Thursday, October 27, 2011

Something Wicked This Way Comes!

Happy Almost-Halloween! Truly, Halloween is my favorite holiday, so in the spirit of all that is spooky and eerie and slightly creepy, let’s talk about one of my other favorites.

I have a thing for witches: Wicked Witches (either cardinal point on the compass will do), White Witches, Macbeth’s witches (toil and trouble bubbling away), witches from popular culture (Samantha, how I wish I could twitch my nose like you), witches from movies (yes, even when they shack up with Jack Nicholson’s devil), Salem’s witches (pretty sure I need a trip to Salem at some point in my life), witches who lure children into their candy houses, witches who can make poisoned apples, and most of all, witches in books. I think it is all about the accessories -- black hats, black cats, black pointy boots -- I am almost certain I could really rock the witch look. Not to mention, witches span generations -- you can be a young, hip witch, or an old crone -- no need to change your look as you age.

So, where did this fascination come from? I am really not sure, but as far back as I can remember, I have loved witches.

When I was little, I had a series of books by Patricia Coombs about a little witch named Dorrie and her black cat, Gink (I always feel like I have won a prize when the witch also gets to have a black cat). They had the most wonderful illustrations, but Dorrie’s  magic was always just a little off. It didn’t matter to me -- I wanted to be just like Dorrie. I remember pretending to be her and even making a mess of my room based on those illustrations. What can I say, I was an only child until I was twelve. ;)

After Dorrie, I read The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart. Most vivid in my mind was the description of a school for witches. Coupled with Bedknobs and Broomsticks by Mary Norton which had a correspondence school for witchcraft, The Little Broomstick fueled my imagination, and I spent hours pretending I ran a school for witchcraft. Somewhere in the boxes of my childhood, I still have the class schedules, newsletters, and sheets of spells I created -- all on a dot-matrix printer.

There was The Witches by Roald Dahl -- oh, how I loved that book even if the witches were the antagonists.

As I have gotten older, I still seek out books about witches.

There is an entire pantheon of young adult novels featuring witches.

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (Another school for witches is the setting of this book.)

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong (I promise you, you will never look at werewolves the same way again.)
My personal favorite in the young adult genre: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. If Tennessee Williams had written a supernatural story set in a small South Carolina town, this would have been it. Dripping with atmosphere and Spanish Moss, this book is truly a masterpiece of Southern Gothic fiction.
Then, there are the more serious adult books about witches which have been equally entertaining.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe -- a dual storyline of the Salem witch trials and modern times with some real spell casting thrown in.
The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent -- another story of the Salem Witch Trials -- a little more historically based.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness -- a perfect romance featuring a witch and a green-eyed evolutionary biologist who also happens to be a vampire. Who knew DNA was so sexy?
For those times when chick lit needs a little bit of witchy librarian and a sexy watcher, there is A Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft by Mindy Klasky. Who could resist that cover? I certainly couldn’t. Plus, there is a black cat. Bonus points!
However, I have saved the best of the best for last. The one book about witches that I measure all other books about witches by. The one witch book that has earned a coveted place on my Top Ten Books I Have Read in My Lifetime. The one witch book that inspired an entire trip.

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice.
I read it for the first time in April, 1991, and it haunted my dreams the entire time I read it. Judging by the dates when I read it, I should have been studying for my AP European exam (don’t worry, I did fine on it), but instead this book, my first Anne Rice book, held me in its grip and did not let go until I finished it. To this day, I can conjure up the images elicited in the book -- confederate jasmine blooming in an overgrown garden on a twilit night. Sigh.

Set in New Orleans, it traces a family known as the Mayfair Witches from their very beginnings in England to the present day. The house they inhabit is as much a character as the people themselves, and Anne Rice actually lived in it -- 1239 First Street. When I discovered that it was a real house, I knew I needed to visit it. In April of 2004, my husband, Charles, and I went to New Orleans. Of course, we had to go see the house. Imagine my surprise to find it was for sale. Unfortunately, the 3.75 million dollars Anne Rice was asking for it was a bit too much, but that didn’t stop me from taking a bunch of pictures.

 And there you have it -- your literary Halloween treat. Happy Halloween!

Now I am off to cuddle with my own black cat, Bagheera.


  1. Jackie, I've got one you MUST read!!! It's "Petty Magic" by Camille DeAngelis. I absolutely loved it, and I think you will, too!

  2. Oh my goodness! I loved "The Witching Hour" could it be that it's time to read it again?
    Those pictures of the house are incredible! That in itself would have sent shivers down my spine.

  3. Denise, I will have to add that to the list! Sounds great! Anita, there were lots of shivers down my spine! I loved seeing it in person.