[Literary passage] A tyrant in fantasy

In this passage from C. S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew, two children are transported by magic to a deserted ancient city in another world. Here, they inadvertently wake up a sleeping queen, who tells them the history the place.

Notice how C. S. Lewis uses this scene to reveal that the queen has the defining characteristics of psycopaths — their only morality is their own wishes, they always blame their victims, and they are incapable of remorse.

Any similarity to dictators currently ruling in our world is certainly not coincidental.

Low down and near the horizon hung a great, red sun, far bigger than our sun. Digory felt at once that it was also older than ours: a sun near the end of its life, weary of looking down upon that world. To the left of the sun, and higher up, there was a single star, big and bright. Those were the only two things to be seen in the dark sky; they made a dismal group.

And on the earth, in every direction, as far as the eye could reach, there spread a vast city in which there was no living thing to be seen. And all the temples, towers, palaces, pyramids and bridges cast long, disastrous-looking shadows in the light of that withered sun. Once a great river had flowed through the city, but the water had long since vanished, and it was now only a wide ditch of grey dust.

“Look well on that which no eyes will ever see again,” said the Queen. “Such was Charn, that great city, the city of the King of Kings, the wonder of the world, perhaps of all worlds. Does your uncle rule any city as great as this, boy?”

“No,” said Digory. He was going to explain that Uncle Andrew didn’t rule any cities, but the Queen went on:

“It is silent now. But I have stood here when the whole air was full of the noises of Charn; the trampling of feet, the creaking of wheels, the cracking of the whips and the groaning of slaves, the thunder of chariots, and the sacrificial drums beating in the temples. I have stood here (but that was near the end) when the roar of battle went up from every street and the river of Charn ran red.” She paused an added, “All in one moment one woman blotted it out for ever.”

“Who?” said Digory in a faint voice; but he had already guessed the answer.

“I,” said the Queen. “I, Jadis the last Queen, but the Queen of the World.”

The two children stood silent, shivering in the cold wind.

“It was my sister’s fault,” said the Queen. “She drove me to it. May the curse of all the Powers rest upon her forever! At any moment I was ready to make peace — yes and to spare her life too, if only she would yield me the throne. But she would not. Her pride has destroyed the whole world. Even after the war had begun, there was a solemn promise that neither side would use Magic. But when she broke her promise, what could I do? Fool! As if she did not know that I had more Magic than she! She even knew that I had the secret of the Deplorable Word. Did she think — she was always a weakling — that I would not use it?”

“What was it?” said Digory.

“That was the secret of secrets,” said the Queen Jadis. “It had long been known to the great kings of our race that there was a word which, if spoken with the proper ceremonies, would destroy all living things except the one who spoke it. But the ancient kings were weak and softhearted and bound themselves and all who should come after them with great oaths never even to seek after the knowledge of that word. But I learned it in a secret place and paid a terrible price to learn it. I did not use it until she forced me to it. I fought to overcome her by every other means. I poured out the blood of my armies like water —”

“Beast!” muttered Polly.

“The last great battle,” said the Queen, “raged for three days here in Charn itself. For three days I looked down upon it from this very spot. I did not use my power till the last of my soldiers had fallen, and the accursed woman, my sister, at the head of her rebels was halfway up those great stairs that lead up from the city to the terrace. Then I waited till we were so close that we could see one another’s faces. She flashed her horrible, wicked eyes upon me and said, “Victory.” “Yes,” said I, “Victory, but not yours.” Then I spoke the Deplorable Word. A moment later I was the only living thing beneath the sun.”

“But the people?” gasped Digory.

“What people, boy?” asked the Queen.

“All the ordinary people,” said Polly, “who’d never done you any harm. And the women, and the children, and the animals.”

“Don’t you understand?” said the Queen (still speaking to Digory). “I was the Queen. They were all my people. What else were they there for but to do my will?”

“It was rather hard luck on them, all the same,” said he.

“I had forgotten that you are only a common boy. How should you understand the reasons of State? You must learn, child, that what would be wrong for you or for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I. The weight of the world is on our shoulders. We must be freed from all rules. Ours is a high and lonely destiny.”

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For a much more consoling and beautiful passage from The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, check this excerpt from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

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Image: Ruins of an Ancient City by John Martin. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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