|Jadis, the White Witch|
Jadis, the White Witch. Art by Leo and Diane Dillon.
|Race||Humanoid (Northern Witch)– (rumoured by opponents to be half Jinn, half Giant)|
|Title||Her Imperial Majesty, Jadis, Queen of Narnia, Chatelaine of Cair Paravel, Empress of the Lone Islands (Former: Her Imperial Majesty Jadis, Empress of Charn)|
|Family||Unnamed sister (deceased; killed by Jadis)|
|Major character in|
|Portrayals in adaptations|
|1988 BBC miniseries: Barbara Kellerman|
|2005 Walden/Disney film: Tilda Swinton|
|2008 Walden/Disney film: Tilda Swinton|
|2010 Walden/Fox film: Tilda Swinton|
Jadis is the main antagonist of The Magician's Nephew and of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in C.S. Lewis's series, The Chronicles of Narnia. She is commonly referred to as the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first book in the series, as she is the Witch who froze Narnia in the Hundred Years Winter.
Some recent editions of the books include brief notes, added by later editors, that describe the cast of characters. As Lewis scholar Peter Schakel points out, the description there of Jadis and the Queen of Underland (the main antagonist of The Silver Chair) "states incorrectly that the Queen of Underland is an embodiment of Jadis". Beyond characterising the two as "Northern Witches", Lewis's text does not connect them. (See Lady of the Green Kirtle for further discussion.)
The White Witch was born before the creation of Narnia and died in battle in Narnian year 1000.
The Magician's Nephew
In The Magician's Nephew, Jadis is revealed as a native of Charn, a city in a different world entirely from Narnia. She was the last of a long line of kings and queens, who began well but grew evil over many generations and conquered the entire world of Charn. Jadis, a powerful sorceress, fought a bloody war of rebellion against her sister. On the point of defeat, Jadis chose not to submit, but spoke instead the Deplorable Word that destroyed all life on Charn except her own. She then cast a spell of enchanted sleep upon herself, to await someone who could rescue her from Charn.
Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer arrive in Charn through Digory's uncle's magic, and find the bell that Jadis left to break the spell. Despite Polly's warning not to ring the bell, Digory does so. Jadis is awakened and by holding on to them is transported with them back to Edwardian London. She sets out to conquer Earth, but finds that her magic does not work there. Digory, seeking to correct his mistake, attempts to transport her back to Charn, but they end up instead in the world of Narnia at the moment of its creation.
Jadis immediately starts scheming to become the mistress of this new world. She eats the Fruit of Everlasting Life, acquiring immortality and her white-coloured skin. She then travels to the North to develop her magic anew, becoming the first of the "Northern Witches".
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
By the time of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, set 1,000 Narnian years after the events of The Magician's Nephew, Jadis has usurped power over Narnia, having magically forced the land into an "endless winter" during her reign, which as the book opens had lasted for 100 years. Though it is always winter, she prevents Christmas from ever coming. The White Witch's Narnian minions include wolves, Black Dwarves, Giants, Werewolves, Tree Spirits that are on her side, Ghouls, Boggles, Ogres, Minotaurs, Cruels, Hags, Spectres, People of the Toadstools, Incubi, Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets, Orknies, Sprites, Wooses, Ettins, Poisonous Plant Spirits, Evil Apes, Giant Bats, Vultures, and creatures that according to C.S. Lewis are 'so horrible that if I told you, your parents probably wouldn't let you read this book.'
During her reign, the White Witch is styled "Her Imperial Majesty Jadis, Queen of Narnia, Chatelaine of Cair Paravel, Empress of the Lone Islands". She claims that she is a human from Earth (a "daughter of Eve"), for Aslan had given "sons of Adam and daughters of Eve" dominion over all the beasts and magical creatures of Narnia. (Narnian dwarfs are not considered to be human, even though they can and do reproduce with humans; they are called "Sons of Earth".)
Although the White Witch appears human (despite her irregular skin colour and abnormal height), Narnian rumour holds that she descends from Adam's first wife, Lilith, and was half-Jinn and half-giantess, and thus not even partially human. The Magician's Nephew, by contrast with this slander, recounts her origin on Charn; but whether the people of Charn are human is never addressed.
She is first mentioned in the story by Mr Tumnus the faun, who befriends Lucy Pevensie and admits that he is in the pay of the witch, who has ordered him and indeed all other Narnians that if they ever see a human in Narnia they must hand it over to her. Mr. Tumnus, who had never met a human before and hadn't known what they were like, soon realised that he couldn't find it in himself to hand Lucy over to the witch, and guided her back to the Lamp Post at Lantern Waste as she returned to her own world through the wardrobe.
Mr. Tumnus had told Lucy that the White Witch could turn people to stone, fearing that she would do the same to him if she found out he had met a human and not handed them over to her.
Shortly afterwards, Edmund goes into the wardrobe (following Lucy during a game of hide and seek) and encounters the Witch on her sleigh. She introduces herself as the Queen of Narnia and seduces him with a hot drink and Turkish Delight (enchanted to make it fatally addictive), and with the promise to make him Prince and eventually King of Narnia — provided he brings his siblings to visit her. When Lucy finds Edmund and recounts her visit with Tumnus, Edmund realizes that the Queen and the Witch are one and the same, but for the chance of becoming King (and also for the promise of more Turkish Delight), he is still determined to bring his siblings to her. He keeps his meeting with the Witch a secret.
