What if Aslan, instead of defeating the White Witch, usurped her position?
|Suddenly, only about the length of a cricket pitch from their port side, an appalling head reared itself out of the sea. It was all greens and vermilions with purple blotches—except where shell fish clung to it—and shaped rather like a horse’s, though without ears. It had enormous eyes, eyes made for staring through the dark depths of the ocean, and a gaping mouth filled with double rows of sharp fish-like teeth. It came up on what they first took to be a huge neck, but as more and more of it emerged everyone knew that this was not its neck but its body and that at last they were seeing what so many people have foolishly wanted to see—the great Sea Serpent.
— from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
When I read this passage as a child, I was less than impressed, having grown up with depictions of sea serpents that looked more like the one below.
Nevertheless, Lewis’s description quoted above matches what was said about the beast in sailor’s stories and cryptid descriptions of the time: the horse-like head, the round staring eyes, the lengthy body. This description also matches that of Nessie the Loch Ness monster, implying cross-fertilization between lake and sea.
Most of the older depictions look even more ridiculous than the postcard one above, so that Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent may have actually been an improvement. Cecil looks more dragonlike than the earlier illustrations, and, indeed, as the 20th century progressed sea serpents in popular culture began to look more reptilian than piscine, such so they became a species of sea dragon.
In reality, many historians believe sightings of the rare oarfish may have inspired such tales.
While the largest oarfish ever recorded was 26 feet — not very impressive considering the great sea serpent of legend was huge enough to encircle a ship and crush it in its coils — exaggeration likely inflated its size. Perhaps it was difficult to estimate from a bouncing boat in choppy waters.
Close up of the head of a young specimen, showing the dorsal fin running down its back and the mottled coloring, though I can’t say it’s vermilion and green like Lewis says. (The blotches look purple enough though.) In addition, the oarfish is capable of projecting its jaws outside its mouth, giving it a horselike profile.
(I wonder if Pauline Bayne’s depiction of the Green Witch as serpent was based on a sketch for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader which went unused.)
This artist showing the moment the sea serpent attacks the Dawn Treader is more in the creature-as-dragon camp, giving the monster snakelike scales and ignoring the garish coloring in favor of black.
In this depiction of the same scene the sea serpent looks … part pelican? It also seems way too friendly and doesn’t adhere to the text either.
Now we come to the Dawn Treader movie, which turns the dangerous yet goofy monster of the book into a titanic, slimy, alien nemesis whose attack serves as the plot’s action-filled climax. As I said in an earlier post, I was not a fan of this change, which likely came from the producers. But the concept art was cool.
Here we have the Sea People fighting the creature, whose size seems more reasonable than the kaiju-sized beast that made it into the movie. Remember the sea serpent was long rather than titanic, long enough to encircle the boat several times, yet lightweight enough for the crew to push it out of the way. This early version of the creature is decidedly more fishlike than reptilian, drawing on features of abyssal species like anglerfish for the long pointed teeth and sea robins for the long pectoral fins made for walking on the sea floor.
The sea serpent in the film showing it rearing over the prow of the ship as Edmund flees for his life. Two production designs are below.
This is a terrific design… for a horror / SF movie set on some other planet. It doesn’t belong in Narnia.
It’s kinda like a moray eel… kinda like The Predator of action movie fame… kinda like a watermelon… kinda like a crustacean… and kinda like a cobra with that hood, which is filled with shrimp legs. It’s really disgusting and overcomplicated, and neither are words I would use to describe Narnia.
If a slimy, scary, eel-like monster was what the producers called for, wouldn’t this have been a better choice?
Or this one, which is dinosaur-influenced? Imagine the malicious character one could animate into that face.
I’ll close with this silly but charming 1930s illustration of a flapper mermaid riding a sea serpent, which actually looks more like the serpent according to Lewis’s text than any of the others!
One thing Narnia did not have is a lot of human towns. In fact, I can think of only two: the Telmarine settlements of Beruna and Beaversdam. There’s also a town called Chippingford in The Last Battle but whether it is human or not is unclear. There’s also some kind of human settlement around Cair Paravel to support both it and the shipping trade of the port, but it goes nameless. Unlike the vast majority of fantasy worlds, Narnia is bereft of human habitations, at least in the stories Lewis chose to write.
If there were towns and other human-named features, however, here’s how they might have been named.
Places in Narnia
The Lord’s Skyway
The Giant’s Pace
That’s what this playing card design seems to say.
I would sort the suits as follows, however: Susan as diamonds (her beauty); Lucy as hearts (her spirit and kindness); Peter as spades (because the pointy tip is like his sword, and it’s the coolest of the cards); and Edmund as clubs, because it’s the leftover one, plus it’s kind of somber, traditionally representing the clergy.
