When kicking around ideas to pitch McFarland, I sometimes thought of proposing a book on screen witches. I don’t think had I done it that it would have been as good as Heather Greene’s excellent BELL, BOOK AND CAMERA: A Critical History of Witches in Film and Television. Greene chronicles the topic starting in the silent era when witches in movie were mostly the victims of the Salem witch trials (later films about Salem largely ignored the trial and used the town as a signifier that Here There Be Witches) or wise women in Western and rural settings (I like her insight that the New Age bookstore owner serves the same purpose in more recent years in giving the hero mystical insight). It was the 1930s that gave movie witches their first landmarks via Snow White (the Queen being the first Sexy Evil Witch) and The Wizard of Oz (Margaret Hamilton’s witch taking the Halloween crone used in cartoons for comedy and not only making her menacing but becoming the archetype). Later films shifted witches into real horror and rom-com such as I Married a Witch, threw in Wicca and Satanism (frequently mixing the two) and witch superheroes such as Charmed.
Greene also tackles the role of the male witch (where females usually use their power to get guys, the male witch uses power to get more power) and black women (more complicated than I can cover here) and argues that the witch in any film represents a rebellion against the constraints placed on women (so in the rom-coms I Married a Witch and Bell, Book and Candle the witch gives up magic in favor of mortal housewifery). It’s a shame the focus is American (no Harry Potter films as their part-English made) but within that limit, a winner.
Andrew Norton’s SORCERESS OF THE WITCH WORLD supposedly ended that saga (the next book came out four years later) as Katthea, amnesiac from the previous novel, flees the Valley for fear the dark powers will find it too easy to control her. Her odyssey leads to her becoming a tribal shaman, then stumbling through a dimensional gate into a nightmarish post-apocalyptic world (one of the book’s pluses is that we never really learn what’s going on there) where she finds her parents and her Great Love. This bogs down during the tribal phase, picks up in the Otherworld but even as a kid I found the ending abrupt, summing up the next decade in Escore to tell us that the good guys won and evil was destroyed forever (this makes me think Norton really did expect this was the last Witch World story).
#SFWApro. All rights to cover remain with current holder.