‘The Curse and the Coward’ is a story that serves as a direct prequel to ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, told through the medium of film. The story sheds light on the backstory on some much loved- or despised- characters from C.S. Lewis’ work. The story reveals how Jadis, the White Witch, came to be quite so evil.
Long ago, on cold December night in Narnia, a baby was born with a grave curse. Said curse was part of a secret prophecy, closely guarded by the forest spirits. The prophecy details that once every hundred years, a child will be born in Narnia, who will bear a curse so terrible, that their very existence could threaten all who dwell on these ancient lands. To the crib of cursed baby Jadis, daughter of Amos and Miriam Inacia, came the Spirit Queen. Upon noticing the child’s fortunate looks, she cast a conditional spell over the newborn. With this spell she would grow up as good as any other child, the curse would be buried deep within her soul, hidden from all including herself. However, if by the age of 21, she had not found a true and equal love, the curse would start to take over her soul and blacken her heart. She could become capable of terrible things, her potential for destruction would be undeniable.
Though Miriam had fallen gravely ill from the birth of such trauma, the Inacia parents were grateful for the Spirit Queen’s spell.
Years passed and Jadis grew up to be the most beautiful, kind and gentle young woman that Narnia had ever seen. The only reminder of the terrible secret curse she bore was Miriam’s poor health, as she grew sicker with each winter. Jadis was loved universally throughout her home town of Tormaleigh. So, it was no surprise that when she fell in love with Digory Kirke of Tundlewell at the annual Yule Ball, the whole town was a-flutter with excitement. The young Professor Kirke and his good friend Tumnus had been visiting relatives in Tormaleigh for the festive season, though neither one of them had expected that Digory would leave for Tundlewell on new year’s day, an engaged man! As on Christmas Eve, he had proposed to Jadis- who of course had said yes- and the two had promised to marry on Christmas Eve the following year.
The months that passed since the couple had parted ways were long and hard for Jadis. She was much changed as she became deeply infatuated by the idea of Digory, he consumed her mind at an increasing intensity. By the time winter rolled around again her demeanor was almost that of a different person; withdrawn, uncaring and far from the sweet girl she once was. Jadis was so distracted by her frenzied thoughts, that she had neglected her duties of nursing her sickly mother through the harsh winter months. As a result Miriam had become desperately weak- though Jadis had barely even noticed. Amos had sensed his daughter’s shift in personality, and had become worried that the great love between her and Digory was not as balanced as he had hoped…
Meanwhile across Narnia, in the northern town of Tundlewell, Digory had become somewhat of a recluse himself, though for different reasons. In his studies, he had made a bleak and frightening discovery. He had uncovered the legend of the once a century curse, and had figured out that out there somewhere was a cursed one, who was soon to come of age. Digory had become so engrossed in his studies that not only had he neglected his old friend Tumnus, but he had barely spared a thought for his bride to be. This had caused the love to become very imbalanced. Nevertheless, the time eventually came for Digory and his best man to make the long journey to Tormaleigh in good time for the wedding.
Back in Tormaleigh, just moments before the clock chimed midnight, signifying Jadis’ 21stbirthday, Miriam passed away. Amos was so distraught that he forgot all about Jadis’ curse. Jadis, however seemed as though she could not care less that her mother had passed. She was too busy watching the clock, the anticipation of Digory’s imminent arrival was all her mind could process.
Digory and Tumnus arrived at the Inacia home to find a sorry scene. They had just learned of Miriam’s tragic death when Jadis came flying down the stairs and hurled herself at Digory with passionate force. Taken aback by the tightness of her grip, Digory assumed she was simply in a state of grief. He whispered words of consolation and condolence to his bride, only to be met with a haunting cackle in response.
In that moment Digory had the dreadful realization that he could well be engaged to the once a century evil the prophecy warned of. He decides to play the part of adoring fiancé until he come up with another plan.
The two men are ushered away into an annex, where they are to stay until the weeding. As Tumnus snores, Digory searches through old books for something that could help him decide what to do. He comes across a chapter about a lamppost located deep within Shadowleigh Forest, that acts as a portal between Narnia and another world. In order to pass through the portal one must be wearing either the fur of a Stormish Bear or Narnian Snowcat.
