Why did the White Witch curse Narnia with a perpetual winter?
Why did the White Witch turn creatures to stone?
These two questions came to my mind in my most recent re-reading – more on that here – of the first book of the Chronicles of Narnia. I’m a read according to the publishing date person, so yes, I consider The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe to be book 1 of the series. Just like I think the first Star Wars movie anyone should watch is A New Hope, but that’s another post.
These are two very central elements to the first book of the Chronicles.
1) The curse of the Narnian winter, and 2) the Witch’s ability to turn the Narnians into stone.
Why did C. S. Lewis choose these? What’s the significance of these “powers”? After some thought, I have an idea, a theory if you will.
Warning, massive spoilers ahead if you have not read the books or watched the films. You’ve been warned. Now, go read the books.
My theory – Why Winter?
If you haven’t noticed yet, symbols are important in the world C. S. Lewis created. Although the Chronicles of Narnia is a fantastic fantasy series it is primarily allegorical, it’s supposed to be, Lewis explicitly intended it to be so. Therefore, the Witches powers of winter and stone are not just central to the plot and her character development, but are highly symbolic.
Why? Because Christmas is a celebration of life. Whether it is the pagan roots of the end of winter, or the Christian roots of the birth of Jesus, Christmas is inherently a celebration of life. Who is uniquely tied to life in the Chronicles? Aslan.
Aslan is pitted a the opposite of the Witch. The Beavers call him the true King of Narnia, making the Witch a usurper. He is the good and wise King of Narnia, she is the wicked and cruel tyrant. Aslan’s power brings comfort and boldness at just the mention of his name. The Witch in appearance and name inspires terror and doubt – she is called “witch” for good reason.
So, the Witch, as the usurping, illegitimate tyrant over Narnia seeks to squash out anything even remotely Aslan-ish. She plays to the natural order of things: nature slows down in the winter, and much of Narnia is nature – the talking beasts, the dryads, and the naiads, etc. – so the best way to subdue her subjects is a perpetual winter. It’s logical and mythical.
My theory – Why Stone?
Why stone? Much like the first part of the theory, this has to do with life and therefore being the antithesis of Aslan.
The Witch wanted complete control over Narnia, probably because it was not hers to begin with. The control you can have over a living thing is quite limited, but you can do whatever you want to stone. Stone can’t talk back, stone can’t act in defiance, stone can’t even raise its paw in polite question, because stone isn’t alive.
It’s fascinating to think of the true king, Aslan, and then the children afterwards, and how they rule. They rule justly, and kindly over living creatures in a thriving kingdom. The Witch can only wield her power well over a dead land, and dead stone people.
Apply whatever sociopolitical analogies you see fit, there are many.
Aslan, the Jesus Christ character, is the opposite, as I said. He rules powerfully over living creatures in a thriving land. He quite literally brings life with his very breath in the scene where he breathes the stone spell away from all the statues in the Witch’s castle. In the most ultimate example of this power of stone, death, and life, in the chapter titled “The Triumph of the Witch”, Aslan is slain on the Stone Table.
The What? That’s right, the Stone Table. Aslan is killed with a stone knife on the Stone Table.
And then… as the sun rises, the table cracks in two, and Aslan lives.
The Witch uses stone to kill, to defeat, but Aslan’s power of life over death can never be defeated. This theme is all through this book, and the whole series.
Now, a word of warning. Don’t go hunting for themes and connections like this. I made the connection only lightly while I read, and thought deeper about it afterwards. Enjoy the story. Don’t ruin the moment. Especially for someone else, especially for a child.
Go forth! And read well!
Soli Deo Gloria