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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sunday Guest: the Green Witch


From: CS Lewis' The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: Her arms appeared to be fastened to her sides. Her legs were interwined with each other, and her feet had disappeared. The long green train of her skirt thickened and grew solid, and seemed to be all one piece with the writhing green pillar of her interlocked legs.

Green Witch Village: The description of this metamorphosis has a long and venerable tradition. The wording basically comes from Dante, Inferno 25, who in his turn had drawn on Ovid in order -- as he himself declares -- to outclass his Latin colleague. The Dantean verses were later reused by Ludovico Ariosto for the witch Manto turning into a snake in Orlando Furioso; by Torquato Tasso, Gerusalemme Liberata, for a group of knights being changed into fish by the witch Armida; and by John Milton, twice, for Satan entering the Serpent and then Satan being actually changed into a huge snake, a dragon.

In Herman Melville's last novel The Confidence-Man, 1857, it is practically impossible to define the "hero," or even to decide whether it is about one "person" or more, or maybe all the people involved. According to one hypothesis, he should be the devil; in which case, it is interesting to notice that, on the occasions in which the writer seems to give some clues as to the Confidence-Man's elusive identity, he often hints at Milton's Satan entering the Serpent. On the other hand, that Inferno 25 was among Melville's favorite Cantos in the Divine Comedy can be inferred from his novel Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, published one year later than Moby-Dick. So, Dante would provide him with the equation Satan = Serpent = Man = thief, as this is what any Confidence-Man proves to be.

A novelty in Lewis' episode is that the clothing too takes part in the metamorphosis.