The next morning, Tumnus awakes to find Digory already dressed for the snow. He announces that the two of them are going for a fay of hunting in the Stormish Forest, to find a fur to be made into a fine cloak for a gift for Jadis. Of course this was just a cover for Digory’s secret agenda; escaping Narnia before Jadis’s curse takes over her soul.
The two men find, kill and skin a Narnian Snowcat. Meanwhile the memorial for Miriam took place at the Inacia family plot, where Jadis’s friends and little cousin notice that she is acting out of character, however unaware of the darkness that is bubbling up within he, they assume it is down to grief.
The next day, whilst Jadis is at Tormaleigh Hall, ordering her entourage around with the wedding decorations, Digory and Tumnus pay a visit to Mrs. Cotton, the town’s seamstress. Being fond of Jadis, she agrees to make her a cloak and matching fur coat for the next day. Happy with their success, the men drink in the tavern- though Digory feels saddened by the loss of what could’ve been a wonderful wedding if it wasn’t for the curse.
The wedding day arrives, as does the coat and cloak to Jadis and Digory’s respective bedrooms. Digory is relieved that his escape plan seems to be working, whilst Jadis’ infatuation is fueled by the arrival of such a beautiful gift.
When the time comes for Digory and Tumnus to walk to Tormaleigh Hall, Digory makes the excuse of needing to pay his respects to Miriam’s grave before marrying her daughter. Tumnus agrees and goes on ahead without Digory. Digory consults his carefully planned route map of Shadowleigh Forest and starts to make a run for where he hopes he might find the lamppost.
Meanwhile Jadis is busy getting herself ready along with the bridal party- the atmosphere is tense as it has gotten to the stage where even her best friends are nervous to be around her. She is caught in a narcissistic trance when she sees how stunning she looking in her gown and Snowcat cloak.
By the time the bridal party have set off, Tumnus arrives to an already full chapel. He greets guests, and makes small talk with Father Edwin at the altar. He is constantly checking his pocket watch and the chapel door for Digory, as time moves on he gets more anxious.
Meanwhile in Shadowleigh Forest, an Exhausted Digory has found the lamppost, but has been confronted by the spirit Queen who is trying to obstruct his path, pleading with. Him to stay as a last ditch attempt to appease the curse. Digory refuses, and starts to battle the dryad diversions to get closer to the lamppost.
Jadis and her part arrive at the chapel, one at a time the bridesmaids walk down the aisle, to the delight of the congregation. Tumnus can be seen sweating at the altar. Finally it is Jadis’ turn to walk the aisle, arm in arm with her father. She is so busy drinking in all the attention, the envious stares, oohs and ahhs from the congregation, letting it fuel the sense of narcissistic power she felt, that it wasn’t until she was halfway up the aisle that she noticed there was no Digory waiting for her. Furious and heartbroken she storms up the rest of the aisle.
The very moment she gets to the empty space at the alter where he should be waiting for her, Digory makes contact with the Lamppost. As he does, Jadis is tossed into the air, suspended as if possessed. As the portal swallows Digory up, the Spirit queen casts a dark spell on him as punishment for his selfish cowardice; when he arrives in the new world, he will starts to age rapidly.
Meanwhile in the chapel, Jadis’ curse has reached a new level of acceleration triggered by the brutal heartbreak, her transformation is nearly complete. She is furious, but has found the she has powers now, she tries them out by transforming Tumnus into a half breed faun as punishment for letting Digory escape. She traps terrified the wedding guests in the chapel. She uses her dark powers to transform her bridesmaids into viscous wolves that she can control, and sets them to hunt down Digory and bring him back to her. Jadis transforms some luckier guests into talking animals (beavers and a badger), but many aren’t so luck, as when she has transformed the chapel into her queenly palace, she decides there can be no more humans in Narnia. And so, she turns the rest of the guests to stone.
Meanwhile in our world, Digory awakes to find himself in an abandoned house in the countryside. When exploring the house, he comes across a large antique wardrobe. Curious, he opens the door to find many fur coats, almost identical to his own, hanging up, and an icy cold blast of air comes from the back of the wardrobe. He quickly shuts the door and explores the rest of the house, finding a study and library, he decides the house is perfectly equipped for his needs and that he will stay here.
