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How should the CHARACTER of the White Witch be played?  

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Geekicheep
(@geekicheep)
NarniaWeb Regular

Hey guys,

I could talk about characters all day (and not just Narnia-related lol), but unfortunately, I don't know much about actors (or actresses in this case). Like I could suggest "the woman who played the Lady Morgana in Merlin", or "the lady who played Galadriel in Lord of the Rings", but that's as far as it goes with me. I don't know who's who off the screen, and I don't want to hijack that thread, so I'm creating my own. :D

With all this discussion of the BBC version recently, and especially after the most recent edition of Talking Beasts, I've been thinking a lot about this lately. And I've reached the conclusion that we're kind of putting the sledge before the reindeer. :D Personally, I'm less interested in who should play her and more in how her character should be played.

On the one hand we have the BBC version, which (hysterical beaver costumes and wolf-man-roars aside) is probably closer to the book. That version of the Witch is absolutely terrifying, especially to little kids (and yes, she was to me too lol). And honestly, even as an adult, I would be afraid to meet someone like her! You really wonder what she's going to do, how she will react to what you say, literally every time she raises her voice. And considering her performance was in a time when kids shows were still "cartoony", that over-the-top style was effective for the target audience. She also looked a lot more like the Witch from the book - she wore a crown (not an icicle), and her face was white ("not merely pale, but white like paper or icing-sugar"), and all that. The crown wasn't gold, but the silver worked, and there were other little details they couldn't do back then (I think). Like obviously she wasn't as tall, but they would need either CGI or a WNBA athlete to make her as tall as the one in the books! :D Also, her castle was way cooler, and way creepier.

On the other hand, you have the Walden version, and she's scary, but not in the same way as the BBC version. She seems a lot more "in control", a lot more deceptive, and a lot more real. She's still stern, still cold, still raises her voice at times, but never throws a full-on tantrum. I can't imagine Edmund falling for the BBC Witch's nice act - I can with the Walden version. As for her costume, the only thing I like better is her robe, which looks more like polar bear fur or something a queen would actually want - everything else is a cheesy Elsa rip-off. She's rockin' the blue dress, bunched-up blonde hair, and a humongous icicle growing out of her head. And like her costume, her castle just screams "generic ice queen". But that's not what she is - the snow thing was just a means to an end (post for another day :D). I think the freakiest thing about her was when she wore Aslan's chopped-off mane into battle! I didn't notice it for a few years (I thought it was just her hair), but a friend pointed it out and now "I can't un-see it". Lewis didn't do that in the book, but it's absolutely the kind of thing she would do.

So what should this next version of the White Witch look like? Sound like? Act like?

I think the answer, in a single word, is "balance". Someone said on that other thread (about who should play her), the "she needs to be cold, yet fiery when necessary" and I kind of think he nailed it. Her character is somewhere in between the BBC and Walden versions. She's not totally chill all the time, and she's not a tantruming psycho. The book shows us things that don't fit well in a movie (dark thoughts like "he is easily dealt with", or the fact that the Turkish Delight was enchanted). But the Walden Witch conveys that attitude without saying a word. But then again, her reaction to Aslan was just as cold, just as "in control" - where that actress should probably have been more like the BBC version.

I think thought too, it also depends on the target audience. If Narnia is meant for little kids... well, IMO little kids should watch the BBC version! :D It's got hysterical beaver costumes, a guy pretending to be a wolf (and roar when he should have howled) and hands-down a scarier version of the White Witch. It's also got cartoony flying horses, not-too-scary ghosts, hilarious giants and an animatronic Aslan. Little-little kids should start there. :D

But seriously though, so many people on that last podcast said the Witch was so terrifying when they saw her as a kid - and yes, it was the same way for me too! She gave a voice to the White Witch from the book, intensified and amplified to a bazillion decibels. :D But if their target audience is anyone else, they'll probably want to dial it down a little. Maybe Walden until Aslan comes on the scene, then much more like BBC.

