Halloween is almost upon us, and I don’t know about you- but I’m ready to spend my day as a steampunk aviator and my night as a glam rock vampire. To celebrate the season in a blogging sort of way, I’m discussing some of my favorite literary witches. I’ve got your obvious ones from Practical Magic and the Harry Potter universe, but I’ve also got a couple others in there that I didn’t see on anyone else’s list.
So call your familiar and put the lime in the coconut- here’s a look at my top six literary witch loves.
Morwen from the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede
“None of this nonsense, please”
What’s not to love about Morwen? Practical, intelligent, hard working, and kind- she also makes fantastic gingerbread and the best apple cider you’ll ever taste. She isn’t given to following The Rules (no pointy hats or chin warts here), and it often gets her into trouble with traditionalists. Instead of owning a single black cats, she owns nine (none of them black), and they have names like Fiddlesticks, Miss Eliza Tudor, and Jasper Darlington Higgens IV. She’s powerful, but never abuses it, loyal to her friends, and stubborn as all get out.
Patricia C. Wrede wrote a fantastically subversive twist on fairy tales with her Enchanted Forest series, and no one stands out more in my mind then Morwen. She eschews tradition for what made her happy, and when trouble rears its head, she never hesitates to tackle it alongside her friends. If I could chose one literary life to lead, Morwen’s would be it. In fact, I’m fairly certain I’ve been subconsciously fashioning my life goals out a desire to have a home as much like hers as I can manage.
The Owens Sisters from Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
“My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage.”
While the movie might be charming, the book is downright enchanting- rich with detail and emotion that is never cheapened by poor special effects or dated music choices (This Kiss?! Really? Give me a break). The descriptions are visceral, magic slips in like light through old shutters, and isn’t just the love potions that are bespelling, it’s the love itself that makes that magic. There are three generations of Owen’s women represented in this story, and each is unique and wise in there own way. This is a story about the bonds that tie us to one another, and the way it shapes our lives. But it’s also a story about breaking those bonds we don’t need, the ones we create for ourselves, the ones others place upon us.
I love this book, so much so that I usually have to reread it every couple of years. Practical Magic sparkles, made up of summer evenings that last forever, star shine and midnight wishes. I love how witchcraft is woven into the every day in this story, how it becomes part of the garden, the house, the very air. The story strikes a perfect balance between light and dark, with the women themselves allowed to exist as complete human beings, ones who make mistakes and try too hard but ultimately take control over their destinies.
Minerva McGonagall From the Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do, Potter.”
Oh Professor, you are perfect. Stern, smart, and Scottish, she can turn into a cat, she can dance, she can fly, and she will ruin your world if you make her angry. Her tragedy laden back story is almost too much, can’t this woman catch a break? In spite of the myriad of challenges and misfortunes to visit her, Minerva remained brave and loyal, fighting against Umbridge, Voldemort, and Snape without a whisper of fear marring her stoic visage.
This lady turned away from love so she wouldn’t have to live a life of lies. When love finally did find her, she lost it again in three years time. But despite personal tragedies and a myriad of challenges, she rose from student to professor to the head of her department and deputy headmistress, as well as head of Gryfinndor House. After Dumbledor, she became headmistress, and helped lead the revolt against Voldemort’s army. She was powerful, intelligent, stern but kind, and brave. Don’t mess with Scottish women.
The Hempstock Women from The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
“And did I pass?” The face of the old woman on my right was unreadable in the gathering dusk. On my left the younger woman said, “You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.”
Lettie, Ginnie, and Gran may not be the main characters in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but they are certainly the most interesting. They also might not be witches so much as goddesses; the archetype of Maiden, Mother, Crone is so closely associated with Neo-Paganism and and witchcraft that it is hard to disentangle the two. They also might not be three woman, but one who appears as three. It’s Gaiman, and you should come to expect duplicity and mystery in his answers.
If they are witches, then they are crazy powerful; able to alter memories, open and shut wormholes, alter time and banish inter-dimensional creatures. The Hempstocks appear in many of Gaiman’s works, usually as witches, as does the triple aspect of Maiden, Mother, Crone. But this is a far cry from the Kindly Ones, the Hempstock farm is a place full of moonlight and good food and stitched together safety stronger than the flimsy walls of adult promises. It’s a place you want to return to, even if your memories of your time there are not yours to keep.
Agnes Nutter from Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
“Agnes was the worst prophet that’s ever existed. Because she was always right. That’s why the book never sold.”
Author of The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch– she knew what was going on long before anyone else did. Her prophecies were always correct, but because she was looking three hundred years into the future, her terminology is usually off, and because the prophecies only involved her family, they were mostly irrelevant to anyone else. But she didn’t care, she just wanted to get published so she could get her hands on the free authors copy.
She was generally kind, helpful person until she was burned at the stake by Thou-Shall-Not-Commit-Adultry Pulsifer. Because of her knowledge of the future, she was prepared when the villagers arrived to arrest her. They were confused by her compliance until they were not, for she had concealed eighty pounds of gunpowder and forty pounds of roofing nails in her skirts. Not only was she the best seer in England, but she was stong as well! The explosion leveled the village and killed it’s people, which they could have known would have happened if they just bought her book.
Jadis, the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
I saved the best for last.
“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.”
Guys, she is such an evil badass. And because Hollywood and the BBC always start with (the overdone) Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, so many people don’t even know her cool origins. She’s from a completely different planet guys! She took over her kingdom by overthrowing her own sister in a spectacular coup! She escaped a dying planet, wreacked havoc in the streets of London, then came to rule an entire other kingdom on a planet not her own. I mean sure she was evil- but she did it so well! Just look at some other things she says;
“I see we are in a large city. Procure for me at once a chariot or a flying carpet or a well-trained dragon, or whatever is usual for royal and noble persons in your land.”
“I see you are an idiot, whatever else you may be. Answer me, once and for all, or I shall lose my patience. Are you human?”
“Not know the Queen of Narnia? Ha! You shall know us better hereafter.”
I love her. She is impressively strong, able to rip lampposts from the ground and throw them like spears. She rides through the streets of London using a handsome as a chariot, galloping at top speeds while standing on the drivers seat. She is not going to lie down and have a cup of tea to calm down. She is going to conquer whatever world she steps foot on. She will have her cake, and eat it too, and she’s going to look stunning while she does it.
So, there it is, six… well, really eleven to thirteen witches from literature that I just think are the best. I really need to read more witch stories. Hope you have a spooky scary Halloween (or a calm, quiet one if that’s more what you’re in to), and I’ll see you in my next post.