Witches have come far from being simple, cackling old women who were liable to eat children or cast curses on the nearest person, often by turning them into a frog. Many of today’s fictional witches are actually quite badass. So let’s mark many of literature’s best witches with this list!
(Note: I’d include Elphaba from Wicked but I haven’t actually read the book yet and I don’t want spoilers. Sounds really good though.)
Hermione Granger – Harry Potter series
Let’s be honest: Harry would have been absolutely stuffed if he didn’t have Hermione as a friend. Known as the cleverest witch of her generation despite being Muggle-born, Hermione’s plans help Harry out every book: knowing how to get past Devil’s Snare, working out that a Basilisk was roaming the school, using the Time Turner and—basically you get the picture. Harry might be the chosen one and all that but one can justifiably mark Hermione as the real hero of the series. People were also outraged by the fact that the pair didn’t marry each other at the series finale.
Hermione’s most prominent features are her intelligence and level-headedness though while she can be occasionally be bossy, she is unfailingly loyal to her friends and can always be counted on. In a 2004 interview, J. K. Rowling said that she based much of the character on herself: “I did not set out to make Hermione like me but she is…she is an exaggeration of how I was when I was younger.” She also says that beneath Hermione’s swottiness is a great deal of insecurity and fear of failure, hence she tries to compensate for this by being the absolute best in everything.
Hermione is also quite a compassionate character. Though the idea of freeing house-elves was misguided to begin with, it was done sincerely and she learns from it. She’s quick to help others, particularly if they are defenceless like Neville Longbottom, first-years and oppressed species. Additional material notes that she eventually forges a career in the Ministry of Magic fighting for the rights of the oppressed like house-elves, werewolves and Muggles.
Some have critiqued the character because nothing is exempt from criticism, especially female characters for whether they match or subvert female stereotypes. Rowland Manthorpe described Hermione as a “a caricature, not a character”. Eliza T. Dresang commented that “hysteria and crying happen far too often to be considered a believable part of the development of Hermione’s character and are quite out of line with her core role in the book.” However, for the most, Hermione is seen as a feminist icon. In the same essay, Dresang mentions that when Rowling let slip that a major character was to be killed in Goblet of Fire, most said “Don’t kill Ron” – only one person said “Don’t kill Hermione” and that was after Rowling said no-one ever worries about Hermione. The response that followed was that they knew Hermione would be OK – they don’t see her as vulnerable. Hermione’s actor, Emma Watson, also said that as she g0t older, she realised Hermione was the best role model any girl could have and that while there are too many stupid girls in media, Hermione is not afraid to be clever nor does she care how she looks. Books over looks as it were.
In short, Hermione is awesome. And there are plenty of other awesome witches in the Harry Potter series too including Professor Minerva McGonagall, who is a badass elder, and Luna Lovegood whose loony personality has won legions of fans. I love them all!
Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg – Discworld series
You can’t have one without the including the other here because both are equally awesome. Special mention to Tiffany Aching, Margrat Garlick and Agnes Nitt as well. You don’t see weak female characters in the Discworld series, that’s for sure. Granny wouldn’t be having any of it.
For those not in the know, Esme Weatherwax or Granny as she’s usually known, is probably the Disc’s most powerful witch and is the self-appointed guardian of the tiny kingdom of Lancre, keeping it safe from magical misdoings and external threats such as Lady Felmet and elves (not your whimsical kind of elves either). She rarely uses magic (although she can use many unconventional magics) but instead employs ‘headology’, a kind of Disc version of psychology which involves approaching a problem from understanding how people work (it also stops her from becoming a highly-successful ‘bad’ witch). She is also an expert at Borrowing which allows her to (gently) ride the mind of an animal and it has many useful applications. The general populace fear and respect her rather than like her and that’s just how she wants it. She knows what is ‘Right’ and has such a reputation even trolls and dwarfs fear her. She gives you what you need and is the witch to call for whenever there’s a death. She’s the leader that the witches don’t really have.
