herbie “The War Between Light and Dark” Through the Wardrobe pg. 76. 2008. Teen Libris. Ben Bella Books. Nashville, TN.
Brown, Devin Inside Narnia. Pg. 53. 2005. Baker Books Grand Rapids, MI.
Durst, Sarah Beth “Missing the Point.” Through the Wardrobe Pg. 55. 2008. Teen Libris. Ben Bella Books. Nashville, TN.
Ford, Paul F. A Companion to Narnia. Pg. 286. 2005. Harper Collins. New York, NY.
Lewis, CS The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Pgs.20,21,87-88,165. 1978. Harper Collins. New York, NY.
Lewis, CS Prince Caspian. Pgs. 179-180. 1978. Harper Collins. New York, NY.
Lewis, CS The Magician’s Nephew. Pgs. 64,70-71,192,212. 1978. Harper Collins/ New York, NY.
Lewis, CS Letters to Children. Pgs. 92-93. Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead Eds. 1995 Touchstone Books. New York, NY.
Schmemann, Serge “Capturing the Holiday Spirit, Soviet Union” New York Times. December 22,1985. Archvied.nytimes.com. Last Accessed March, 13, 2016.
Switon, Tilda and Paul Fisher “Tilda Switon for “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.’” Dark Horizons Nov. 21,2005. Last Accessed March 11, 2016.
Sweet, Louis Matthews “Night-Monster” International Bible Encyclopedia. Biblehub.com. Last Accessed March 13, 2016.
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2005 Walden Media/Walt Disney Studios.