#WitchWeek2019 Day 1: the White Witch of Narnia

Book cover illustration of Jadis with Edmund Pevensie

Laurie Welch goes on a ‘classic literature journey’ on her insightful blog Relevant Obscurity, and we’re so lucky that she here shares her thoughts on a memorable Narnian figure — one who’s cold as ice — in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, as well as helpfully listing four classic villainous traits for us.

Jadis, The White Witch of Narnia:
The Most High Villain

The White Witch of The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis, is the perfect villain of childhood nightmares. Her wickedness goes to the top of evil antagonists in fairy tales and books of fantasy. She is not even human, but the daughter of Lilith, Adam’s first wife and on the other side, of giants. She is physically large and powerful, cold-blooded and incredibly beautiful. Using all this to her favor as supreme ruler of Narnia, she is also known as The Imperial Majesty Jadis, Queen of Narnia, Chatelaine of Cair Paravel, Empress of the Lone Islands, etc

Jadis is the ultimate manipulator of youthful weakness and vulnerability and delights in fear tactics, humiliation and physical punishment. She is the consummate lurer of sensitive, curious children with promises of power over others and worldly possessions. Her force is felt not only over the inhabitants of her realm, but the very environment in which they live. She is the White Witch of a hundred years of winter, “and never Christmas,” who keeps every animal, tree and fantastic beast in an iron grip of fear and submission. And would happily turn them into statues for her castle courtyard with her dreaded magic wand.

Jadis fears the prophecy that states when two Sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve find their way into Narnia and are crowned Kings and Queens, her rule will end and she will die. To prevent this her kingdom is full of spies instructed to turn them over to her immediately.

Why does Jadis have the whole of the Kingdom of Narnia in her thrall? What keeps the majority of creatures from banding together to fight against her rule? Why is it only when Aslan comes on the scene are the inhabitants of the land empowered to stop her?

It is because, as with any evil ruler, she understands people and how to use their fears to her advantage. Through chaos creation and a cruel perversion of justice, her subjects are so afraid of her wrath she only need speak a word or toss a glance and they scramble to do her will. Disobedience is not an option, and those who do might be transformed into decorative ornaments at her castle, or killed.

Tilda Swinton as Jadis in ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’

Jadis has turned the traits of an absolutely evil ruler into an art form. Here are four in which she excels:

Evil Rulers Come to Power Illegally or Take it by Force

  • Jadis fights her own sister in a war to rule their kingdom of Charn. So desperate is she to win, she speaks the Deplorable Word knowing it will end all of Creation.
  • Jadis has no rules and kills without conscience. She turns her opposition into statues as a threat to others. The foundation of her kingdom is violence and she must continue to hold her power with the same force.

Evil Rulers have Accomplices that are Forced into Servitude

  • As illustrated by Tumnus the Faun in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, who is tasked as lookout for humans and to bring them to Jadis. Although once he meets Lucy he cannot do it, which puts his life in danger.
  • Many of the animals, ghouls, dwarves and other beasts work for Jadis. Under the threat of excruciating punishment they do her bidding.

Evil Rulers Make Pacts with their Accomplices and Play on their Weaknesses

  • Edmund is at first a most willing accomplice when promised the kingship of Narnia. His feelings of inferiority to his older brother control his desire to be somebody of importance. He feels respected when Jadis tells him to keep their plan (to get his siblings into Narnia and to her castle) a secret between them. Back home he denies to Peter and Susan he’d ever been to Narnia. Since Lucy knows how wicked the White Witch is, he doesn’t want to risk her telling their older brother and sister, which may put them off going to Narnia, so he questions her sanity over making up Narnia.
  • When Peter and Susan find their way to Narnia Lucy tells them about Tumnus who saved her from the White Witch’s clutches; they set off to find him. Not sure where to start they see a robin who looks like it wants them to follow him. Edmund questions the robin’s motive, “How do we know which side that bird is on? Why shouldn’t it be leading us into a trap?”
  • And, he asks, “How do we know the Fauns are in the right and the Queen (yes, I know we have been told she’s a witch) is in the wrong.” Peter: “The Faun saved Lucy.” Edmund: “He said he did.” Edmund is, at this point, fully in Jadis’s grasp.
  • Edmund is desperate to get more Turkish Delight, which compels him to get his siblings to the White Witch, even after he begins to admit she is evil. Edmund doesn’t know Jadis has enchanted the Turkish Delight with addictive influences as a lure.

Evil Rulers are Surrounded in Myths, Suspicion and Sometimes Necromancy

  • Jadis’s ancestry is steeped in the ancient mythologies of Lilith, Jinns and Giants. And as a being without human blood.
  • The old hag in Prince Caspian casts suspicion on the belief that the White Witch is dead, ”…who ever heard of a witch that really died? You can always get them back.”
  • The old hag also challenges the notion that the White Witch is really evil. “White Lady, that’s what we call her.” By changing her name they control the memory of her.
‘The White Witch Cometh’ movie poster

Jadis’s iron-fisted rule comes to an end in the great war against Aslan’s army. The hundred years of winter end and Narnia literally blooms with the zest of life. This villainous ruler, who commanded the allegiance of a multitude through intimidation, bribery, dark magic and death, is dead.

Laurie Welch

What a fantastic start to this year’s Witch Week! Thanks, Laurie, this has been a most enlightening post.


36 thoughts on “#WitchWeek2019 Day 1: the White Witch of Narnia

  1. Pingback: A frosty queen | Lizzie Ross

  2. It’s interesting to apply Laurie’s 4 traits to historical tyrants, especially given the question of why the downtrodden don’t join forces to rebel against oppression. Tyrants certainly rely on individual fears as a way to protect their power.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re absolutely right, Lizzie, and Laurie’s analysis applies on a micro as well as a micro level, I think it’s fair to say.

