A Spell in the Country is a book about witches, magic, and mayhem and to celebrate its release, I am pleased to welcome its authors, Heide Goody and Iain Grant as guests on Duvet Dwellers Books to talk about Witches in Fiction. There is also a chance to win some witch inspired goodies – what a great start to the week!
Witches in Fiction
This February sees the publication of A Spell in the Country, the latest comedy fantasy book by Heide Goody and Iain Grant. It is their tenth novel and introduces a whole new world of magic, adventure, and silliness. Here, Iain explains how witches from fiction and film have influenced him. (Heide had something to add, so she has elbowed her way in as well).
Heide and I have written books about devils and angels and monsters and people coming face to face with the magical unknown and poking it with a big stick. However, A Spell in the Country is our first book to explicitly feature witches and, in writing it, I was forced to think about what fictional witches were my favourites. Here’s just five, roughly in the order I encountered them.
The Sword in the Stone
Iain: Witches are frightening and I do remember being frightened by Madam Mim, a Disney witch dressed in pink with a shock of purple hair. I never read the TE White books the film was based on and I believe she was edited out of the final version anyway. As a child, what I found so captivating about the Disney version of Madam Mim was that she was clearly bonkers. Hair-tuggingly, eye-rollingly bonkers. Like the good old fairy tale witch, Mim lives in a tumbledown cottage far from anywhere else and seems quite happy to be bonkers all by herself in the woods. It’s only when Wart (the future King Arthur) falls down her chimney that he finds himself trapped in a witch’s lair. He has invaded her space and she’s angry. She becomes all the more frightening when she enters a shapeshifting battle with Merlin who has come to rescue Wart and she becomes a succession of scary creatures from which Merlin cannot escape. I’ll save you from having to watch the film (it’s not very good by modern standards) and reveal that Merlin eventually defeats her by turning into a germ and infects her with a non-specific spotty disease.
Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid
Heide: Another Disney film but this one based on a Hans Christian Andersen story. Our house echoed to screams of terror brought on by The Little Mermaid back in the early part of this century. Ursula the Sea Witch made such an impression on a younger member of the Goody family that if a nightmare caused a sleepless night it could usually be laid (directly or indirectly) at her door. I have deliberately not googled her to refresh my memory because my recollection of her is that she was a Lovecraftian horror with the face of a pantomime dame without much of a character arc in the film. I include her simply for the visual impression that she made on a tiny child.
The Snow Queen
The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen
Iain: Let’s stick with Hans Christian Andersen for a minute. As a child, I read the fairy tale of Gerda’s mission to rescue Kay from the Snow Queen. I think I might have found it boring beyond all reason. I don’t recall. But then, when my eldest daughter was about three or four, she inexplicably fell in love with the story. She had an audio tape version, we had one of those CD-ROM point and click games that were popular towards the end of the last century. We went to see not one, not two but three theatre adaptations of the story, one of them performed in a conference room during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in which an office chair played a major role as the Snow Queen’s sleigh. That level of exposure got a certain dad thinking about this particular witch. I even bought a 1919 first edition of the book with beautiful illustrations by Margaret Tarrant. I came to the conclusion that the Snow Queen isn’t evil. She’s not the villain of the story. She simply exists, a passive creature that thinks it wants to love the boy, Kai, but is simply incapable. She is a tragic and isolated figure. If you wish to see her reinterpreted as a villain, read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. If you wish to see her reinterpreted as a heroine, you have of course only to watch Disney’s Frozen.
Equal Rites (and others) by Terry Pratchett
Iain: Possibly the greatest witch to ever step out of the pages of fiction. I love Granny Weatherwax and maybe part of that is because, in Josh Kirby’s illustrations of her, she looked a bit like my own grandma. And Granny Weatherwax certainly has the no nonsense attitude of women of a certain generation. She lives up in the Ramtop Mountains and, while by no means a high class witch, Granny Weatherwax is very ‘proper’. She’s sharp, frequently cruel to be kind and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Her prudishness is never more apparent than when she shows disgust at nakedness and informs her friends that she is never naked. Questioned about bathing, she makes it clear that each bit of her body gets washed ‘as and when it become available’. But the most wonderful and revealing part of her character comes in Witches Abroad when she has to confront her sister Lillith, an evil witch. There’s bad blood between them and we discover that much of it was because when Lillith turned evil, narrative convention meant that Granny Weatherwax was forced to become ‘the good one’ and she didn’t want to.
