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Invoking Good Witches
When did good witches start to appear in British children's literature? I don't mean wise women, good fairies, or anything of that kind, but outright, named-as-such witches.

In America there are the Oz books, of course, though they in any case seem something of an outlier: did Oz spawn other good Stateside witches in the decades immediately following? In the UK, though, mid-twentieth-century witches (e.g. in John Masefield's The Midnight Folk [1927], T. H. White's The Sword in the Stone [1938], Ursula Moray Williams' Gobbolino the Witch's Cat [1942] and Barbara Sleigh's Carbonel, Prince of Cats [1955]) are generally malignant, as per tradition, and that tends to be the case into the 1970s, too: see for example the witches in Mary Stewart's The Little Broomstick (1971) (soon to be an anime feature, by the way, under the title, Mary and the Witch's Flower) or Diana Wynne Jones's Wilkins' Tooth/Witch's Business (1973). The first good British witch I can think of is in Nina Beachcroft's Well Met by Witchlight (1972), and even she is paired off against a bad one.

In a slightly different category are the good comedy witches. Oddly, there doesn't seem to have been much influence in Britain from the magic-in-a-modern-suburban-setting style of American sitcom, as in Bewitched, The Addams Family or The Munsters (all 1964), where the comedy comes from the incongruity of the modern - unless the boarding-school setting of Jill Murphy's Worst Witch series (from 1974) counts as such. In Britain, naturally, we're all about the comic incompetence, as with Murphy's Mildred Hubble and (though to a far lesser extent) Helen Nicoll and Jan Pieńkowski's Meg and Mog (from 1972). Both Mildred and Meg count as good, I suppose?

As for New Age/Wicca-inspired good witches, I'm not really aware of anything in Britain until 1990, when we get Monica Furlong's Wise Child (if indeed Juniper really is a witch - I'm not sure she identifies as such) - although in New Zealand Margaret Mahy had begun as early as 1984, with the Carlisle witches in The Changeover.

This is pretty much a top-of-the-head list. I don't want a baptismal curse, so tell me - whom have I neglected? Can you beat Nina Beachcroft in 1971? I'm sure you can.
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In America there are the Oz books, of course, though they in any case seem something of an outlier: did Oz spawn other good Stateside witches in the decades immediately following?

I grew up on Eleanor Estes' The Witch Family (1960), which is a very sweet found-family story about exactly what the title describes (with a meta-frame of two girls making up stories about witches, Moonwise-style).

Can you beat Nina Beachcroft in 1971? I'm sure you can.

The supernatural climax of Elizabeth Goudge's Linnets and Valerians (1964) depends on the successful practicing of white magic; I can remember almost nothing about her adult novel The White Witch (1958) except that I bounced off it, but I am pretty sure the title meant it literally.

Edited at 2017-03-24 07:04 pm (UTC)

You know, I've been meaning to read Linnets and Valerians since for ever. This may tip me over the edge! I'd not heard of The Witch Family...

I've just remembered that when I was young, and my mother was working as a publisher's reader (having formerly been with a publisher full time), she gave me an MS to read which was a series of stories about witches of different colours. I remember liking it, and recommending it be published, but I suspect that never happened... Anyway, that must have been about 1970. I wish I could remember more about it!

You know, I've been meaning to read Linnets and Valerians since for ever. This may tip me over the edge!

Enjoy!

I'd not heard of The Witch Family...

I haven't read it since we lived in the house on Appleton Street, meaning since before I was eleven, but I have really fond memories of it and of its scratchy, cross-hatched illustrations. They all lived at the top of a glass hill. Later in the story I believe there were mermaids.

an MS to read which was a series of stories about witches of different colours. I remember liking it, and recommending it be published, but I suspect that never happened...

Would your mother remember anything about it? It's a great idea!

How strange! I was just looking for my copy of The Witch Family last night. Hadn't thought of it in ages, and suddenly had to go hunt. Yes, there are mermaids. Those "scratchy, cross-hatched illustrations" are by the great Edward Ardizzone. Many thanks for the Moonwise comparison. I'm flattered.

