This is the Lewis I know and love – references, symbolism, and character development abounds. It’s so nice not having to apologize for the wall of text for once, because that’s kind of what people expect from a blog, so I can expound as much as I like!
This chapter is mainly about Edmund’s interaction with the “Queen of Narnia”, aka the White Witch (as confirmed at the end by Lucy). I called her the “Snow Queen” last chapter, partly because I didn’t want to call her the White Witch yet and partly because she was actually based upon Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen. In this chapter, the parallels between the two are at their height, probably because the Snow Queen wasn’t really evil so much as a force of nature in Anderson’s tale, and at this point the White Witch is trying to win Edmund over.
Edmund is definitely framed as being stupid (first shutting the wardrobe, then taking forever to figure out that the Queen is asking him what species he is), which stands out as the main difference between his characterization and that of Kai, the boy from The Snow Queen. Edmund is cynical, but that doesn’t mean he’s intelligent, just that he refuses to trust anyone but himself and his own senses. Lewis clearly enjoys probing the different forms of cynicism (probably because he was so cynical himself as a young man). He presents so many cynical characters in these books, yet they all have very distinct personalities and types of disbelief.
Edmund’s trust of his own senses over other people is what really gets him in trouble. First of all, it’s awfully suspicious that Edmund doesn’t seem to feel too cold until after he’s sitting on the sledge and bundled up in a fur mantle. I find it hard to believe that the Queen of Narnia would really skimp on her personal wardrobe. Anyhow, she offers him something hot to drink (which she makes with magic).
“It is dull, Son of Adam, to drink without eating,” said the Queen presently. “What would you like best to eat?”
“Turkish Delight, please, your Majesty,” said Edmund.
I never noticed before how similar the Witch’s wording is to the Devil’s temptation of Christ in the desert – complete with magical food provisions. Or maybe it’s just because I frequently read “Son of Adam” as “Son of Man” (and vice versa), which is one of the many titles that Jesus uses. At any rate, it’s tempting him by offering seemingly innocuous “necessities”, but of course Edmund’s no Jesus, so he doesn’t even ask for something with nutritional value, just a rare and decadent candy.
While he was eating, the Queen kept asking him questions. At first Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one’s mouth full, but soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much Turkish Delight as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the Queen should be so inquisitive. She got him to tell her that he had one brother and two sisters, and that one of his sisters had already been in Narnia and had met a Faun there, and that no one except himself and his brother and his sisters knew anything about Narnia. She seemed especially interested in the fact that there were four of them, and kept on coming back to it.
At this point, Lewis informs us that the Turkish Delight is enchanted, so Edmund can only think of eating more or getting more to eat, but the Witch claims that she could only produce one box of it with her “away” magic or whatever, and he’d have to go to her house to get more.
“It is a lovely place, my house,” said the Queen. “I am sure you would like it. There are whole rooms full of Turkish Delight, and what’s more, I have no children of my own. I want a nice boy whom I could bring up as a Prince and who would one day be King of Narnia when I am gone. […] I think I would like to make you the Prince – some day, when you bring the others to visit me.”
After she makes it very clear that she doesn’t intend to give Edmund anymore Turkish Delight until he brings his siblings with him to her house (and she has to give him directions both to her house and back to the wardrobe), we get this gem of a red flag:
“And, by the way,” said the Queen, “you needn’t tell them about me. It would be fun to keep it a secret between us two, wouldn’t it? Make it a surprise for them. […] I am sure that would be best. If your sister has met one of the Fauns, she may have heard strange stories about me – nasty stories that might make her afraid to come to me.”
Protip: Children, don’t get into a stranger’s vehicle, or accept candy from them, and for the love of all that’s holy, if they tell you to keep it all a secret, tell an adult.
Anyhow, she drives off in her sledge, and shortly afterward Lucy shows up. She had been off catching up with Mr. Tumnus, both of them quite happy that nobody seemed have to found out that he helped her, prompting Edmund to ask about the White Witch.
“She is a perfectly terrible person,” said Lucy. “She calls herself the Queen of Narnia though she has no right to be queen at all, and all the Fauns and Dryads and Naiads and Animals – at least all the good ones – simply hate her. And she can turn people into stone and do all kinds of horrible things.”
Of course, Lucy is happy about this turn of events, since she naturally assumes that Edmund will corroborate her story. She’s so happy, in fact, that she fails to notice how oddly Edmund is acting, let alone ask where he’d been.
[Edmund] would have to admit that Lucy had been right, before all the others, and he felt sure the others would all be on the side of the Fauns and the animals; but he was already more than half on the side of the Witch. He did not know what he would say, or how he would keep his secret once they were all talking about Narnia.
On that note, they return to the wardrobe and go looking for the others. And I, too, shall bid you adieu until the next chapter.