Vianne Rocher from Chocolat
Heide: If witches fulfill a wish-fulfillment role for women of demonstrating a certain set of powers that we all wish we had, then Vianne Rocher is the perfect example. She is sexy, smart and expert at reading people. She uses food as a significant part of her magic so those dull tasks that reek of mundane domesticity are imbued with delicious ritual and possibility. It is interesting that the film of Chocolat captures the sensuality of the book, but completely skirts any mention of magic or witchcraft.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
Iain: Another witch who is very different in film and prose. Like most people, I met Mary Poppins through the Disney film, not the books by PL Travers. Poppins in the books is a darker character than Julie Andrews’ version. She certainly doesn’t burst into song. Is she a witch? Of course, she is. She does magic. She flies. She enchants people. Mary Poppins is a witch and not necessarily a nice one. What is especially interesting about Mary Poppins is that we see no limit to her powers whatsoever. This was brought home to me when reading Moore and O’Neill’s comic book take on twentieth and twenty-first century literary heroes. In a tale featuring Dracula’s Mina Harker chasing down Voldemort with the assistance of ‘M’ from James Bond, we encounter Mary Poppins as the all-powerful being who saves the day. The prospect of entering a chalk picture has never been so chilling.
The Philosopher’s Stone (and others) by JK Rowling.
Iain: Let’s wrap up with one of the most famous witches in modern media. Like a lot of people, I have a fondness for the Harry Potter stories. I’m of the opinion that as the books became fatter and more bloated and less exciting, the films got better and better. Emma Watson IS Hermione Granger. Just as she out-acts her male co-stars from the first film to the last, Hermione out-thinks them and everyone else on every occasion. She is one of the greatest young protagonists in fiction, at least she would be if Harry wasn’t hogging the limelight. And she shows true virtues: hard work versus Harry’s good fortune, thoughtfulness versus Harry’s impulsiveness. Granny Weatherwax would have taken her for an apprentice and shown young Mr Potter the door. Nuff said.
Mad, sharp-tongued, icy, heroic, powerful. Heide and I have included all these influences in our book of witches on holiday in the countryside. And if you can see a little Hermione shining through here or a snippet of Granny Weatherwax poking out there, I hope you forgive us.
Thank you, Heide and Iain for sharing your favourite witches and good luck with your new book.
There are many witches out there it is hard to pick out a favourite who is yours? Let us know in the comments below.
Heide Goody is the stupid one in the writing partnership and Iain Grant is the sensible one. Together, they are the authors of seven novels, two short story collections and a novella.
The ‘Clovenhoof’ series (in which Satan loses his job and has to move to Birmingham) has recently been optioned by a Hollywood production company. Their latest novel, Oddjobs 2: this time it’s personnel, was published in August 2017.
Heide and Iain are both married, but not to each other.
If you would like to learn more about A Spell in the Country and my thoughts click here
As promised. here is a chance to win a Witch’s Pamper Package
The package, worth over £100 contains…
- A lacy gothic bracelet
- A witch’s hat fascinator
- A pair of green and black stripy tights
- A Yankee candle in “Forbidden Apple”
- A set of wand-shaped makeup brushes
- A gothic notebook (for spells!)
- A bookmark featuring a squashed witch (with just the legs sticking out!)
- A gemstone ring
- A gorgeous coffin-shaped vegan eyeshadow palette from Lunatick Cosmetic labs (with a bat-shaped mirror!)
To enter follow the link below.
Good luck and happy reading!
Also, thank you to Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me on this blog tour.