Jadis. 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.
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.