But I've rambled on and on about this subject, and this wasn't meant to be a blog post (if it were, I'd have done it on my blog :D). What do YOU think? I'd be interested to get your two cents on the subject.

Yes, I'm a mouse... I mean, a geek!

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Posted : October 22, 2019 6:11 pm
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Junkie

Hi Geekicheep,

Good points! I agree, it would be good if the Netflix White Witch could be somewhere in between the BBC and the Walden versions. I was old enough not to be terrified of the BBC Witch when I first saw that series (I was 7 or 8), but she is definitely scary and closer to the book overall — the problem being that, as they were saying in the Talking Beasts podcast, she's so over the top that it's sometimes comical, though probably not intended to be. Whereas the Walden White Witch is more realistic and believable as a character, but just somehow not as impressive — not as credible as someone who COULD freeze an entire land into perpetual winter for 100 years just because she wanted to.

I think for me the point is, as you've touched on too, the White Witch is NOT a "generic ice queen". She's not just a beautiful woman whose heart has been turned cold by a difficult childhood and people misunderstanding her. Lewis actually gives two very different "origin stories" for her — perhaps by the time he wrote The Magician's Nephew he'd forgotten what he said about her in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I don't know, but in both cases it's made clear she is something verging on demonic.

In The Lion, we're first told she's descended from Adam's first wife Lilith (a figure in Jewish mythology, not in the Bible, who I gather was rejected for trying to dominate Adam and became a mother of demons and other evil creatures) and also from the giants. Later in the same story it's revealed, without much detail, that she has the power and responsibility of executing traitors under the Deep Magic put in place by Aslan's father the Emperor, which is why she claims the virtually divine right to kill Edmund and warns that "unless I have blood as the Law says, all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water." It's not fully explained and it's a sudden and rather awkward shift in the plot, but it does show her as not merely a usurper of the Narnian monarchy (though she is), but one who has such power that under divine law, Narnia will be destroyed if she doesn't get her way, which is why only Aslan's self-sacrifice can save Edmund from her through the Deeper Magic. (This is of course a direct allusion to the concept of atonement in Christianity, but Lewis doesn't really go into that and leaves a lot unexplained, which is fair enough — this is a children's story, not a theological treatise!!)

In The Magician's Nephew, when we meet the Witch in her earlier form as Jadis, Lewis seems to have forgotten (or else revised) a lot of what we learned about her in the first book he wrote. She's certainly in Narnia at its beginning — at the "dawn of time" for that land — but there's no indication at all that she is given any special role of executing traitors, not even the hint that she started out with a proper place in Narnia's scheme of things but (like Lucifer in traditional theology) tried to gain more power for herself and became a devil. We initially meet her as the Queen of Charn, a land she destroyed single-handedly in order to prevent her sister from taking power. This is a woman who deliberately learned — and "paid a terrible price to learn" — the Deplorable Word that would destroy all living things except the one who spoke it, and then she used it. That is possibly even more terrifying than the power we were told (in The Lion) she had under the Deep Magic!! But she comes to Narnia as an invader in the first place, one who is immediately filled with terror and hatred when Aslan appears, but she has no power to harm him (interesting when you consider she does later kill him!) and she flees into the hills. We don't see her again until we find she's followed Digory and Polly and Fledge and stolen one of the apples of life, which gives her immortality (and eternal misery) — and that, it's indicated, is how she lives on for centuries and remains in hiding, "growing stronger in dark Magic", until at last she returns as the White Witch and casts Narnia into endless winter.

OK, I've gone on much too long here — in short, we get a lot of contradictory information about the White Witch/Jadis in the two books in which she appears, but what definitely comes across is that she is REALLY dangerous, REALLY powerful, REALLY scary — not merely a cliched ice queen OR a comic pantomime villain. I don't think any of the film/TV versions of her have yet really done her justice and I wonder how they could go about it, especially if Netflix does go through with both The Lion and The Magician's Nephew.