The hard, commanding Granny is well-balanced by her best friend Gytha Ogg, otherwise known as Nanny. One who revels in the role of mother (except when it comes to daughters-in-law), Nanny is the person whom people go to for advice all the time and is actually well-liked. She is the life and soul of the party, a fondness for good food, alcohol, lewd humour and singing The Hedgehog Song. She’s of the best midwives on the Disc having even delivered a child for the personification of Time herself. Despite her jolly nature though, Nanny shouldn’t be under-estimated; she’s technically got more innate power than Granny but recognises that she doesn’t have to work so hard at it.
Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg might argue frequently with each other but they complement each other very well and mean absolute business when it comes to solving problems that no-one else can. Even Death respects them. So don’t cross the witches – you will regret it.
Jadis the White Witch – Narnia series
Long before Elsa, Jadis, best known as the White Witch was the one to turn a kingdom into a land of perpetual winter without Christmas in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. In The Magician’s Nephew, Jadis was the Queen of Charn and a powerful sorceress. She also started off good. However, she later fought bloody rebellion against her own sister and, rather than submit to defeat, she uttered the Deplorable Word which destroyed all life on Charn except her own. Through a series of events, she lost her magic and ended up in Narnia but with sheer determination, she managed to build up her magic again and becomes even more powerful.
As we know, she managed to take control of Narnia and built up an army of followers including wolves, wraiths, ogres and other horrors even though Aslan presumably could have done something about her in all this time. She is only undone by the prophecy involving two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve and a deep magic involving the Stone Table. Even after death though, the White Witch still has a formidable reputation and in Prince Caspian, there is an attempt to resurrect her as being the lesser evil to King Miraz in order to expel the Telmarines.
Yes, the White Witch is genocidal, utterly evil, self-entitled, callous and manipulative (eating an apple that gave her near-immortality but intensified her misery probably didn’t help either) but you can’t deny that she is a powerful being who has worked hard to attain her position as ruler. She doesn’t sit on her laurels either and expect things to happen – if sacrifice is required, then she will do it. The White Witch in the film is not only excellent at magic, but a great swordswoman too. Personally speaking, I find her far more interesting than Aslan even if she’s supported to be a kind of Satan equivalent. One thing’s for sure: you don’t treat the White Witch lightly.
Mildred Hubble – The Worst Witch series
Before Harry Potter, there was already a boarding school for witches (but not wizards), namely Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. Mildred Hubble is well-intentioned but very clumsy and inadvertently causes trouble with her wonky magic such as turning other people into snails. Despite this, she is a good-hearted person who tries to do her best and loves animals. She often manages to set things right despite events conspiring against her and save the day for the school.
Author Jill Murphy began writing the first book when she was 15 and still at school, basing all the characters of herself, friends, enemies and teachers. She completed it aged 18 although unable to find a publisher, it languished in a drawer for years until a small publisher called, saying they were interested in the book and it was finally published when Murphy was 24. Since then, the seven book series has sold over 4 million copies and has had a made-for-TV film, a TV series, a couple of spin-off and a new series for CBBC set to be aired in 2017. I remember enjoying the series when much younger and can’t help but root for someone who’s so clumsy but nevertheless keeps on going. 🙂
The Grand High Witch – The Witches
I’m not particularly inclined to read Roald Dahl’s books at the moment, mainly because my undergraduate English dissertation has effectively killed any desire for that, but The Witches was always a favourite of mine, probably because of the imaginative, black comedy way that witches, especially the Grand High Witch, get rid of their child victims such as trapping them in paintings, turning them into slugs to be squished or, most memorably, turning them into hot dogs that get eaten by their parents. Also, you have to love Quentin Blake’s illustrations which I believe is half the reason why the books are still so cherished.
The Grand High Witch, like all witches, hates children with a passion. She is also quick to anger, frying any especially stupid subordinates with her eyes, tyrannical, impatient and volatile. She has a most marvellous plan to get rid of all of England’s children by spiking sweets with Formula 86: Delayed Action Mouse Maker to turn them into mice. With her clawed hands, horrifying face (even more so in the film) and terrible powers, she’s as witch-like as they come. Like The White Witch, she is evil but she’s memorably evil.
Are there any particular favourite witches you have? Because if you’re like me, you’ll love witches too. 🙂
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