Stone Knife and Stone Table

Even in contemporary children’s and YA books (as of 2020, when I am writing this) it’s hard to think of a more shocking passage than the White Witch killing Aslan at the Stone Table.

Four Hags, holding four torches, stood at the corners of the Table. The Witch bared her arms as she had bared them the previous night when it had been Edmund instead of Aslan. Then she began to whet her knife. It looked to the children, when the gleam of the torchlight fell on it, as if the knife were made of stone not of steel and it was of a strange and evil shape.

At last she drew near. She stood by Aslan’s head. Her face was working and twitching with passion, but his looked up at the sky, still quiet, neither angry nor afraid, but a little sad.

Not only is shocking, but I’m also getting a strange sexual vibe from it.

The world of Oz had nothing like this. Though a pioneer in children’s fantasy, it was a more homey, folkloric, fluffy series of books. The Lord of the Rings trilogy might have come close, with Gandalf’s presumed death in the mines of Moria by the whip of the Balrog. But that took place offscreen. Gandalf wasn’t trussed up and shaved and sacrificed like Aslan was, to the accompaniment of the White Witch’s cruel words.

First, a page from a graphic novel.

The childish lettering style makes this all the more disturbing, as do the skulls on sticks, the sobbing girls, and the black-cowled figures in the background who resemble devil worshippers. It’s intense.

Pauline Baynes’s illustration from the original The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe. It’s busy, ambitious, compositionally complex, and almost too awful to look upon.

A more abstracted and less graphic image by Elys Dolan. I’m seeing Picasso’s Guernica in this, which I had the privilege of beholding in person. In re-reading LW&W, I noted Lewis’s reference to “evil apes” which seems fitting as one hastens the end of Narnia in The Last Battle.

A version similar to Baynes’ by artist Michael Hague with inspiration from Arthur Rackham. There’s some bizarre beasts here, like the human-handed antelope.

Concept artist Henrik Tamm’s portrayal of the witch at the Stone Table. Where did the arch come from? And that statue? Myself, I had always pictured the Stone Table as being rougher, more like a Bronce Age trilith — a flat slab of stone supported on three or four boulders.

Justin Sweet’s version, showing his original dark-haired concept of the White Witch.

Another piece of concept art showing a very detailed, beautifully crafted table.

Lewis himself always denied that this scene was not a crucifixion allegory. But what he did instead was to take that page from the Bible, treat it as folklore the same way he treated the satyrs and dryads, and created something new from it. The scene was meant to invoke the feelings one should have when reading of Christ’s ordeal on the cross, and such apprehend it in a new light. Same concept, different clothes.

Did it work? Yes.

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