I'd love to hear others' thoughts too — thanks for bringing this up, Geekicheep!

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : October 22, 2019 10:11 pm
Geekicheep
(@geekicheep)
NarniaWeb Regular

I think for me the point is, as you've touched on too, the White Witch is NOT a "generic ice queen". She's not just a beautiful woman whose heart has been turned cold by a difficult childhood and people misunderstanding her. Lewis actually gives two very different "origin stories" for her — perhaps by the time he wrote The Magician's Nephew he'd forgotten what he said about her in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I don't know, but in both cases it's made clear she is something verging on demonic.

Yes, the two books do give her very different "origin stories", and if you don't mind my saying, you did a fantastic job of summarizing them. :D

Now I do think that as far as her appearance is concerned, she is less "demonic" and more like a beautiful woman, as Digory's Uncle Andrew seemed to think so (I love how Lewis kept it clean, by giving him an accent and having him call her a "DEM fine woman" :D). And even in LWW she still looked more or less human (vampire-white skin aside, lol). The animated version of LWW from the 1970s makes her a monster (which is some people's idea of "demonic"), but IMO that made her cheesier.

But appearance aside, everything about her is as dark and terrible as you describe, and I agree no one has really done her character justice. She has no redeemable qualities, nothing that would make us feel sorry for her or anything like that (which is popular with villains these days but totally not her). The way other characters talk about her, it's obvious they're extremely afraid of her.

On a side note, the winter thing was just part of in her plot to take over Narnia. At the end of MN, there was that fruit that she couldn't come anywhere near, that would protect Narnia for a century or more. What's the best way to make sure it never grows again? Endless winter! It also means crops would have to be imported from Archenland or the islands or something (and apparently she went on to conquer the Lone Islands as well). With that under her control, it's no surprise that even Tumnus had to work for her. It wasn't just snow for snow's sake! :D Sorry, I know I said I'd save that for another day.

Yes, I'm a mouse... I mean, a geek!

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Posted : October 23, 2019 1:22 am
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Junkie

Now I do think that as far as her appearance is concerned, she is less "demonic" and more like a beautiful woman, as Digory's Uncle Andrew seemed to think so (I love how Lewis kept it clean, by giving him an accent and having him call her a "DEM fine woman" :D). And even in LWW she still looked more or less human (vampire-white skin aside, lol). The animated version of LWW from the 1970s makes her a monster (which is some people's idea of "demonic"), but IMO that made her cheesier.

Very true — when I said "demonic" I wasn't referring to her appearance, but to her character. I totally agree that the animated version of her was too cheesy!

But appearance aside, everything about her is as dark and terrible as you describe, and I agree no one has really done her character justice. She has no redeemable qualities, nothing that would make us feel sorry for her or anything like that (which is popular with villains these days but totally not her). The way other characters talk about her, it's obvious they're extremely afraid of her.

Yes. I can understand why audiences are interested in "how did this villainous character become so evil in the first place?", but it's not something Lewis goes into. Actually, in LWW, it's stated straight out (by the Beavers) that the White Witch is "bad all through" precisely because she's descended from Jinns and giants and has no real human blood in her at all. Jadis's ancestry in MN, though, is completely different — the statues of her ancestors in Charn suggest that the earliest rulers were wise and kind but gradually became more and more corrupted with evil down the ages, culminating in Jadis herself. We're not told that they were human as such, but they clearly didn't start out as evil beings descended from a thoroughly evil lineage.

I can only conclude Lewis didn't go back and re-read what he'd already said about the White Witch's ancestry and her original role in the Narnian universe before he started writing MN, as there really is no way to make those two origin stories line up at all. :(

On a side note, the winter thing was just part of in her plot to take over Narnia. At the end of MN, there was that fruit that she couldn't come anywhere near, that would protect Narnia for a century or more. What's the best way to make sure it never grows again? Endless winter!