In the suits, the kids would the kings. The queens would be notable secondary characters: Tumnus for Lucy, Aslan for Peter, the White Witch for Edmund, the Beavers for Susan. The joker card would be Emperor-over-sea.
The jacks might be the magic gifts: sword and shield for Peter, diamond vial for Lucy, horn and bow for Susan, stone table for Edmund (because he was supposed to be sacrificed there.) Or they could be the suits of the cards instead of hearts-diamonds-spades-clubs. If so, the jacks might be notable Talking Beasts: Reepicheep, Trufflehunter, etc.
In this post I am taking a detour from Charn to talk about fanfic of Charn.
Narnian fanfic has been on the internet for at least two and a half decades, though not in the massive amounts inspired by the Disney live-action movies. The pre-Disney fanfics were based on the books, and far more diverse and interesting. The movies, as is often the case, popularized the fandom, leading to a glut of re-imaginings using author inserts in the form of an extra Pevensie — sibling or cousin — and in more than a few stories, the White Witch’s daughter. There’s tons of romance, and the main characters being siblings, incestuous romance.
This isn’t to say all Narnian fanfic is like that. Many stories attempt to fill in the gaps that Lewis left in the books or argue philosophical plot points, such as Susan’s spiritual redemption or if Aslan’s actions really were for the greater good. In this Lewis supplied a more robust framework than Tolkien, whose Middle-Earth was mapped in finer detail that didn’t leave a lot of room for author riffing (Legolas/Aragorn slash notwithstanding.)
Which brings us to my favorite Narnian setting, the city-world of Charn and its ruler, Queen Jadis. Charn made only a brief appearance in The Magician’s Nephew, but one that inspired many readers, as well as myself, to fill in some of its mysteries.
In recent years Deviantart.com has been being used by creators to host fanfic as well as fannish artworks. Celestialhost has written two of these, both about Jadis, in snippet style… not really a story, but an exploration in story form of an element that Lewis left out of the books. In this case, the nature of Jadis’s Charnian army, and how Jadis might have felt about a visit to the Lone Islands which were stated to be under her authority in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Both are worth reading, the author pulling out all the stops in the first one in particular. Jadis riding a manticore? And barefoot, yet, to wash her feet in the blood of her enemies? What imagination!
Pointed Up (at the Red Sun), by mihrsuri
I didn’t quite get this short fic, which was about the daughter of a sorceress who is drafted to help Queen Jadis in the war against her sister. As such the daughter hardens herself emotionally even as she realizes her twin brother is the one who has given Jadis the Deplorable Word. Head-scratching.
Elizabeth Culmer is a talented writer with many stories about Narnia, Jadis and Charn which are archived on her home site at archiveofourown.com. These three explore Charn’s destruction. The first is a brief AU where Jadis is silenced (by a knife to mouth!) before she can speak the Deplorable Word. The second describes the state of Charn and its decay after Jadis, Polly, and Digory leave. The third is about Jadis and her siblings and is an actual story, not a snippet; Jadis and her future nemesis, her sister Cynara, also had an older brother, and together the sisters… you have to read it to find out, but know that Charnian Royals are ruthless when it comes to attaining power.
Daughters of Charn, by Alpha Starwell
How did the war between Jadis and her sister begin? “Daughters of Charn” posits sibling rivalry, Jadis vying with her sister Emeralas for their father’s affections. Note the names that recall green gemstones; it’s one of the nicer touches that explores the culture of the world of Charn. Jadis tries to be a better fighter, magician, and scholar than her sister, but it isn’t enough, and resentment simmers. Imperiously, she takes it out on her slaves, but then, one night, it’s implied Aslan comes calling. Unfortunately, the story ends there, unfinished. Jadis is perhaps too bratty to become the fierce ruler we see later, but all in all it’s a nice effort.
Deplorable, by WingedFlight
Here we have a fanfic that not only takes place in Charn, but there’s another story embedded inside it, the legend of Prince Hekkenet who sets out to free his father the King of Charn from some cursed rubies… and it turns out to be the origin of the Deplorable Word as well. The fable is told to a young Jadis, and it ends ironically. I liked it, but it could have been finessed some. Why not make Prince Hekkenet the keeper of the Word, for example, and that is why he never returns to Charn? But otherwise there’s some interesting world-building here.
The Price of a Word, by Laura Andrews
How did Jadis learn the Deplorable Word, and what was the price? The author tells us how, and it’s at once mundane and terrifying. Not much could frighten Jadis, but the price did. A short horror read that was scary without being gory, and kudos to the author for copying Jadis’s speech patterns from the Lewis books.
