For the second week in a row, Edmund is by far the most interesting character in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Last week we discussed how his lying was discovered, and whether he would react to that with contrition, or by doubling down on his treachery. This week we get the answer to that question, with Edmund sneaking off to see the White Witch and betraying his family.
It is not a decision that comes easily to him, though, so he is far from being a monster. He wrestles with his conscience, which is shown quite literally when he divides into two people to have an argument. What are we to make of that scene? Edmund doesn’t react to what happens with any kind of shock or surprise. He just gets on with the business of debating what he is doing with his other self, so I don’t think we are supposed to take the scene literally. Instead, this has to be a visual representation of what is going on in his head, and it works very well. In the end, his anger and frustration gets the better of him, and his reservations are angrily dismissed:
“One day I’ll be king and I’ll rule all of this, so disappear!”
The other little voice in his head, represented in the same way, is of course fear. He is heading off into potential danger, while it starts to get dark, but those worries only result in a very short conversion.
“I’m not afraid of the dark.”
That shows the extent of his anger towards Peter. Even risk to life and limb won’t stop him from going through with his betrayal, and that’s unusually courageous in a twisted sort of way. Edmund clearly has qualities that could be put to good use, as well as bad.
This continues to be a visually impressive series, with Edmund’s arrival at the Witch’s “house”, filmed at Manorbier Castle in Wales. Inside he finds animals and people everywhere who have been turned to stone, which look really creepy in the darkness of the castle courtyard.
Meanwhile, the other children (and Edmund, initially) are meeting some more of the good guys: Mr and Mrs Beaver. It’s worth seeking out some out-takes from this series, just to see how amusingly impractical the Beaver costumes were. If they fell over in the snow (as they frequently did) members of the crew had to help them back up again. The Beavers provide us with a lot of information about Aslan, who is discussed for the first time. The very mention of his name provokes an odd reaction from the children, even Edmund, who all look to the heavens in wonderment. Subsequently, mention of the name provokes smiles, before anyone yet knows why they are smiling. The Christian parallels start to come through here for the first time, with Aslan a godlike figure who has returned to Narnia in its time of need.
“Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight.”
But C.S. Lewis cast a wider net for his inspiration. For example, the trees in Narnia are “always listening”. The idea of sapient trees goes right back to Greek mythology, and was a popular idea in fantasy fiction during the 20th Century. Lewis pips Tolkien to the post by a few years, but for a popular example that predates Lewis there is of course the wonderful Faraway Tree series of books from Enid Blyton, with the whispering trees in the Enchanted Wood. L. Frank Baum also got there first with his Forest of Fighting Trees, and I am sure there are many other examples. In Blyton’s Enchanted Wood, the trees are friendly and their whispers are useful to the children, but note how Lewis goes in the opposite direction, with his trees silently spying for the Witch. In a way, this places ancient, dark or Druidic magic in opposition to Aslan and his followers, but it is also perhaps a perversion of nature, just as the Witch twists other aspects of nature to her advantage, by bringing about the endless winter and turning animals to stone.
In this whole scenario, the children are the new disciples who have heard the good news about Aslan, and Edmund is the Judas, whose selfishness and anger has silenced his conscience and caused him to betray his family. His redemption must surely be at the heart of what is to come… RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Episode Four