Nine

Edited at 2017-03-24 11:08 pm (UTC)

"Lurie," said the little girl mermaid. "Will you play with me?" She spoke crooningly, and her voice had a lovely sort of sigh in it, like the hush, hush of gentle waves on rocks, so it would have been quite impossible not to play with her."

The gentlest siren imaginable.

Nine

The gentlest siren imaginable.

That's her! I remember a mer-baby sleeping on the leaves of a glass water lily, too, and a bumblebee named Malachi who communicated by spelling.

Edited at 2017-03-25 02:21 am (UTC)

And the Old Witch dancing the backanally.

Nine


I'm sure you'll like The Witch Family. It's brilliant. (There's a sequel, by the way, not about witches, The Curious Adventures of Jimmy McGee. Her last book and unfortunately not very good, whereas The Witch Family may well be her best.)

Hah -- I knew I'd mentioned The Witch Family before: http://steepholm.livejournal.com/293117.html?thread=2726653#t2726653

I feel ashamed not to have followed it up at that time. Thank you for all your suggestions - there's clearly rich and diverse ecosystem of witchery out there!

There's a good witch- so-called- in E. Nesbit's House of Arden. Nesbit is at pains to explain how the term "witch" is a kind of libel on rural wise women- but since this one has genuine magical powers- including the ability to travel in time- I think she ought to count.







Oh yes, I remember her! But, as you say, Nesbit is very clear that she's a wise woman rather than a witch, even if she does have ecstatic visions of the future, so I'm not sure...

But they're not just ecstatic visions. She does actually crop up in different guises in different historical periods. She is- at the very least- a time traveller.

And what makes the difference between a bona fide witch and a mere wise woman? Supernatural powers? Well this one has them.


In reality, perhaps none - but I suspect Nesbit calls her a wise woman precisely because it was impossible to call a good character a witch. (That seems to be one implication of her discussion.) Now, however, it's quite possible to have a good witch, so something changed, and I'm interested in what, why and when. Still, it's an interesting example, since you're right that she does seem to be a witch in all but name.

Of the American tv situation comedies you mention, Bewitched was the only one which was straightforwardly about a (good) witch. In The Addams Family, the supernatural had a presence and Grandmama cast conventional witch spells, but she was a minor character. The emphasis on that show was on being macabre. The Munsters, by contrast, which was my least favorite of the three, had little supernatural about it, as I faintly recall. The joke in that one was that the characters were monsters (Frankenstein's monster, a vampire, a werewolf, etc.) but that they were otherwise perfectly normal sit-com figures.

One year later came I Dream of Jeannie, in which the title character was a genie, not a witch, and cast her magic accordingly, but was otherwise pretty much the same. But while the witch in Bewitched was a wholesome witch, the genie here was naive and sexy (though, despite her midriff-baring costume, she had no belly button, which the network insisted on editing out).

Quite right. I suppose I mentioned The Munsters and The Addams Family (I got the impression by the way that The Munsters was a bit of a rip-off of Charles Addams's New Yorker cartoons in the first place) because they used the same device of treating the supernatural/weird in a mundane way, rather than because they all contained witches as such. And yes, I should have thought of I Dream of Jeannie as another such! I vaguely remember it, but it wasn't as winsome as Samantha's nose-wiggle.

(Although Bewitched wasn't influential on British children's books, by the way, I've seen it argued that it led indirectly to the Japanese magical girl genre, of which I have written so much in these pages, by way of the anime Sally the Witch [1966].)

I'm not sure what you mean by "I got the impression by the way that The Munsters was a bit of a rip-off of Charles Addams's New Yorker cartoons in the first place." The Addams Family was formally licensed from Charles Addams's characters*. You might mean that The Munsters ripped that off, but I don't think it did. Apart from the basic concept of supernatural-life-in-suburbia, the premises were quite different. The Addams family were macabre; the Munsters were normal, they just looked like monsters (a lot more than most of the Addams family did). Light treatment of horror was a thing in American culture at the time, possibly due to 1930s horror movies getting much airing on TV and people getting used to them.