Back in Narnia, Jadis is swanning around the ballroom of her new palace, drinking the reception drinks and tearing through wedding gifts, reveling in the fact that she no longer has to share any of it with anyone. She was just placing a crown upon her head when she hears a whimper from behind the heap of presents. She found her father crouched hiding, clutching a large gift box. Amos, terrified but determined, removes a lion cub from the box and hands it to his daughter. He explains that He and Miriam had wanted to give the cub to her and Digory as a companion and guardian in married life. At the mere mention of Digory’s name, Jadis throws the cub to the floor and as one final act of pure evil, signifying her full transition to a witch, she turns her own father to stone.
The next few years in Narnia are the worst in history. Jadis becomes known as the white witch, she calls herself the Queen of Narnia and rules with fear. The vendetta she has for human is extended to all Narnians, she orders her wolves to hunt them down, so that she can turn them to half breeds, animals or stone statues, depending on her mood. She enchants Narnia with and everlasting winter, but she bans Christmas- as she didn’t feel like celebrating the day after her heart was shattered.
There was hop though; The Spirit Queen had found the lion cub lost in the woods. She took him in, named him Aslan and bestowed magic onto him, in the hopes that maybe one day he could help overthrow the White Witch. There is also another, more hopeful prophecy that the forest spirits know of, that says; one day soon, four human children will come to Narnia, this will signify the end of the Witch’s rein.
Meanwhile in our world, Digory is miserable; Having aged to an old man in just a few short years, he is lonely and burdened with the guilt of his cowardice. So, when war breaks out in Europe, he does a good deed to try to appease hi guilt; he takes in four sibling evacuees. The Pevensie children.
Full script available upon request.
‘The Chronicles of Narnia; The Curse and the Coward’ is a prequel I wrote, setting events into motion for ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’. The story is written into a screenplay, that would be portrayed through the medium of a short live action film. The movie itself is a narrated film and would be very visual, with a huge emphasis on imagery, cinematography and costume. The story is a dark fairytale, providing a backstory to many beloved, and some despised- characters from C.S Lewis’ work. Though based on some of his characters, the story overtly rejects the sexism, racism and religious undertones of his writing, in favour of more modern messages. For example there are themes of complexity, rather than simply ‘good’ and ‘evil’, and there are feminist ideas that run throughout. One of these being the rejection of the notion that marriage, or that the love of a man will save a woman’s soul. In fact getting involved with Digory leads to quite an opposite effect for Jadis- who consequently becomes the White Witch.
There are several pivotal themes that drive the action in this (hypothetical) film. One such theme is selfishness and cowardice being portrayed as dangerous traits. Ultimately Digory causes both the tyrannical rein of the White Witch, many deaths and suffering of friends, as well as his own misery when he took the cowardly decision to run away and save his own skin. Another core theme is the rejection of the notion that marriage, or that the love of a man will save a woman’s soul. In fact getting involved with Digory leads to quite an opposite effect for Jadis- who consequently becomes the White Witch. there are complex ideas about the role of marriage, and the dangers of hanging so much importance on romantic relationships. The Spirit Queen places the future of Narnia in the hands of a girl, on the assumption that she will be loved and married; this clearly does not go to plan. There are also themes of grief, innocence, evil, and perils of taking someone’s appearance as their nature.
Whilst the story is rooted in complexities as a firm step away from the black and white portrayal of good and evil that C.S Lewis created, the thematic conclusions are somewhat fair. Ultimately, Digory feels the consequences of his cowardly and selfish betrayal. The perils of placing too much importance on how a person looks, as well as romantic relationships are illustrated in full when the assumptions of marriage and prettiness saving the day backfire catastrophically.
Despite the ambiguities of the story, and the, at times, dark themes; I hope that as a whole the project would be a good festive watch, that taps into the nostalgia of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, whilst offering and exciting new perspective, that is echoed not only through the plot, screenplay and characters, but also through the visual design elements too.
My main objectives when writing the story, and then later the screenplay, were to take the magic of Narnia and the infamous characters and provide some original context for their roles within the stories that many know and love. Another was to strip away the old fashioned notions of a woman’s place, and of dishonest religious propaganda from C.S Lewis’ Narnia within my prequel. This was in the hopes of creating a story that is unproblematic, honest, and appropriate for a modern day audience.
