The Witch-queen’s specialty is “enchantment”, making people believe a false scenario in order to gain control. So it’s basically magically enhanced psychological abuse.
“How now, my lord Prince,” she said. “Has your nightly fit not yet come upon you, or is it over so soon? Why stand you here unbound? Who are these aliens? And is it they who have destroyed the chair which was your only safety?”
Prince Rilian shivered as she spoke to him. And no wonder: it is not easy to throw off in half an hour an enchantment which has made one a slave for ten years.
She emphasizes his safety – which is, notably, also what she emphasized when speaking of Harfang to the children. Safety, and comfort. She creates a situation where it’s simply easiest to believe what she says. In Underland, it’s difficult to remember any other way of life, let alone explain it, which the Queen uses to her advantage. She throws some magic dust in the fire (filling the room with an enchanting scent and smoke) and starts playing a string instrument, attempting to overpower their senses while she “talks sense” to them. She tries to make them believe that there isn’t any Overworld at all, that they just made it all up themselves, and her world (Underland) is the only reality. She manages to get them all to admit that there is no sun, when Jill finally speaks up.
For the last few minutes Jill had been feeling that there was something she must remember at all costs. And now she did. But it was dreadfully hard to say it. She felt as if huge weights were laid on her lips. At last, with an effort that seemed to take all the good out of her, she said:
The Witch is apparently caught off her guard by this, but still manages to twist it in her favor by asking them to explain what a lion is.
The Witch shook her head. “I see,” she said, “that we shall do no better with your lion, as you call it, than we did with your sun. You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You’ve seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it’s to be called a lion. Well, ‘tis pretty make-believe, though, to say truth, it would suit you all better if you were younger. And look how you can put nothing into your make-believe without copying it from the real world, this world of mine, which is the only world. But even you children are too old for such play. As for you, my lord Prince, that art a man full grown, fie upon you! Are you not ashamed of such toys? Come, all of you. Put away these childish tricks. I have work for you all in the real world. There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan. And now, to bed all. And let us begin a wiser life tomorrow.”
For whatever reason, I can only hear the Queen speaking like Glinda from The Wizard of Oz – maybe it’s the whole “beautiful witch” thing. Anyhow! Once again, Lewis is addressing actual philosophical arguments in his children’s novels, and it is brilliant (both in its presentation and Lewis’s subsequent takedown of the argument, which I’ll get to momentarily). The Witch-queen argues that because their world is only a “bigger and better” version of hers, that they must be making it all up, as anything real would obviously be extremely different from what they all accept as true – never mind that they’re only using the things they “know” (cats, lamps, etc.) because there’s literally no other way to make her understand their meaning. It’s circular logic.
Then Puddleglum decides to actually do something – stamping out the enchanted fire with his bare feet.
The pain itself made Puddleglum’s head for a moment perfectly clear and he knew exactly what he really thought. There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.
“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”
I’ll just leave Puddlglum to speak for himself.
And then the Witch-queen changes into a giant serpent. Between Rilian, Puddleglum, and Eustace, they manage to kill her.
“My royal mother is avenged,” said Rilian presently. “This is undoubtedly the same worm that I pursued in vain by the fountain in the forest of Narnia, so many years ago. All these years I have been the slave of my mother’s slayer.”
Next time: Underland without the Queen…