Based on a Facebook status.
There’s a scene in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where Jadis (the Witch) explains to Aslan and three of the Pevensies why, according to ancient, mysterious laws laid down by Aslan’s father, she’s entitled to murder their ten-year-old brother Edmund, as well as anyone in Narnia who commits an act of betrayal. ‘Tell us of this Deep Magic’, Aslan says.
‘Tell you?’ Jadis replies. ‘Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us? Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the firestones on the Secret Hill? Tell you what is engraved on the sceptre of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea? You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill.’
‘You were the Emperor’s hangman’ responds Mr Beaver, one of the talking animals, which goes entirely uncontradicted.
Twelve-year-old Susan, the older Pevensie girl who by later books is ‘no longer a friend of Narnia’ because she’s ‘interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations’, asks Aslan, quite reasonably and especially so under the circumstances, ‘Can’t we do something about the Deep Magic? Isn’t there something you can work against it?’ Here, from the book, is what happens next.
‘Work against the Emperor’s Magic?’ said Aslan, turning to her with something like a frown on his face. And nobody ever made that suggestion to him again.
I haven’t seen much discussion of this scene in criticism of the Narnia books, but allegory aside, several things it shows about Aslan strike me as disturbing.
The Magician’s Nephew is a later-published prequel about Aslan’s creation of Narnia and Jadis’ corrupting influence after arriving there from her own world. In the whole novel, no mention is made of the Deep Magic or how it’s arranged for the Witch to be Narnia’s executioner. We’re never shown the Stone Table’s construction and there’s no reference to the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea – in the whole series, actually, we only have Aslan’s word that he exists – so presumably it’s been decreed before Jadis turns up that putting traitors to drawn-out violent death, ten year olds included, will be her job in Aslan’s Narnia.
There are seven Chronicles of Narnia. The scene above is the one time in any of them that this is discussed, and save for Mr Beaver’s comment it goes unremarked on. Jadis, by this point, has been in Narnia around a thousand years, presumably executing every traitor as the Magic stipulates. (‘All Narnia’, Aslan accepts, will otherwise ‘be overturned and perish in fire and water.’) When it comes out in negotiations that Aslan’s father established this system, designing it as essential for Narnia’s survival, only Beaver and Susan have anything to say about it. Aslan tells him to pipe down ‘with a very low growl’, intimidating Lucy and everyone else into silence, and perhaps this is why no one else speaks out to start with about the Witch being his and the Emperor’s agent.
The reveal does explain why in TMN, Aslan doesn’t banish Jadis to a different world, imprison her or simply kill her – as ultimately he does anyway – when she arrives in and threatens Narnia, trying to bludgeon him to death and take it for herself. Instead Aslan lets her flee, after which she consumes fruit that makes her ‘stronger than ever’ and gives her everlasting life. ‘The Witch . . . will come back to Narnia again’, he says, foreshadowing her seizure of power, and he does nothing to prevent this, only delaying it – giving Jadis centuries to subjugate and murder, ‘growing stronger in dark Magic’ – by planting a tree whose smell she finds abhorrent. (I’m not making this up.)
It’s the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea’s plan that the Witch brutally kill Narnia’s traitors, among them young children whom she enchants, deceives, manipulates and threatens into divulging secrets. It’s Aslan’s plan not to stop her from doing so: he sees to it that she lives forever and gains terrible powers, knowing she’ll subdue Narnia when the Tree of Protection dies, rather than treating her as anyone with sense would treat a psychopath who exterminated all life in her own universe. He and his father are as responsible as she is for her atrocities in the Narnia books, casting Deep Magic which requires mass murder of her and leaving her free to commit it knowing what will result.
Yes, in the end Aslan counteracts the Deep Magic, splitting the Stone Table in two and slaying the redundant Jadis – but he doesn’t do so immediately (say, the first time she planned to execute somebody else). He waits hundreds of years while she gathers strength and a further century during her winter reign, acting only after small children have been traumatised, thousands of people (soldiers and civilians) killed and a whole nation terrorised. Even then, what exactly was the point of the Deep Magic in the first place? If Aslan and the Emperor are really so wise, why put in a place a vicious system, upholding it at great cost only so as to overhaul it once irreparable damage has been done? Why not simply be more compassionate in the first place – and why bully a terrified twelve year old girl into silence when she questions this plan?
Going on Mr Beaver’s reaction and most characters’ apparent ignorance of Narnia’s laws, Aslan seems to have kept the fact from his followers that the Witch acts on his father’s behalf, doing the Emperor’s bidding. It’s as if like a corrupt politician, he’s conspired to allow atrocities, exploiting them for his own public image – certainly, waiting a hundred years for Aslan to return and depose Jadis only seems to have inspired Narnians to love him more, though in fact it was his choice in TMN not to prevent her coup. Perhaps there is dissent within the ranks, but fear has stifled it as it did Beaver’s and Susan’s.
The Lion is no better than the Witch – in a sense in fact, Aslan is worse than Jadis, using her infamy to paint himself as the epitome of good. Aslan isn’t good: he’s pious, illogical, a narcissist, a tyrant and a bully.