When the four Pevensie children arrive in Narnia, they find that the Witch has had Tumnus arrested for high treason—she had found out about him disobeying her orders. The Pevensie children are taken under protection of Mr and Mrs Beaver, who tell them more about the witch and how her reign is certain to be nearing its end now that Aslan is on the move. They also tell the children that the Witch's castle is full of statues of Narnians that she has turned into stone for betraying her, and that few Narnians taken in there have ever come out again.
Edmund creeps out of their house to go and see the witch, who is furious that he has come alone, and even angrier when he tells her that Aslan is in Narnia. She sends Maugrim the wolf, chief of her secret police, to catch the children and the beavers at their house, but when Maugrim and another wolf get there they have already left the house and started their journey to the Stone Table - Mr. Beaver had quickly established that Edmund had gone to the White Witch as he "had the look" of someone who had eaten her food and been told where she lives, and he had also not told them what he had done or who he'd met on his previous visit to Narnia.
She makes Edmund come with her on their journey to the Stone Table, but after many miles of travelling her sleigh eventually becomes immovable the following morning as the snow melts and it becomes apparent that Aslan has destroyed her magical winter.
After walking a long distance, they stop in a valley and the Witch decides to kill Edmund; but he is saved just in time by Aslan's creatures, who return him to his siblings at the Stone Table. Edmund is repentant and grateful, having come to regret joining the Witch's cause; by the time she had turned a group of animals into stone for telling her that Father Christmas had come to Narnia, he had realised just how evil she was.
Since the White Witch was the first to rebel in Narnia, by the workings of the Deep Magic she is given ownership of all traitors and the right to kill them. The White Witch favors the Stone Table for her executions, and had intended to execute Edmund there until Aslan's presence made it impossible.
When the Pevensie children arrive in Narnia via Digory's magical wardrobe, it is explained to them by Mr. Beaver that, according to an ancient prophecy, when two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve fill the four thrones at Cair Paravel as Kings and Queens of Narnia, the reign of the White Witch and the endless winter would end. Jadis is aware of the prophecy, and employs spies to tell her of any human that comes to Narnia. She has turned many Narnians, including Mr Tumnus, to stone for failing to follow her orders. While there are other humans in the world of Narnia at the time of the first book — humans descended from the original King Frank and Queen Helen populate Archenland, Calormen, and the island kingdoms — humans are completely unknown in occupied Narnia, to the extent that the Narnians think them mythological.
The White Witch's most notorious deed, aside from uttering the Deplorable Word that destroys Charn, is killing Aslan on the Stone Table (as a surrogate for Edmund), her right by the Deep Magic. However, Aslan is soon restored to life by Deeper Magic (unknown to the Witch), which states that death will be reversed if a willing victim who has committed no sin is slain on the table. Aslan then travels to the Witch's castle with Susan and Lucy, freeing all of the prisoners and restoring all of the statues before leading them to the scene of the battle between Aslan's army and that of the Witch.
In the subsequent battle, Aslan kills the witch, ending her reign of terror. Most of those on her side also perish, and the remaining ones take to flight.
In Prince Caspian, 1,300 years later, Nikabrik (a dwarf), a hag, and a wer-wolf (to use Lewis's spelling) plan to bring the Witch back using black sorcery in their bid to defeat King Miraz. Caspian X and Trumpkin protest against this, stating "Wasn't she a tyrant ten times worse than Miraz?" Their plan backfires and they are killed in a fight by Caspian and his allies.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Witch does not appear in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, though the stone knife she used to kill Aslan at the Stone Table is found on Ramandu's island by three of the Seven Great Lords of Narnia. Disagreeing on what course to take, one of them takes up the knife to use against the other two, whereupon all three fall into an enchanted sleep. The knife may be intended as an analogy to the Spear of Destiny, a holy artifact mentioned in the Bible that was used to pierce the side of Jesus Christ.
The Silver Chair
In The Silver Chair, 1,356 years after her death, Jadis is called one of the "Northern Witches", along with the Lady of the Green Kirtle. Glimfeather the Owl speculates that the Green Lady may be "of the same crew" as the White Witch. This had led to speculation by some readers that Jadis and the Lady of the Green Kirtle may be the same person. Lewis's text does not support this (See Lady of the Green Kirtle for further discussion). Lewis never clarifies the Green Lady's origins, or what connection she has to the White Witch.
In her own dominion, Charn, Jadis is formidable; but she finds her magic largely useless in other worlds. She eventually strengthens her powers and usurps the throne of Narnia, using her magic to cast the land into perpetual winter. Her most feared weapon is her wand, whose magic is capable of turning people into stone. The petrified remains of her enemies decorate the halls of her castle.