*He didn't actually own the licensing rights to his own characters at the time - something he failed to inform the TV people of - because he'd handed them off to an ex-wife in a divorce in a desperate attempt to get rid of her. The discovery of this little fact nearly scuttled the show, but they worked something out.

You might mean that The Munsters ripped that off

That is indeed what I meant, and I thought I'd read something about it a long while ago, but I may well be mistaken.

The Addams Family

Talking about the Addams Family reminded me of Ray Bradbury's short story "The April Witch" (1952), whose protagonist is exactly what the title claims and not evil at all.

Of the American tv situation comedies you mention, Bewitched was the only one which was straightforwardly about a (good) witch.

And that just reminded me of both Bell, Book and Candle (1958) and its predecessor I Married a Witch (1942), where the romantic heroines are both witches (in the later film she must give up her magic to achieve happiness with a man, bah, but the earlier one makes no such demands on its heroine and her daughter even gets to inherit her witchcraft).

—Mary Norton! The Magic Bed Knob (1945) and Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947)! That's a very good British witch, even if she gets it out of a correspondence course. That only took me forever to think of.

Edited at 2017-03-25 02:39 am (UTC)

Ah, so I should've overridden my childish skepticism of Mary Norton's books' covers and titles. Maybe I'll try them with my child, a bit later. ("Correspondence course" is my belated hook here.)

Maybe I'll try them with my child, a bit later. ("Correspondence course" is my belated hook here.)

There is at least one sequence with a South Seas island in The Magic Bed-Knob which I am fairly confident has been visited by the Oh Dear Let's Skip That Fairy (there's a witch doctor), but I really love Bonfires and Broomsticks. "In London, during the reign of King Charles II, there lived a necromancer. (****** These six stars are to give you time to ask what is a necromancer. Now you know, we will go on.)" [edit] derspatchel says that parenthesis is his single favorite author's aside.

Edited at 2017-03-25 05:00 am (UTC)

I love that kind of thing, too. And I should of course have thought of Mary Norton!

That's very helpful! Thank you (as well as derspatchel).

Which in turn reminds me of what I'd put out of mind because it is neither British or for children (the parameters for this post), of an even earlier film which I suspect is also a generating factor for these light supernatural comedies in American media, Topper (1937), though perhaps the mid-1950s TV series version was more influential. It's about a ghost, not a witch, but the approach to the supernatural is similar. Based on a novel by Thorne Smith, who wrote other novels that would be horror if they weren't light comedies.

And I am also reminded of the Fritz Leiber novel Conjure Wife (1943), a serious but not horror novel in which all women are secretly witches. (It'd really be interesting to know what the place of trans women - or trans men, for that matter - was in this society.) What they mostly use the witchcraft for, at least in the novel, is to advance their husbands' careers, and whether they're good or evil depends on which character you are.


Based on a novel by Thorne Smith, who wrote other novels that would be horror if they weren't light comedies.

The connection is closer than Topper: the source material for I Married a Witch was Smith's last, posthumously published novel The Passionate Witch (1941). I have not read it myself, though, so I don't know how closely one follows the other.

I think of Topper as more of a direct predecessor to things like Blithe Spirit (stage 1941, film 1945) or The Cockeyed Miracle (1946), with their helpful or interfering ghosts, but they are probably all genetically connected somehow—I know more about the whole raft of afterlife/angel/devil fantasies of the 1940's, e.g. Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), Heaven Can Wait (1943), The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945), Angel on My Shoulder (1946), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), The Bishop's Wife (1947), almost all of which have some component of comedy, though the good ones also have numinous.

And I am also reminded of the Fritz Leiber novel Conjure Wife (1943), a serious but not horror novel in which all women are secretly witches.

I had forgotten that one! I've read it much less recently than I've seen its (second) film adaptation, 1962's Night of the Eagle/Burn, Witch, Burn. The film is definitely horror.

