When teaching adventure/fantasy, which I do regularly, one thing I always say to students as a general concept is that there is, “No fiction without friction”, meaning that a story happens when someone pushes or is pushed by something or someone into taking action. Without the coming of Billy Bones to Jim Hawkins’ mother’s remote inn, for example, with his hidden map and his ex-fellow pirates pursuing him,
there would be no Treasure Island.
(This is my favorite edition, from 1911, illustrated by NC Wyeth.)
Jim Hawkins and his friends defeat Long John Silver and his band of ex-pirates
and the novel has a happy ending with the friction gone.
But what if that friction returns? Perhaps persistent evil has its advantages…
It must have been a real shock for the Munchkins in the MGM film of The Wizard of Oz, having seen their original oppressor flattened by a flying house,
and celebrating her demise on a grand scale,
suddenly to see another witch appear—and a vengeful sister, at that.
(It’s made much more dramatic in the film, however. In the original book, although the Wicked Witch of the West is mentioned as a menace from Chapter II, and turns up in speech in further chapters, usually tagged with something like”if you go into her country, she will enchant you and make you a slave”, she makes no initially violent appearance to threaten Dorothy. Nor, in fact, does she actually appear until Chapter XII—nor does she claim the Wicked Witch of the East as her sister. As you can see, the screen writers have fashioned a very different villain from that in the book—although they did keep the flying monkeys. In case you don’t have your own copy of the original, here’s a LINK: https://archive.org/details/wonderfulwizardo00baumiala )
And this isn’t the only time a witch seems to have been vanquished, of course, only to resurface in a new form. The White Witch of Narnia
is killed by Aslan in The Lion,The Witch and The Wardrobe,
but seems about to reappear in Prince Caspian,
where it is suggested that, although Aslan is said to have killed her, “…whoever heard of a witch that really died? You can always get them back.” (Prince Caspian, Chapter XII, “Sorcery and Sudden Vengeance”)
And though she isn’t revived then, she will reappear in The Silver Chair,
as the Lady of the Green Kirtle.
(A “kirtle”, by the way, looks like this, if you’re not a follower of medieval/Renaissance fashion.)
In fact, in her original form, as Jadis,
she is the large and terrifying figure in the prequel, The Magician’s Nephew.
(This is an interesting choice for the witch’s name, by the way. It’s simply the French, jadis, from Latin jam, “already” + dies, “day”, meaning “formerly”. Lewis can suggest by this that: 1. Jadis was a power in the past; 2. but, because of Aslan, will become a former power.)
This idea of persistent evil forms a major feature in the work of Lewis’ friend and fellow Inkling, Tolkien, rather as it does in the 1939 MGM film.
First, there is Melkor (later Morgoth, a kind of nickname), the rebel Vala, perhaps a kind of archangel, close kin to Milton’s Satan
in Paradise Lost,
with his explanation of why he rebelled against God:
“Till Pride and worse Ambition threw me down
Warring in Heav’n against Heav’ns matchless King:
Ah wherefore! he deservd no such return
From me, whom he created what I was
In that bright eminence, and with his good
Upbraided none; nor was his service hard.
What could be less then to afford him praise,
The easiest recompence, and pay him thanks,
How due! yet all his good prov’d ill in me,
And wrought but malice; lifted up so high
I sdeind subjection, and thought one step higher
Would set me highest, and in a moment quit
The debt immense of endless gratitude,
So burthensome, still paying, still to ow…”
(Paradise Lost, Book IV, Lines 40-53, 1667 edition. If you’d like to see what 1667 looked like–versus Milton’s 1674 second edition—here’s a LINK to a modern transcription: https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1794/767/lost.pdf?sequence=1 )
After his ultimate defeat by his fellow Valar and his exile through the Door of Night, Melkor/Morgoth’s place is taken by one of what we might think of a lesser angel, a Maia, named, initially, Gorthaur, Melkor/Morgoth’s chief lieutenant. As Annatar, and later as Sauron,
he appears and reappears in the Second and Third Ages until, with his Ring destroyed, he vanishes from Middle-earth.
For MGM’s script writers, having a second witch appear to avenge the first (as well as to covet those ruby slippers), produced extremely useful friction. At every turn of the story, we see that witch seeking to harm Dorothy and her companions.
Not only does that build tension, but her end then produces the climax of the story,
after which the giving out of rewards
and Dorothy’s final difficulty of getting home
seem almost afterthoughts in comparison.
The White Witch almost returns in one novel, definitely appears, in a new guise in another, and has a major role in the prequel which sets up the whole idea of Narnia to begin with. And even Long John Silver escapes his captors, although Stevenson never wrote a sequel. (There is a prequel, however, in Arthur D Howden Smith’s 1924 Porto Bello Gold, for which Smith received permission from Robert Louis Stevenson’s stepson and heir, Lloyd Osbourne.
If you’d like to read it, here’s a LINK: https://archive.org/details/portobellogold0000unse/page/n1/mode/2up )
And then there’s JRRT. Certainly the reappearances of Melkor to trouble the Valar, as well as Sauron’s to stir up difficulties throughout the Second and Third Ages produces no end of friction for generations of those on Middle-earth and beyond. It’s interesting, however, that, after all those manifestations of evil, Tolkien himself seems to have felt that there had to come an end—as if all that friction had finally worn the long story smooth. As he says in a 1964 letter to Colin Bailey:
“I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall [of Mordor], but it proved both sinister and depressing. Since we are dealing with Men it is inevitable that we should be concerned with the most regrettable feature of their nature: their quick satiety with good. So that the people of Gondor in time of peace, justice and prosperity, would become discontented and restless—while the dynasts descended from Aragorn would become just kings and governors—like Denethor or worse. I found that even so early there was an outcrop of revolutionary plots, about a centre of secret Satanistic religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going round doing damage. I could have written a ‘thriller’ about the plot and its discovery and overthrow—but it would be just that. Not worth doing.” (Letters, 344)
And so perhaps the witch was finally dead?
Thanks for reading, as always,
Be sure that your witch is an only child,
Turn your calendar to a new year,
And remember that, as ever, there will be