When watching Frozen, did it seem…familiar? Did you happen to think about the fact that we have seen this before: a pale, isolated snow queen living in a beautiful castle after creating an eternal winter?
Her name is the White Witch. (Or Jadis, if you want to get technical.)
When I first realized this, I immediately decided that the two stories are vastly different. And they are. But…why?
Why does this picture make sense…
But this one doesn’t quite?
Here are three reasons why I think the White Witch is a villain and Elsa is a hero.
One: The White Witch Destroys for Destruction’s Sake
And also out of pride and a desire for power. Those are the main motives for her actions. We don’t really sympathize with her lockdown of Narnia into winter mode, especially since she also does things like killing the hero of the story and turning adorable squirrels into stone.
Our verdict? The White Witch does evil things for evil reasons and is evil.
Meanwhile, Elsa does bad things (not quite evil because most of the time she doesn’t intend things to go as far as they do), and she is not bad. Why?
Because we know what it’s like to grieve.
We know what it’s like to be alone.
We know what it’s like to feel like we have to live up to a perfect image, to hide our deepest fears, to protect others from ourselves.
This tells us something about how we prioritize evil. Fear, loneliness, and anger are not good, although they often come from a good desire or emotion that’s been twisted. But they are very human vices, while pride and the quest for power are diabolical (in the literal sense of being of the devil).
When the White Witch freezes the world out of spite, we want Aslan to conquer her. When Elsa freezes the world out of rebellion and a misdirected sense of independence, we want Anna to save her. And, in both cases, we want spring to come again.
Two: The White Witch Didn’t Have a Sister
How we view characters has a lot to do with how other people in the story relate to them (for example, the only reason I cared about Cosette at all is because Jean Valjean loved her).
Think about the contrast between the characters who interact most with our snow queens.
As Edmund approached the icy castle to betray his siblings, he knew he shouldn’t do it. But he went anyway.
As Anna approached the icy castle to bring back her sibling, everyone told her she shouldn’t do it. But she went anyway.
“Deep down inside him [Edmund] really knew that the White Witch was bad and cruel,” but all it takes is a simple listen to Anna’s words and lyrics to see that she knew that deep down inside, her sister was good and in need of love.
Now, am I trying to say that if Lucy had just given the White Witch a hug, things would have been different? That characters only become evil because of their circumstances or the labels people attach to them?
Nope. The White Witch would not have accepted love if it had been offered to her. All I’m saying is that the Disney storytellers understand that we sympathize with characters who are loved by someone loveable. We instinctively believe that if Anna can love Elsa and see the good in her, then she must actually be good.
(Now, the fact that Aslan loved Edmund—certainly in the category of “not loveable”—enough to die for him…that is a different topic altogether.)
Three: The White Witch Does Not Change
Eventually, Elsa realized she was wrong, that she had reacted out of fear and hurt those around her. And she understood both that she couldn’t keep living up to a perfect image and that she couldn’t live in perfect independence, away from other people. By the end of the movie, she has become a worthy queen and a sister who’s finally learned how to show love.
Now, the White Witch…
I don’t know about you, but to me, this picture does not say “misunderstood and repentant.” It says, “I just killed my greatest enemy and now I’m going to kill you and crush everything you hold dear into tiny jagged pieces.”
Regret is not a fun emotion. My usual image of it is someone tortured with shame, replaying their wrong choice over and over, wishing they could change it, but without the ability to do so.
But when regret is met with forgiveness, it transforms. Because it tells us we can change—not the past, but the present and future. It gives us the freedom to not do that stupid thing again, and the grace to believe that we are not defined by our mistakes.
It’s the difference between barreling forward in a polar-bear sleigh as the White Witch and choosing to accept love and be Elsa.
(If you missed it and want more on Elsa and Anna, check out the other blog post I wrote about Frozen.)