Now that's a good thought, although it's probably retrospective on Lewis's part — I really don't think he had thought of Jadis or the tree of protection when he originally wrote LWW, simply because there are so many inconsistencies between the two books. But it does make sense!

Sorry for taking this a bit off the topic of how her character should be portrayed in the future films — it's just interesting to consider how Lewis portrayed her in the two books and (I didn't realise all of them until now) just how many discrepancies there are. But it's certainly made clear in both that she is dangerously evil (not at all in a comical way, either) and we should have no sympathy for her at all.

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : October 23, 2019 8:23 am
Col Klink
(@col-klink)
NarniaWeb Nut

I hesitate to bring up a similar character from a movie since that can backfire when trying to communicate an idea. (There are always going to be some people who dislike that movie or that character and people who aren't familiar with them etc.)

But I've been thinking about how I picture the White Witch's mannerisms (in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and I feel a (generally) good model would be Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty (1959.) In some scenes, she's really in control and aloof (closer to the Tilda Swinton School of White Witchery) and in some scenes she's really angry and explosive (more like Barbara Kellerman.) She's also portrayed as being genuinely worried and can tell that she's going to fail at some points but never stops coming across as intimidating and threatening.

Of course, Maleficent was designed to be scary looking and the White Witch should be unnerving to look at, with her height and strange coloring, but basically beautiful.

For better or worse-for who knows what may unfold from a chrysalis?-hope was left behind.
-The God Beneath the Sea by Leon Garfield & Edward Blishen

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Posted : October 23, 2019 8:28 am
Cleander
(@the-mad-poet)
NarniaWeb Junkie

It's funny, I feel like we've seen the two extremes of Jadis in Kellerman and Swinton's performances, so for some reason it seems like Netflix's only option if they want uniqueness is to go somewhere in the middle, as Col Klink suggested.
I also feel that Jadis needs more big, epic evil monologues like she gets in the books, like the "Gather the faithful" speech, or the "Charn, that great city," or her vow to conquer England and obliterate London. These might help build her more as a monstrous, truly dangerous thing, rather than a cheesy little ice witch hiding out in her popsicastle and bullying a bunch of woodland creatures.

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Posted : October 23, 2019 12:29 pm
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Junkie

I also feel that Jadis needs more big, epic evil monologues like she gets in the books, like the "Gather the faithful" speech, or the "Charn, that great city," or her vow to conquer England and obliterate London. These might help build her more as a monstrous, truly dangerous thing, rather than a cheesy little ice witch hiding out in her popsicastle and bullying a bunch of woodland creatures.

Good idea. "Popsicastle" — I like it! :))

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : October 23, 2019 12:50 pm
Geekicheep
(@geekicheep)
NarniaWeb Regular

Me too! That was a good one! =))

Yes, I'm a mouse... I mean, a geek!

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Posted : October 23, 2019 1:07 pm
The Rose-Tree Dryad
(@rose)
Secret Garden Agent Moderator

I don't know if any of you have seen the surviving footage from the 1960s TV serial of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but I think the portrayal of Jadis in that version might be the closest to my imagination. We see very little of it and she is perhaps a little too queenly (as opposed to vicious empress from an alien world), but I think it is nearest to capturing "such fierceness and pride that it took your breath away" out of all the performances.

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Posted : October 24, 2019 10:50 am
JFG II
(@jfg-ii)
NarniaWeb Regular

":D Personally, I'm less interested in who should play her and more in how her character should be played." "So what should this next version of the White Witch look like? Sound like? Act like?" "I think...it also depends on the target audience." "Maybe Walden until Aslan comes on the scene, then much more like BBC." "What do YOU think? I'd be interested to get your two cents on the subject."

I agree that the Witch should be played with a little of both the BBC AND the Walden versions, but also in light of the way her character could be introduced.