Edited at 2017-03-26 06:51 am (UTC)

they are probably all genetically connected somehow

Wilde's "Canterville Ghost" (1887) must be somewhere in their pedigree, wouldn't you say?

Wilde's "Canterville Ghost" (1887) must be somewhere in their pedigree, wouldn't you say?

That sounds very plausible to me, although again I am more familiar with the 1944 American film adaptation, which is pretty radically different.

And that makes me think of The Ghost Goes West (1935), which may share some DNA with Wilde's story; it shares similarities with the 1944 film, at least.

I have always felt that Conjure Wife should have been written by Shirley Jackson.

I remember good witch books from my childhood, but can't remember enough about them to find out such helpful details as dates and titles! There was a series about a witch who made friends with a schoolboy; I think I remember a run-in with the school gardener, and it may have been on TV as well. Then there was another series about a child witch with stripy stockings. Anyone recognise these?

Then there was another series about a child witch with stripy stockings.

Dorrie! By Patricia Coombs. The internet tells me the first one was Dorrie's Magic (1962). Thank you; I had not thought of her in years.

Dorrie, that was it. And I think the other series was Simon and the Witch by Margaret Stuart Barry, but apparently it wasn't published until 1976.

Another one I loved as a child was Barbara Willard's Spell Me a Witch, but for one thing it's 1979, and for another I'm not sure you could class the witches as intentionally good. Great book though.

I think I was constantly getting the Dorrie books mixed up with The Littlest Witch (1959), by Jeanne Massey, when I was a child. I also liked Ruth Chew's books about witches, especially The Wednesday Witch (1969), about a witch who rides on a vacuum cleaner instead of a broom. Chew's witches tend to be not outright bad, but not necessarily 100% good, though.

Oh, and I think the Raggedy Ann books by Johnny Gruelle may have included a good witch or two. [pause to Google] Raggedy Ann and the Left-Handed Safety Pin (1935), for instance.

No, wait, I believe I was thinking of Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1374590.Little_Witch

I also liked Ruth Chew's books about witches, especially The Wednesday Witch (1969), about a witch who rides on a vacuum cleaner instead of a broom.

"Home, James!"

Oh, of course! I hadn't realised how old they were, though.

Possibly Timothy and Two Witches, by Margaret Storey?

(Friendslist cruising) Have you tried running the phrase "good witch" through the Google ngram search?

I just did and have turned up "good witch" references (once the chaff of modern books are scrolled past), though not necessarily in children's literature, from 1903 and earlier so far.

Very interesting question!

I haven't, as yet, but that's an excellent suggestion!

As usual, I feel the need to dart in late with my own random responses to a couple of things:

1) Reading all of the people waxing nostalgic about The Witch Family made me start to feel rather nostalgic about Estes's Pinky Pie, with a typing cat - I have the vague feeling that I preferred either The Witch Family or Pinky Pie as a child and was always slightly disappointed with the other one because it wasn't the one I preferred, but I can't remember which was which.

2) My mother loves Bewitched, but I have very poor taste in this matter and always strongly preferred I Dream of Jeannie, which was quite possibly my favorite show when I was 12 or 13 or so. As an adult looking back, I have a somewhat bizarre sense that it was because Tony's resistance to Jeannie's seduction read as asexual to me, which may just be a narrative I'm imposing on my childhood experiences now, and which also probably was something of a misreading even if I really did somehow get that sense back then, but. . . those of us from underrepresented groups take our media role models where we find them, I suppose?

Tony's resistance to Jeannie's seduction read as asexual to me

Seems a perfectly legit. reading to me!

I can't trace whether she is an English author (it seems very likely) but this story is set in England and was published in 1966 - it was one of my favourites growing up and still is.

Late for Halloween by Camilla Fegan.

Murgatroyd is not so much a wicked witch as a rather silly and selfish one, and quite endearing in some ways.

http://brer-powerofbabel.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/late-for-halloween-book-review.html

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Late-Halloween-Camilla-Fegan/dp/B0000CPO77/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493025994&sr=8-1&keywords=Late+for+Halloween

Thank you! She's new to me, and looks a lot of fun. :)

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