Two Prices, by ZachValkyrie
Another story of how Jadis received the Deplorable Word, this one even better than the previous, with a wonderful early Wierd Tales feel to it. There are several twists to the story, Jadis was in character, and Charn’s worldbuilding was in line with its bloodthirsty majesty: barges full of slaves from vassal cities float continuously down the river to be sacrificed. Recommended.
Charn – Cradle of Monsters, by TheophilusG
This author makes no bones about how terrible Charn was in its last days — it’s a combination of Tudor England and Imperial Rome, with public games the nobles fly to on their magic carpets above the heads of the hoi polloi. Jadis is born but the King of Charn desires a son. Unlike Anne Boleyn, however, the Queen of Charn takes matters into her own hands, and so does Katilu, Jadis’s elder sister. This one is more snippet than story, but the writing is energetic and engaging, and the worldbuilding of Charn the best out of all I’ve read. This is the kind of exploration I like to see!
The Precise Magic of Snowflakes, by KannaOphelia
This is one of these NSFW stories that are definitely, defiantly erotica, and erotica about Jadis at that. But it’s part of the plot and not purely for titillation purposes. This one posits that in Jadis-ruled Narnia there’s another powerful legendary being, akin to Father Christmas and Bacchus, living there — the Snow Queen of Hans Christian Anderson fame. The author skillfully integrates her into the setting so it’s not as jarring as it sounds. The conflict comes when Jadis objects to the Snow Queen kidnapping human children instead of turning them over to her, and it runs from there, with both beings finding an attraction in the other.
|It was written, not printed; written in a clear, even hand, with thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes, very large, easier than print, and so beautiful that Lucy stared at it for a whole minute and forgot about reading it. The paper was crisp and smooth and a nice smell came from it; and in the margins, and round the big coloured capital letters at the beginning of each spell, there were pictures… the picture of the man with toothache was so lifelike that it would have set your own teeth aching if you looked at it too long, and the golden bees which were dotted all round the fourth spell looked for a moment as if they were really flying.
— from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
This was another of my favorite parts from the Chronicles of Narnia: Lucy paging through the magician’s spellbook on the Island of the Dufflepuds. I love the way Lewis describes an illuminated manuscript here for the benefit of young readers who wouldn’t have seen one before, and a fresh, newly made illuminated manuscript at that. The pic above, from the Book of Hours, shows a bit of Medieval humor in having a clearly annoyed peasant woman sweeping all the leftover letters and putting them in a basket. It’s like a Monty Python Holy Grail animated sequence, but centuries before.
Lucy reads several spells in the book before finding the one she wants: one to capture a swarm of bees, one to relieve toothache and one to eradicate warts. All are vividly illustrated. These are harmless for the most part, and beneficial; but then there’s one which promises to make her beautiful “beyond the lot of mortals” that tempts her with pictures put into her mind where she outshines older sister Susan and causes wars between the countries of Narnia who are vying for her hand. This is the place in the Chronicles where the sisters’ rivalty is most made clear.
What other sorts of spells might Coriakin have had in his book? I’d say they were helpful, not very powerful, and kind of quirky. Where did these come from? My Twitter feed of course!
Spells from Coriakin’s Magic Book
|Cockatrice Cushions: These cursed pillows look comfy and inviting, but when someone flops down on them, they become hard as rock.
Collar Bull: Stops a raging bull of any type and brings it under the control of the caster.
Collect Chimera Sadness: Chimera tears are one of the most potent of magic items, and this spell enables them to be teleported directly from the monster’s eyes into the caster’s vial.
Dazzle Wasp(s): Creates bright, dancing lights to confuse wasp, or nest of wasps, from attacking.
Enhanced Whispering: Enables the caster’s whisper to be heard by another up to 200’ away.
Fingers of the Minstrel: Lets any amateur musician play as well as an experienced one.
Foxfeather: Enables the caster to travel as lightly as a feather and silently as a fox in any forested terrain.
Herbscry: A druid spell that lets the caster identify the useful medical properties of any herb unfamiliar to them.
Hilwartha’s Horned Whale: Grows a narwhal-like ivory horn on the head of a whale, dolphin, or porpoise that ordinarily wouldn’t have one. The spell can be doubled or even tripled to grow multiple horns.
Isno’s Entertaining Breath: Cast in cold weather, this enables the caster to sculpt their cold exhalations into amusing animated forms.
Marvelous Attractor: The duration of this spell is very short, but anything the caster thinks of in that time will be attracted to them, within reason (it won’t pull the moon down from the sky, for example.)
Moonloose: Releases a were-creature from the influence of the full moon for a few hours.
Muddy Glass: Smears a thin layer of mud on glass windows so no one can see in or out.
Multiply Livestock: Makes a group of farm animals appear up to ten times as numerous as it actually is.