In The Magician's Nephew, when we meet the Witch in her earlier form as Jadis, Lewis seems to have forgotten (or else retconned?) a lot of what we learned about her in the first book he wrote. She's certainly in Narnia at its beginning — at the "dawn of time" for that land — but there's no indication at all that she is given any special role" "— in short, we get a lot of contradictory information about the White Witch/Jadis in the two books in which she appears, but what definitely comes across is that she is REALLY dangerous, REALLY powerful, REALLY scary — not merely a cliched ice queen OR a comic pantomime villain. I don't think any of the film/TV versions of her have yet really done her justice and I wonder how they could go about it, especially if Netflix does go through with both The Lion and The Magician's Nephew.

If presented in chronological order (and especially if MN & LWW are Season 1), I think that we should see a natural character progression in The Witch, from when we first see her as a charismatic woman-tyrant (Magician's Nephew) through a smooth transition from one story to another, finally to when we last see her as a white-as-snow Humanoid-Monster (hopefully Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe).

I also feel that Jadis needs more big, epic evil monologues like she gets in the books, like the "Gather the faithful" speech, or the "Charn, that great city," or her vow to conquer England and obliterate London. These might help build her more as a monstrous, truly dangerous thing, rather than a cheesy little ice witch hiding out in her popsicastle and bullying a bunch of woodland creatures.

Hahaha good last line Cleander ;) I do agree that Jadis should embody an archetypical tyrant character without devolving into a mere stereotype. Break the cliches with intention to make something interesting. Something we all have seen before but never QUITE like this. I can think of several movie/TV characters that remind me of The Witch.

I hesitate to bring up a similar character from a movie since that can backfire when trying to communicate an idea. (There are always going to be some people who dislike that movie or that character and people who aren't familiar with them etc.) But I've been thinking about how I picture the White Witch's mannerisms (in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and I feel a (generally) good model would be Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty (1959.)

I get what you're aiming for Col Klink.

A good model for Jadis? Ever since I rewatched Avatar: The Last Airbender a few years back, I've thought Princess Azula had a lot of Jadis in her - not to mention she is essentially the kid-version of Maleficent from Sleaping Beauty :) She's deadly, manipulative and self-controlled, and yet is always bad-tempered when she's not enjoying dominating others. In short, Powerful but Miserable, especially at the end of the show. (Also, Firelord Ozai was as close to a Jadis-like Power-Hungry Humanoid-Monster at ALA ever got, and that series was always humanizing its villans to an extent.)

I got nothing else. That's my rant. :)

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Posted : October 24, 2019 1:35 pm
Eustace
(@eustace)
NarniaWeb Junkie

I think for me the point is, as you've touched on too, the White Witch is NOT a "generic ice queen". She's not just a beautiful woman whose heart has been turned cold by a difficult childhood and people misunderstanding her. Lewis actually gives two very different "origin stories" for her — perhaps by the time he wrote The Magician's Nephew he'd forgotten what he said about her in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I don't know, but in both cases it's made clear she is something verging on demonic.

As for the two different origin stories for Jadis, one could be a legend told over time since it was explained by the beavers. The fact that she was given rights over the traitors of Narnia could have just been something that happened to her that we weren't told about until LWW, but it was written in the Magic of Narnia. Anyway, that was my personal take on it. :)


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Posted : October 29, 2019 3:37 pm
Geekicheep
(@geekicheep)
NarniaWeb Regular

As for the two different origin stories for Jadis, one could be a legend told over time since it was explained by the beavers. The fact that she was given rights over the traitors of Narnia could have just been something that happened to her that we weren't told about until LWW, but it was written in the Magic of Narnia. Anyway, that was my personal take on it. :)

I've always had similar thoughts, like somewhere between the two books lies the truth. Like how would anyone in Narnia know the Witch's race? Her followers would obviously promote the idea that she's human, the rightful queen of Narnia. And it's not like they could ask her, let alone trust what she said. Maybe there was some truth to it, but over time it got twisted and stuff as legends do. But I don't see this dual back-story issue as a problem.

Yes, I'm a mouse... I mean, a geek!

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Posted : December 11, 2019 5:01 pm
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