      Tyrants are indeed archetypal bullies but on a larger stage than your typical playground gangleader. They are often more socially aware than your average victim, able to read individual characters — their fears and weaknesses in particular — from what they observe of their behaviour.

      They’re also good at manipulating henchmen, because accomplices are often victims who’ve thrown in their lot with the bully, seeking some degree of safety in the shadow or reflected light of the nearest most powerful figure.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. This is something that struck me as I was writing this. It reminded me that the actual ‘bad guys’ are always much fewer than the populace and keep people in their place through individual and collective intimidation and manipulation. Always a timely reminder, sadly.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. As an ex-teacher, one married to a psychologist whose PhD was a study on anti-bullying strategies, the realisation that bullies work not just through physical intimidation but through more subtle alienating techniques was, Laurie, a revelation. And yes, it happens at all levels, right to those upper echelons of political power.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Pingback: Witch Week 2019 Begins: Villains! | Relevant Obscurity

  4. Great post! I always loved the bit when the thaw begins and the Witch knows that her power is on the wane. It’s always intriguing how tyrants maintain their power, and how so often their followers become true believers rather than being forced by fear. Similar techniques apply to cult leaders.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, FF!

      “and how so often their followers become true believers rather than being forced by fear.”

      Oh my, this is a very chilling point. There were several individuals and a few sections of groups, like wolves and Dwarfs who stayed loyal to her to the end. They would rather go down with the ship than give up whatever power they (thought) they got by extension.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Beth @ Beth's Bookish Thoughts

    Great post! I havent read the Narnia books, but the discussion about the populace cooperating with villains reminds me of one of the Discworld books — Guards, Guards — in which a dragon takes over Ankh-Morpork.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Wonderful insights, Laurie. Lewis understood so much about tyranny and misuse of power, and Jadis is the exemplary version of that. We can all use a reminder about how this works. There are certainly people around today who would rather destroy their own society than lose power.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. What a fantastic start! This witch was definitely the stuff of nightmares when I was little. I remember the actress who played here on the BBC miniseries had these wide-fearsome eyes, and her mouth could contort into these syrupy smiles as well as terrible sneers. Excellent piece, thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Josna, the first picture in this post is from a children’s book I found that’s an adaptation of Edmund’s experience with the White Witch. It’s beautifully illustrated and if you didn’t know the evil with which she treated Edmund you’d certainly pick it up. But I don’t think it would make a very nice bedtime story at all even with the wonderful art work!

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I’d still be interested in looking at it. Laurie–wonder what age group it’s geared to? I didn’t know Jadis’ “back story.” Did Lewis make all that up or is she an older figure he was drawing on?

          Liked by 3 people

          1. The words in the book are not adapted or abridged, so they are the same as in the text. It’s just that the illustrations are big and colorful and the book itself is large like a children’s book; I found it in the children’s section of the bookstore. It’s a beautiful edition. It’s called, Edmund and the White Witch, Adapted from The Chronicles of Narnia, Illustrated by Deborah Maze, published by HarperCollins, 1997.

            Jadis is featured in The Magicians Nephew, a sort of prequel to The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe even though it was written much later. It’s goes into more of her origin story than TLWW does. Her story there is particularly interesting, with a bit about the chaos she creates in the “modern world.”

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Ahh, right, Laurie. I’ve read The Magician’s Nephew, but haven’t re-read it for a very long time. That was the one before The Last Battle, right?

              It’s seems a bit strange to separate out the (terrifying and disturbing) story of Edmund and the White Witch, esp. in a younger children’s picture book (albeit with striking illustrations). Such a dark story, and after all, the story of his relationships with his siblings and with Aslan is also integral. . .

              Liked by 3 people

            2. I’m minded that Lewis must surely have been partly inspired by Andersen’s Snow Queen fairytale, one I personally was both fascinated and repelled by as a kid. Do you think the motif of the woman seducing a lad with sweetmeats, hugs and cold kisses affects boy more than girl readers, or is the vicarious chilling thrill just the same for both?

              Liked by 3 people

            3. Chris, I’ve just gone and read a synopsis of the Snow Queen and I can attest to the fact that, even as a girl, I have been haunted by this story ever since it was read to us in school when I was 7 years old. In that one telling, the idea of a tiny sliver of poisoned glass lodging icily in the boy’s eye and jaundicing everything he sees, lodged in my mind’s eye so firmly that I have often wished I could un-remember it, flush it away.

              Liked by 2 people

            4. Oh, that sliver detail—you’re right, Josna, and I think Andersen’s tales have a way of insinuating distressing details such as this one into the memory, so much so that one would want to wall them up forever. Such a powerful and disturbing imagination, I have to feel strong to read his stories.

              Liked by 2 people

  8. Fantastic analysis of an archetypal villain! Manipulation, deception, fear, and exploitation of weaknesses are formidable weapons. The child-heroes of Narnia are challenged to find sources of strength in the face of such formidable opposition.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. “I’m minded that Lewis must surely have been partly inspired by Andersen’s Snow Queen fairytale, one I personally was both fascinated and repelled by as a kid. Do you think the motif of the woman seducing a lad with sweetmeats, hugs and cold kisses affects boy more than girl readers, or is the vicarious chilling thrill just the same for both? ”

    I think this is a fair question and if you add in the promise of stature and material riches Jadis enticed younger, insecure, second son Edmund with, you have the makings of an accomplice who will do anything for you, boy or girl, man or woman.

    Liked by 2 people

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