Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why I Love What I Love: Witches

In my last post, I mentioned "some" of my favorite witches in all of fiction. Today, I thought it would be fun to talk a bit about exactly why I like them so much. Here goes . . .

Rachel, Alex, and Daphne from the godawful stories I've been writing all my life
 Well, obviously I'm rather fond of my own characters.

Nancy, Rochelle, Bonnie, and Sarah from The Craft
 How can you not enjoy the heck out of this movie? It's the perfect guilty pleasure . . . and by that, I mean it makes for a really great drinking game.

the cool aunt from The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Since it's Marion Zimmer Bradley, this book is chock-full of characters who learn everything there is to learn (i.e., everything she personally has to say) about pseudo-realistic magic, which is kind of sort of not quite exactly the same thing as neo-paganism.
Which is actually genuinely interesting to me (I may not be religious, but I do find religion pretty interesting), but still, considering how most magical characters in this book have to consider the phase of the moon and invoke the Goddess to do something as simple as light a candle, I found it so very satisfying when Morgause (that's the cool aunt's name -- thank you, Wikipedia!) finally realizes, in what is essentially a throwaway scene, that the power is there to use whether you believe in the Goddess or not.
Also, two cool things about this book:
1. You know how Wicked re-told the story of The Wizard of Oz by casting the villain in a more sympathetic light and examining her motivation and all that? Years before Gregory Maguire even got the idea, this book did the same thing for the legends of Camelot.
2. Unfortunately, I can't remember exactly how old I was the one time I read it, but I was somewhere between the ages of thirteen and barely sixteen. At this point in my life, I read so many books that, if my mother had known I was reading, would've horrified her. This one may have been the worst. Even if you turn a blind eye to all the rampant paganism going on, even if you ignore the fact that every single Christian character is portrayed in a fairly negative light, the story is chock-full of, for example: rape, incest, violence, murder, deception . . .

Endora from Bewitched
I'm gay. She's one of my icons. Why are we still talking about this?

Marnie and her family from Halloweentown and its sequels
I'm gay. I like Disney Channel Original Movies. This is a bit of a "duh," you know?
But seriously, I love that moment in the second movie where Marnie convinces her siblings that they can break the rules because their magic is the most powerful in the world. I just, I don't know. The way I think about fiction, that's how magic should work. You're as powerful as you think you are. Need to get through a portal to another dimension even though it's impossible? Well, do you THINK you can figure out a way to do it?

all three generations of Owens sisters from Practical Magic - the book, NOT the movie
Oh, Alice Hoffman is good. She knows how to tell a story. This was the first book of hers I ever read, and it's still hands-down my favorite. I learn new things from it every time I re-read it (which, these days, I only let myself do on very special occasions, because I've read it so many times).
If you've ever heard someone talk about "Magical Realism" and you're not as familiar with the genre as you'd like to be, read this book.
As for the movie . . . it's not that I don't enjoy it, it's just so very different. It's less Magical Realism and more straight-up Fantasy. Which I am obviously okay with, but much of what makes the book so special (example: Kylie's empathy) is lost in translation.

the witch queens from Stardust, either the book or the movie
Oh, sweet Lord, can Neil Gaiman write about magic. He just GETS IT, you know?

Thessaly from The Sandman
Speaking of how Neil Gaiman knows how to write about magic.

Professor McGonagall and Molly Weasley from Harry Potter
Okay, I've loved Molly from the moment we first met her at Platform 9 3/4 . . . but "NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!" is my favorite scene in the entire series. 'Nuff said.
As for Professor McGonagall, she's been my favorite character since the very first time I read the very first chapter of the very first book. This is a series full of characters I love and characters I love to hate, but not once in seven books did anyone ever come close to taking her place.

Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, because yes, she totally counts
Okay, so whether or not she counts as a "witch" is perhaps up for debate, but for me, it's close enough: She's the smartest main character; she has a familiar; all Unicorn Ponies have a knack for some sort of magic, but her knack is for magic in general; she carries the spark that activates the Elements of Harmony; and . . . that's about it.
Alright then. That explains why she's on this list. Now, here's why I love her so much: As the protagonist of a show aimed at little girls, she's an amazing role model. She does magic all the time, right, but she NEVER makes funny rhymes or chants or invokes the power of the sun or anything like that. How does she do magic? She reads, she learns, and then . . . she uses her brain to affect the world around her. If you don't understand why that makes her a greater role model for little girls than, say, Hannah Montana, please go get sterilized right now.

Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary from a short story in a book I read long ago that I think was called Things That Go Bump in the Night
I actually just found this book on Amazon and bought it for four dollars. I haven't been able to track it down for about ten years, so you can just imagine my excitement. All I really remember about this story, other than the sisters' names, is that I effing loved it.

pretty much any witch from any fairy tale ever
This is another "duh."