Mutable Hound: Cast only on dogs. It lets the mage change their breed, as many times as the caster wants, for the length of the spell.
Oceanic Messenger: Commands any form of marine life to carry a brief message to the recipient, who must be in the same body of water.
Quick Digression: Changes the direction of a conversation without any of the participants realizing.
Quicken Bean: Makes beans sprout in a few seconds and start to grow.
Replicate Parakeet: Creates a clone of any small parrot.
Sincard’s Sneezing Freedom: Prevents a creature from sneezing for a set time.
Squeaker Exhaustion: Anything that squeaks can be silenced with this spell: hinges, mice, dog toys, etc.
Starry Rain: Gives raindrops the illusion of tiny falling stars in the region of the caster.
Sunshine’s Color-Changing Plum: This useless spell makes a ripe plum cycle through purple to red to yellow to green.
Sweeten Mud: Lets the caster derive as much refreshment from drinking mud as they would from sweet, pure water.
Veiled Willow: Hides (makes invisible and undetectable) a willow tree of any size for the duration of the spell. Also any item made of willow wood.
Viral Hunger: Always cast on a group of creatures. When one of them becomes hungry, all the others will follow. Variants include Viral Slumber and Viral Thirst.
Green Kirtle = green scales = reptile = poison = poisonous intent, poisonous sexuality, poisonous philosophy.
The Green Witch is all about poison. Green-yellow is the color of pustulence, of unhealthy phlegm, pus, the eruptions of an infected wound; it’s the color of insects, snakes, lizards, certain larvae, caterpillars, and amphibians, and centipedes. Creepy-crawlies that in the majority are not poisonous, yet you wouldn’t want to touch them. It’s wise to err in caution. Green is the color of unripe fruit that might irritate the stomach. Being so symbolized with poison, it’s no wonder The Green Witch gets such a poisonous, messy death.
The power to bewitch men is evident is evident in the Tarot card image above and in the Roberto Ferri painting to the left, which I had to judiciously crop because of explicit male nudity and stuff. Neither is the Green Witch, but they could be.
OTOH, if it’s a comic version you want, the pic above, of some Pokemon creature, will fulfill that role. Save for its dolorous expression.
This isn’t the Lewis character either, but her clothing is spot-on.
The woman playing the lute here is closely aligned to the Green Witch in her pre-Raphaelite aesthetic. I always pictured the witch’s eyes as large and luminous as those of the woman’s in the painting, seemingly innocent, yet full of lies.
If The Green Witch had ever become Queen of Narnia, she might have looked like this. Notice the smug expression.
This is about the nuttiest Green Witch I’ve come across. It’s some kind of photo collage, like those Lavazza Coffee used to do for their annual calendars, and resplendent with sunflowers, green and brown brocade, and a Narnian lion throne and tapestry. The Queen is as regal and royal as a figure from a Tudor portrait, where the subject’s head is too small and hands too large. She’s part of a Tarot deck, where images of witchy women abound. In fact, there’s even a whole deck of them, The Green Witch Tarot. To be a Green Witch has positive connotations in the present day; yet Lewis, through his skill, displaced his villainess from the healthy associations with nature, associating her with dark, hidden places — a spring that comes out of the earth, a snake’s burrow, the Underdark,
This creature might be the female version of The Green Man, a stock mythological being representing the return of spring and new plant growth. But she has her hair styled in two horns, which might allude either to a Medieval headress or Batman’s enemy Poison Ivy, who is also a Green Witch of sorts, drawing her power from plants and mesmerizing men with mind-controlling pollens and poisons. Like Poison Ivy, the Green Witch uses a powder to beguile and hypnotize, and her power comes from poisons. They are the anti-Green Man.
|“Long, long ago, at the very beginning, a White Witch came out of the North and bound our land in snow and ice for a hundred years. And we think this may be one of the same crew.”|
This throwaway quote by an anonymous owl in The Silver Chair made me think. Its casual use of “crew” implies Narnia was plagued periodically by these wicked women, who had nefarious plans and were dispatched before their plots came to full fruition, and yet went unrecorded in Mr. Lewis’s chronicles of the place.
Well? What do you think?
Some randomgenned witches who might have followed in Jadis’s footsteps.
Jadis’s Colleagues and Rivals
|Serena Winter, the Cold Spellmistress
The Invisible Sorceress of Salvargaunt Glacier
The Arctic Enchantress
Invilgra the Ivory Witch
Wynnrhin, the Witch of the North Star
Shinwraith of the Silver Sash
The Wolfsilver Witch
The Crystal Harpy
Mistress of the Pale Yellow Sapphire
Lady Frozen Flame
The Witch-Queen of Black Ice Mountain
Mischa of the Furred Capelet
Jinsapha the Pale-fingered
The White Opal Sorceress