Double, double toil and trouble: Witches in literature

Morgan Baden  //  Jun 2, 2014

Double, double toil and trouble: Witches in literature

On this day in 1692, the Salem Witch Trials began.

I have an affinity for witches—the history of them, the actual roots of the word ("witch" can be said to stem from "wise woman," and often those who were accused of witchcraft were healers or women with some amount of power that threatened the order of the community), and yes, their depiction in mass media. And what a history there is!

From Hogwarts to Eastwick, East End to Oz, there's no shortage of witches in literature. While the Salem Witch Trials were incredibly tragic—at least 20 people were executed, most of them women—and while the fear of witches is still very real in some communities, the role of the witch as a character has flourished. She comes in all shapes and sizes: young and old, harmful and kind, all-knowing and unsure. Witches appeal to me, I suppose, because they can be the everywoman: the girl with things beyond her control that, with a little bit of luck and lots of hard work, can wrangle the unknown into the known. I love every version of her I meet, good and bad.

Here are some of my favorite books featuring witches:

  • The Harry Potter series: Because of course. Hermione and Bellatrix 4-ever. (See what I mean about liking the bad ones, too?)
  • Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman: One of my favorite books AND movies, the strong sense of sisterhood is what stands out for me in this story. Well, that and the gorgeous small coastal town.
  • Wicked by Gregory Maguire: While the Broadway show is incredible (I've seen it five times!), the book is the must-read story that gives an alternate version of the witches in The Wizard of Oz.
  • The Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz: Now a show on Lifetime, the series is super engaging and, like Practical Magic, has a wonderful emphasis on sisterhood.
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness: Not for the faint of heart, this book is engrossing and super detailed, and involves all sorts of magical creatures.
  • Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins: A contemporary trilogy about a boarding school made for witches and other magical beings that's fast-paced and fun.
  • The Secret Circle series by LJ Smith: I dove into this series when the CW picked it up as a drama, and I'm so glad I did--it's full of heart and drama and intrigue as a teen girl who discovers she has powers tries to figure out how they'll fit into her life...and how she'll fit into theirs.
  • Teen Witch series by Megan Barnes: Here's an old school one! This series from the 80s (from Scholastic) was short-lived but one of my favorites. I haven't read it since I was a kid, so I just checked it out of the Scholastic library--can't wait to see if it lives up to my memories!

And even though I'm talking about books, I can't leave out one of my all-time favorite witches: the one and only Teen Witch movie starring Robin Lively. It's the ultimate girl-gains-access-to-powers story, set in the perfect 80s backdrop.

I am barely scratching the surface here when it comes to witches in literature—indeed, there are entire genres I haven't mentioned here (including a bunch of books for young readers, like The Witches, Coraline, The Near Witch, The Worst Witch, etc!). What are your favorite witch books?