Rita Repulsa from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Every single episode of the first season kicked off with her motivation: "Aaaaah! After ten thousand years, I'm free! Time to CONQUER EARTH!"
That's right. She's been imprisoned for ten thousand years, and as soon as she's finally released, her first and only priority really is that simple: CONQUER EARTH!
All I'm saying is, that's how you make a memorable villain for a children's show.

Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty
Well, duh. She turns into a dragon. Do you realize how much I adore dragons?
Also, I really like the Disney version of this story because, when you think about it, the Prince and the titular Princess are almost incidental to the plot. It's really about her conflict with the three fairies.

Nico Minoru from Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona
Ahh, Runaways. If you like comic books that aren't "typical" superhero stories and you haven't read this one yet, go track it down RIGHT NOW. For a quick summary, it's about six kids who find out that their parents are secretly supervillains -- crime bosses, mad scientists, time travelers, evil mutants, alien invaders, and dark magicians -- and run away and try to stop them from destroying the world. SO MUCH BETTER than it sounds.
Also, one thing I adore about Nico? She's Japanese, but her ethnicity is never an issue. She doesn't, for example, write kanji in the air whenever she casts a spell. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's so refreshing to see an Asian character who isn't all "hey, look at how Asian I am!"

Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat Garlick, Agnes "Perdita" X. Nitt, and - most especially - Tiffany Aching from Terry Pratchett's Discworld books
In my experience, there are only two living writers who write about magic nearly as well as Neil Gaiman, and Terry Pratchett is one of them. (Robin McKinley is the other.)
Picking a favorite Discworld book is somewhat like picking a favorite Shakespeare play, but I do strongly prefer the books about Tiffany. I really like the notion that magic and witchcraft aren't quite exactly the same thing: Being a witch means you have to heal the sick and lay out the dead and settle village disputes and a thousand other little things; but then it also means you have to do complicated, nearly impossible, feats of magic to defeat unspeakably evil forces because, well, there's no one else.
Also, the books are literally so funny that you occasionally have to drop them so you can laugh without risk of a paper cut.

Elphaba and Glinda from Wicked by Gregory Maguire
As I explained in my last post, these two have bugged me since the first time I ever saw The Wizard of Oz, so this book (which, by the way, I read at least a year and a half before the musical was a thing) was such a relief.
And the sexual subtext certainly didn't hurt.

certain characters from Robin McKinley's Sunshine
Yeah, "certain characters." That's all I can say without revealing some pretty massive spoilers. All I'll tell you up-front is that this is a book about a baker who gets kidnapped by vampires. But there are a few things I can say . . .
1. Robin McKinley is famous for re-telling fairy tales, and she's ridiculously good at that, so it was nice to see her write about magic in a more contemporary setting. (Well, okay, not so much "contemporary" as "post-apocalyptic.")
2. Most of the time in vampire fiction, the existence of vampires is a huge secret. That is most definitely not the case here: Every car company in the world has an anti-vampire ward worked into their logo. That's just fascinating, isn't it?
3. There's one scene where . . . um, a magic handler (no one is actually called a "witch") tells another character who knows a bit about magic that she's just done something impossible. (I know this is sort of confusing, but seriously, I would hate myself if I spoiled ANYTHING.) The response is basically, "You couldn't have done that if you had been told that it was impossible."
4. I will always always always love this book for the following line: "You are not consumed by the darkness because you are full of light."

the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus
How can you not love this movie? Seriously?

Frau Totenkinder from Fables by Bill Willingham et al
Once upon a time, fairy tales were most definitely not for children. Fables is an excellent reminder.
So the thing I like about Frau Totenkinder (who, by the way . . . um, if you speak better German than I do, her name is pretty chilling right away) is that, despite potentially being any unnamed wicked witch from any fairy tale ever, she's one of the most heroic characters in the whole series.
Also, her duel with Baba Yaga is that much more epic because we never got to see it.

Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In a list full of "well, duhs," this is unquestionably the biggest "WELL, DUH."
It's common knowledge that Buffy is my favorite TV show of all time, so of course the main character's best friend is going to be one of my favorite characters in all of fiction. That would've been true even if she wasn't a witch. Since she is, though . . . well, as I keep saying, DUH.
I really don't even know what to say. I like Willow and Tara, together and separately, so much that trying to describe exactly why I like them is a bit like trying to explain to someone who's looking right at me that I have dark hair. You know?

Anyway. That was fun.

More later.

Much love,

P.S. You may be wondering why the sisters from Charmed were not allowed anywhere near this list. The answer to that is so long that it may be the subject of a future post. You'd think I would like this show as much as I like Buffy, but you'd be emphatically wrong.

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