Happy Halloween, in celebration of one of my favourite days of the year I thought I would share my favourite fictional witches with you. When I told my boyfriend I was doing a post on fictional witches he told me that all witches are fictional, he told me that all witches are fictional. That’s what he wants to think, he’ll be laughing on the other side of his face when I turn him into a toad…. but I digress. Some are entered as collectives (covens if you will…), some are wicked while some are just tricksey,and I’ve no doubt that some of the additions will be as controversial as one of my major omissions…
1)The Lancre Witches in The Discworld Series
“I’m not superstitious. I’m a witch. Witches aren’t superstitious. We are what people are superstitious of.” Wintersmith
I love the Lancre witches in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. After Death they are my favourite characters. They are quietly powerful, not engaging to hierarchical nonsense to the extent of wizards and have tongues as sharp as their minds. They are hilarious when they interact as a community, and the way they drop in on each other to check that no one is at risk of cackling is brilliant, you get the sense that they are half hoping that they will find each other lapsing. I love all the witches from Tiffany Aching with her mishaps in the recent books, to the hearty Nanny Ogg, but grumpy Granny Weatherwax is almost certainly my favourite of them all:
“Granny Weatherwax was often angry. She considered in one of her strong points. Genuine anger was one of the world greatest creative forces. But you had to learn how to control it. That didn’t mean you let it trickle away. it meant you damned it, carefully, let it develop a working head, let it drown whole valleys of the mind and then, just when the whole structure was about to collapse, opened a tiny pipeline at the base and let the iron-hard stream of wrath power the turbines of revenge.” Wyrd Sisters
2) Jadis/The White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia
Part Snow Queen, part especially corrupted Eve, The White Witch is witchy in the wreak-evil-and-rule-the-world sense. In fact, she may well be the wickedest witch on this list. Having wiped out all life on the world of Charn, she escapes to London and tries to take over Earth before returning to Narnia and plunging the land into an eternal winter, turning people to stone, seducing children with enchanted Turkish Delight and killing Aslan. As a child, she was a character I loved to hate.
‘”The White Witch?” said Edmund; “who’s she?”
“She is a perfectly terrible person,” said Lucy. “She calls herself the Queen of Narnia thought she has no right to be queen at all, and all the Fauns and Dryands and Naiads and Dwarfs and Animals—at least all the good ones—simply hate her. And she can turn people into stone and do all kinds of horrible things. And she has made a magic so that it is always winter in Narnia—always winter, but it never gets to Christmas. And she drives about on a sledge, drawn by reindeer, with her wand in her hand and a crown on her head.”
Edmund was already feeling uncomfortable from having eaten too many sweets, and when he heard that the Lady he had made friends with was a dangerous witch he felt even more uncomfortable. But he still wanted to taste that Turkish Delight more than he wanted anything else.’
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
3) The Grand High Witch in The Witches
Another scary childhood witch, perhaps made worse by the fact that witches could be anyone, anywhere. Perhaps even your school teacher. You had to be especially vigilant to be sure you weren’t accidentally talking to a witch- watch out for claw like hands, fiery pupils, bald heads and a limp.
“She might even be your lovely school-teacher who is reading these words to you at this very moment. Look carefully at that teacher. Perhaps she is smiling at the absurdity of such a suggestion. Don’t let that put you off. It could be part of cleverness.
I am not, of course, telling you for one second that your teacher actually is a witch. All I am saying is that she might be one. It is most unlikely. But–here comes the big “but”–not impossible.”
Roald Dahl, The Witches
4) The Wicked Witch of The West/Elphaba from The Oz Stories
I think that this is the image that jumps into your mind whenever you get asked to picture a witch- a green-skinned woman in a tall black hat as suggested by The Oz stories and Wicked. I have included these as one character because I love the juxtaposition between the books. In the Baum books she is the power obsessed antagonist who represents all that is evil, in Wicked she is a tender-hearted heroine whose memory will ultimately be slandered by The Wizard to create the propagandist portrayal we see in The Wizard of Oz. I love her in both.
“One never learns how the witch became wicked, or whether that was the right choice for her-is it ever the right choice? Does the devil ever struggle to be good again, or if so is he not a devil?”
Wicked, Gregory Maguire
5) Minerva McGonagall of Harry Potter Fame
This is the controversial choice that I was referring to, but for me Minerva McGonagall is the best witch in the Harry Potter books. A talented witch with a steely exterior, she has her heart firmly in the right place and I defy anyone to read the scene in The Order of The Phoenix where she stands up for Harry against Umbridge without cheering inside. She’s a damn site cooler than Hermione, though Molly Weasley has to come a close second. Did I mention that she has a mischievous side as well?
“Harry witnessed Professor McGonagall walking right past Peeves who was determinedly loosening a crystal chandelier and could have sworn he heard her tell the poltergeist out of the corner of her mouth ‘It unscrews the other way.”
J.K. Rowling, The Order of The Phoenix
While not making my top five, honourable mentions should go to The Three Witches in Macbeth, Mildred Hubble The Worst Witch, Lena Duchannes in Beautiful Creatures and, Bobd, Macha and Morrigan as portrayed in The Hounds of The Morrigan.
I like the weird sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. They are certainly the most quoted:
“Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
I have no words for the sheer terror that marked my childhood thanks to Roald Dahl’s witches. I think I’ve mentioned before how I grew up starved for English books in France, and some well-meaning adult with teenage daughters thought it would be nice to give me this book since her kids had enjoyed it — except that I was maybe 7 years old and had not ever been exposed to the genre of horror/thriller due to lack of television, and had an imagination that kicked into overdrive at the drop of a hat. Even now I feel a little bit sick remembering how terrified I was of those witches. I don’t think any horror film or ghost story ever marked me that way! Precisely as you say: they could be anyone.
In fact, I remember very vividly riding my bike home on an empty country laneway and then getting The Fear (which by that point, probably age 9, had been fed by Alan Garner as well) and being so creeped out I couldn’t get home fast enough because of the conviction those witches were going to get me, behind me, making my scalp prickle and my skin crawl. Why they would come hunt down a little girl in isolated French countryside I don’t know — besides, I was pretty grubby so I was actually ironically very safe (along with the lack of television went lack of bathroom and plumbing) — but after all… they could be anyone.
And the problem is, how did you know whether you were dirty enough to escape their clutches? Ah the number of things that books have made me scared of…