An extraordinarily beautiful, tall and imposing woman, Jadis enchants Digory Kirke, Andrew Ketterley and Edmund Pevensie on first encounters. She is also physically powerful and amazonian, capable of breaking iron with her bare hands and lifting human beings off their feet. She retains her superhuman strength in other worlds (except in the Wood between the Worlds). She is seven feet tall, as were all members of the Royal Family of Charn, and once she has eaten the Fruit of Everlasting Life, her skin becomes as white as paper. A natural-born sorceress and a cunning strategist, Jadis is arrogant and cruel, considering herself above all rules and viewing others as tools to be used or obstacles to be demolished. Her callousness is most clearly demonstrated when she uses the Deplorable Word in Charn to vanquish her sister, even though the Word would eradicate all life in that world but her own. She prefers to destroy that entire world than submit to her sister's authority, and shows afterward a remorseless pride in her actions. However, Jadis has shown loyalty (perhaps even love), when she states that she offered to spare her sister's life if she would end the war between them and yield Jadis the throne. Yet this may have been a simple ruse, given the ease Jadis felt when it came to eradicating all life in her world. Though her magic disappears when she leaves Charn, she manages to build it up again in Narnia's world, to become again a sorceress of formidable power.
Origins of conception
Lewis almost certainly based Jadis on H. Rider Haggard's She: in a review of that novel Lewis simultaneously expresses his fascination with the story and his dislike of the character. Like Jadis, "She" is compellingly beautiful, is initiated in occult knowledge, seeks immortal life through unlawful means and claims absolute superiority to the demands of morality. Haggard's later book She and Allan sometimes calls her "the white witch".
Another possible source is "The Snow Queen", the malignant ruler of the frozen north in the fairy tale of Hans Christian Andersen. The corruption of Edmund can be a parallel to Kay's perversion in that same tale. The first apparition of the two characters in which they seduce both the boys have a striking resemblance, both of them were traveling in a sledge in the snow and using fur coats.
For the name Jadis, Lewis may have taken the French word jadis (pronounced [ʒaˈdis]), which means "of old" or "once upon a time" — a customary opening in French fairy tales. The word would have been familiar to him, occurring in the title of François Villon's best known work "Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis" - Lewis wrote a spoof of this poem entitled "Ballade of Dead Gentlemen".
The voice of Jadis was provided by Elizabeth Counsell in Focus on the Family's radio drama versions of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Magician's Nephew. She later made a cameo as a lamb in The Last Battle.
- The White Witch was played by Elizabeth Wallace in the TV series The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe.
- American actress Beth Porter provided the voice of the White Witch for the 1979 animated television adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (for the British release, Sheila Hancock's voice was dubbed in). In that version, Aslan lunges towards the White Witch and she disappears in a cloud of smoke
- In the 1988 BBC miniseries The Chronicles of Narnia, the White Witch was played by Barbara Kellerman. In a later episode, Kellerman was cast in the role as the Lady of the Green Kirtle. Due to this, some readers believe that the White Witch and Green Lady are the same person, especially due to a lack of back story given to the Green Lady. However, this was never explicitly supported in Lewis's writings. After her wand was broken, she ran up the ravine only for Aslan to arrive and roar enough for the ground to shake and the White Witch to lose her balance and fall.
Theatrical film series
In the 2005 Walt Disney Pictures feature film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, she was portrayed by British actress Tilda Swinton. Swinton's performance won particular acclaim among fans and critics. BBC film critic Stella Papamichael wrote:
|“||As the cold hearted White Witch, Tilda Swinton sets the tempo for this bracing adventure. She is a pristine picture of evil, like the spectre of Nazism that forces the children out of London to the sanctuary of a country manor.||”|
Tilda Swinton was nominated for an MTV Movie Award for Best Villain for her performance as the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but lost to Hayden Christensen for his performance as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
Swinton reprised her role as the White Witch in the 2008 Disney Movie sequel The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. As in the novel, the hag, werewolf and dwarf plan to resurrect The White Witch; in the film they manage to conjure an apparition of her within a mystical wall of ice, although this never happened in the book. The White Witch says that she needs a drop of "Adam's blood" to live again. She tries to coax this first from Caspian and then from Peter, promising to lend her powers to their fight against King Miraz once she is made whole. However, Edmund shatters the ice before the Witch can obtain a drop of blood, and the apparition vanishes. In the book, the ritual is suggested, but never attempted.
Swinton played the White Witch again in the 20th Century Fox film adaptation of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In this film the witch appears as a manifestation of Dark Island preying on Edmund's insecurities, a mental test that Edmund overcomes as he manages to kill the Dark Island's sea serpent, a manifestation of his fear.
- Peter J. Schakel, The Way into Narnia: A Reader's Guide, William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids/Cambridge, 2005, p. 146.
- Ford, Paul (2005). Companion to Narnia: Revised Edition. San Francisco: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-079127-6.
- "The Mythopoeic Gift of H. Rider Haggard", in: Of This and Other Worlds.
- Downing, David C. (2005). Into the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles. Jossey-Bass. p. 142. ISBN 978-0-7879-7890-7.
- Gross, John (1994). The Oxford Book of Comic Verse. Oxford University Press. pp. 302–303. ISBN 978-0-19-214207-8.
- "The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (2005)". BBC. 2005-12-09. Retrieved 2006-10-17.