Log in

No account? Create an account

Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
Previous Entry Share Next Entry
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.

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!

(no subject) - sovay, 2017-03-24 07:48 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - nineweaving, 2017-03-24 11:02 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - nineweaving, 2017-03-24 11:11 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - sovay, 2017-03-25 02:18 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - nineweaving, 2017-03-25 06:45 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ethelmay, 2017-03-27 12:57 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ethelmay, 2017-03-27 02:59 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2017-03-27 06:10 am (UTC)(Expand)
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...

(no subject) - poliphilo, 2017-03-24 08:08 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2017-03-24 08:52 pm (UTC)(Expand)
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].)

(no subject) - kalimac, 2017-03-24 10:16 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2017-03-24 10:20 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - sovay, 2017-03-25 02:20 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - sovay, 2017-03-25 02:37 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - thistleingrey, 2017-03-25 04:30 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - sovay, 2017-03-25 04:58 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2017-03-25 06:40 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - thistleingrey, 2017-03-26 05:17 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kalimac, 2017-03-26 05:17 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - sovay, 2017-03-26 06:49 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2017-03-26 07:17 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - sovay, 2017-03-26 07:23 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ethelmay, 2017-03-27 01:00 am (UTC)(Expand)
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.

(no subject) - joyeuce, 2017-03-25 11:17 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ethelmay, 2017-03-27 01:11 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ethelmay, 2017-03-27 01:22 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ethelmay, 2017-03-27 01:26 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - sovay, 2017-03-27 05:39 am (UTC)(Expand)
Oh, of course! I hadn't realised how old they were, though.

(no subject) - ethelmay, 2017-03-27 01:05 am (UTC)(Expand)
(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.



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