J is for… Jadis

JJadis. Her Imperial Majesty Jadis, Queen of Narnia, Chatelaine of Cair Paravel, Empress of the Lone Islands. The White Witch. C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is a twentieth-century fairy tale that’s made its way into the popular subconscious, and despite the book’s brevity and the clear Christian allegory it contains, that fairy tale is remarkably twisty. The idea of Jadis, the villainness of the piece, taps into several very old concepts indeed.

In Lewis’s allegory, Jadis plays the role of the devil to Aslan’s Christ. A magical being who must play by universal rules, who began as the Emperor/God’s subordinate and then attempts to usurp him. Mr. Beaver calls her the “Emperor’s hangman” with the pride to think herself a queen. She has allies in all the creeping, crawling, nightmarish beasts of Narnia’s shadows, and carries out a plan to kill Aslan that was really the lion’s plan all along. We’ll never know how she felt about that, because once Aslan’s plan is accomplished, her narrative purpose is finished. Even in the prequel, The Magician’s Nephew, her only real motivation is pride.

Jadis - Tilda Swinton
The Chronicles of Narnia (2005)

In that first Narnia book, though, she’s also a version of the evil stepmother. She’s one of only two “adults” in the book — the other being the eccentric Professor, a kindly man but one so permissive it borders on neglect. In fact, he’s exactly the sort of guardian children might choose for themselves, and the sort who always seems to become a widower with a horrid second wife in fairy tales. In this case, he isn’t marrying the wicked witch, but she does threaten the children with her control for a time, despite all the animals insisting she isn’t a real Queen.

Finally, and in keeping with the theme of the month, Jadis is portrayed as intrinsically monstrous. She is the child of Lilith and jinn on one side, and giants on the other. No “daughter of Eve” this one, but she wants everyone to believe she’s human, and the animals mock her for that pretension. She can manipulate with the aid of magic, but mostly she rules through fear, even turning baby squirrels to stone for eating Christmas dinner. And although we don’t know who exactly she sacrificed on the stone table in the past, she’s murdered there before with her own hands for the sake of magic. She is tall and pale with very, very red lips, but no one describes her beauty without noting its coldness, and she ensures it is “always winter, but never Christmas” — perhaps an old fairy-tale reference to the hardest months of the year with no hope of a reward, or perhaps an inadvertent reference to female “frigidity” and just how far from the ideal Jadis has fallen.

It’s hardly surprising that Jadis is unsympathetic. She is the devil, after all. But that’s not the only reason she’s a monster, and the undercurrents of the story imply more about women and femininity than first meets the eye.

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  1. It was interesting seeing Tilda Swinton take on this role. I always pictured Jadis like she was drawn in the books – with dark hair, and very tall and imposing.

    My favourite book in this series is The Silver Chair, but I love them all (other than The Last Battle, which rather horrified me as a child).

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  2. Likable, no, but definitely fascinating. And interesting that Lewis pulled her ancestry from so many sources, not all of them inherently evil…
    (btw I gave you a shout out on my blog today 🙂 )

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

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  3. I guess it’s bad then that I felt more for her than Aslan when I read that book as a child… not sure why… but then I’ve always been more interested in the flawed or downright baddies of fiction. Batman over Superman, Wolverine over Beast (though I loved both of them). I guess maybe it’s because there is more to explore in the flawed narrative.

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    1. I don’t think it’s bad! I’m still much more emotionally involved with Aslan, but when I reread the book to do this post, I was veeeeeery interested in Jadis for more than just post-reasons. I’d never noticed how rarely she actually gets to speak for herself, for instance. I used to always prefer the darker character, but lately I’ve been interested in fusions, looking at the dark and light characters together finding out what’s being said in a work as a whole. In this case, there’s a lot being said!

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      1. I liked Aslan in that old cartoon when I was a kid. I cried when they shamed and killed him. But yeah, I agree with you. I think that’s why I’m really interested in Ironman now.

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        1. It’s a tough scene. I don’t cry during that one, though. I cry afterward when he lets the girls ride on his back to the castle. Every stinkin’ time.

          Heh, that’s apropos about Iron Man. He’s kinda both at once sometimes!

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  4. I’ve loved these books since I was a child and first picked up The Horse and His Boy, then went back and read the others. I like Jadis, but mostly because she’s such a good villain. I always loved seeing her in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and then seeing how it all began in The Magician’s Nephew.

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    1. The Horse and His Boy may be my favorite. I just can’t think about it too hard or I’ll have to declare they’re all my favorite. 🙂

      I think I kind of resented The Magician’s Nephew, somehow. I really didn’t like things not being chronological, or somehow changing LWW instead of just adding to it. I was a very picky reader.

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      1. I think that was my first experience with prequels and re-tellings, how they can change or color readings of the original, and I *loved* it. I liked the way my ideas about certain characters shifted, how even the land was a little bit different after that. But I can understand feeling a bit tricked instead. lol

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  5. I always thought the witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was a descendant of Jadis, not Jadis herself. I haven’t read those books in more than a quarter-century, though, so maybe I’m overlooking something.

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    1. They use her name in the book, so it’s for-sure the same. She’s been alive a loooong time though.

      There’s also the witch in The Silver Chair who’s one of the Northern witches and similar enough that people think she might be the same person, but that’s never confirmed. I figured she’s probably a descendant, since Jadis was the FIRST Northern witch.

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  6. I have never read the book (though I’ve meant to do it for a logn time), but I saw the film years ago. Teh thing tha stroke me the most was Jadis’s reseblance of the Winter Queen of the fairy tale, which is one of my favourite fairy tales, by the way.

    In the film, she really was utterly unsympathetic.

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