In terms of the objectives for the film, they are simple; create a visually stunning short film that both Narnia fans and newcomers can enjoy. The film would use a strong sense of visual narrative, along with scripted narration (read in Aslan’s voice). The film script is full of nods to the story that would come next in the franchise (‘The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe’), and uses a considerable amount of subtle foreshadowing, both within the plot and visual narrative. This is done by the addition of motifs that hint to the 2005 adaptation of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. For example, my script features a particular mention of Turkish delight, observing it as a childhood favourite of Jadis’. In the 2005 film, the White Witch feeds Edmund enchanted Turkish delight to control him.
Translation of Design
The themes of the story are translated into a very considered visually arresting film. There is a balance of dark and light, and of merry festive feelings as well as dark uncomfortable ones. For this, the setting of the film has been very carefully thought out, from the fictional towns and villages and their architecture, to the landscape of Narnia and the type of society living there. The landscape is of particular importance as not only do the forested lands with mountains and ravines make for stunning cinematography, but they also inform the design of the costumes. The forest motifs will come through in the textiles, whilst the shapes of the land will be reflected in the tailoring and draping. Furthermore, there is a huge emphasis on the seasons, as not only do they hold great significance to the plot, but to the design too. For example, the spring represents all being well, joy and peace, so the filtering on the picture is warmer and pastel, the costumes are lighter in colour and weight, and the textiles reflect the surroundings. Taking such inspiration from the landscapes and seasons is important for the costumes as I wanted them to reflect the way of life in Narnia, as I have positioned the Narnian society in my story as a sort of earth worshipping one.
Along with the design of fictional settings within Narnia, I have put thought into props and various objects that are mentioned within the script. Providing an idea of how these things would look like in this world, as well as some background context and stories. For example, pocket watches and clocks get a lot of mentions throughout the screenplay, so I took some time to design what a Narnian pocket watch would look like. They are made of brass and have an octagon shaped casing, as do all types of clocks in Narnia. The face always has either the name or initials of its owner engraved on, and the casing often has a motif or family emblem engraved on the back. As touched on in the script, they also give off sparks in the morning as a form of alarm clock. All men get their pocket watch when they are 21 years old- this is called ‘coming of age’ in Narnia. Only the men use pocket watches because the Narnian women are all born with an innate ability to read the time from the position of the sun and moon in the sky, and so have no need of a time piece. This is just one example of a prop that has been designed to make the world of Narnia feel as convincing yet magical as possible. I hope that the thoughtfulness of the story and the world it belongs to, translates to film, that if it were made, would be cohesive, detailed and fantastical.
Choice, Style, Period and Form
In terms of the costumes, I wanted to step away from the styling done by Isis Mussenden for the 2005 ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe film’, as not only did I want to make it clear that my story is set in a time before the tyrannical rule of the White Witch, but I also didn’t want to continue the cultural appropriation issues that arose from some of her design work for Jadis. Despite the differences between the films, I still want to replicate the beauty of the costumes and the magical feeling they gave the 2005 film. For this I want to develop my own vocabulary of garments for my characters, to create something that feels whimsical and different, yet still rooted within the genre of fantasy.
I am taking inspiration from several elements to create the costumes. These include the afore mentioned scenery of Narnia; snow drifts, forests and mountains will inform my textiles an silhouettes. I am also taking some inspiration from the historical dress, namely elements of early 18thcentury corsetry and base garments, as I think that having some basis of historical reference within a costume vocabulary can help to give the designs a fairytale aesthetic. I will also be looking at elements of traditional Russian and Cossack style clothing, particularly with regards to the winter costumes, and ways in which I can intergrade faux fur into the garments. Finally, I have been looking at and taking inspiration from several haute couture designers, especially when it comes to developing ideas for my textiles, as I want my embellishments and textures to be rich, detailed and considered.
Overall the costumes need to match up to and compliment the fantasy world I have formulated, whilst still sitting well within the Narnia franchise. They need to uphold a strong sense of visual narrative, and emulate the characters they are designed for.
A peek at my research process: some sketchbook pages…