A chilling conversation between Digory, Polly, and the Witch Queen Jadis happens when she describes to them a civil war between her and her sister over control of the world of Charn. Jadis and her army could not overcome her sister’s army so Jadis spoke the Deplorable Word and every living thing on Charn was killed except for her. Digory in distress asks about all the people that were killed.
“What people, boy?” asked the Queen. [Some of the most horrifying words I have ever read.]
“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. I was the Queen. They were all my people. What else were they there for but to do my will?”
When Digory continues to protest she stops him with these words. “I had forgotten that you are only a common boy. How should you understand reasons of State? You must learn, boy, that what would be wrong for you for or for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I…. We much be freed from all rules.”
Digory remembers that he had heard his Uncle Andrew say just about the same thing. “But of course, you must understand that rules of that sort, however excellent they may be for little boys – and servants – and women – and even people in general, can’t possibly be expected to apply to profound students and great thinkers and sages. No, Digory. Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules.”
C.S. Lewis was born 1898 in and lived until 1963 so he was in the generation that was an adult during both World Wars. During the first World war over nine million soldiers, sailors, and other combatants and seven million civilians died. The number of deaths was so high partly because of scientific developments that used technology for weapons. Lewis fought in World War 1. He was seriously wounded with shrapnel and sent off the battle field to a hospital which probably saved his life. World War 2 was even deadlier. An estimated 50 million to 85 million people died! This included battles over six years, the mass killing of Jews by the Nazis, and atomic bombs dropped on two large cities in Japan. These made World War II the deadliest conflict in human history.
So, Lewis witnessed governments at war with each other causing the deaths of multiple millions of ordinary men, women, and children and the devastation of nature. He witnessed totalitarian governments brainwashing and dominating people with terror. He also witnessed scientists developing destructive technology, experimenting on humans they thought less worthy, and creating programs of eugenics to breed a superior race of humans and breed out anyone they considered weak.
And his horror at the events and behaviors of the first half of the twentieth century shows up in his fiction. Queen Jadis and Uncle Andrew are the people in government and science who believe they are above the rules and who think ordinary people expendable in their power tactics. Lewis wrote another novel called That Hideous Strength in which there is a battle of good and evil when a group of scientists tries to seize control of life itself.
The people and the scenarios have changed since Lewis’ day, but the abuse of power goes on and on. He would be grieved.