Queen Witch

Blessed be, my witchy friends. How goes the spell-work? Messed with any thanes lately? Yeah, me neither. There just aren’t as many power-hungry Scottish nobles willing to commit a little regicide these days, are there? Anyway. ENOUGH CHIT-CHAT. I have news. Ready?

Guys. GUYS. I saw The Witch on Sunday and I. Am. Freaking. Out. FREAKING OUT. Watch the trailer while I compose myself.

uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh so perfect ❤ PERFECT I SAY. As a diehard lover of horror movies, as someone obsessed with witches and witchcraft since childhood, and as a librarian, I walked out of the theatre speechless, grinning like a madwoman, and already planning my second viewing. This movie SLAYED. I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to see something like this. And my god, the amount of research that went into this movie makes my mouth water. Please, Robert Eggers, I beg you, share your bibliography! I WANT TO READ ALL OF IT.

I’ve never not been into witches. I mean, I was a witch for Halloween every year from the ages of 5 to 10. Now I’m a witch everyday *wink*. And frankly, my captive internet audience, it’s a disgrace that I haven’t forced my witchiness down your throats before now, A DISGRACE, I TELL YOU. So today I’m reviewing Hunt the Witch Down! by Margaret Ronan, written a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away (1976).

This cover gave me nightmares so terrifying that it has spent more time wedged between my mattress and box spring than it has on my bookshelf. Who am I kidding, it still terrifies me.

The Deal: Sometimes ill-favored and bad-tempered, usually sharp-tongued – they were people who scared the living daylights out of ordinary folk because of their weird ways, or aroused their envy because of their strange powers. Powers that seemed to come from the devil. People called them witches!

And what did they have in common, these witches? They were women. Women who used all their wit and wile to survive in an oftime hostile world. Desperately unhappy housewives, young women and girls, a little crazy maybe, poor usually, but hunted down and tortured by the law, even put to death. Their greatest crime: being born female.

Twelve true and exciting stories of twelve women whose neighbours were sure they were witches.

Robyn says: This book holds astronomical sentimental value to me. I found it in my grandmother’s dusty, cluttered basement when I was 9 years old, and, um, “secretly borrowed” it – let’s just say my reluctance to lend books might be an inherited trait. Enamoured with anything to do with the occult, I was willing to risk Grandma Ruby’s wrath for the sake of literature. And witchery.

I read it and re-read it, over and over and over, memorized the stories, scared my friends and scared myself, used them as a starting point when I got older and wanted to do more in-depth research. More than the individual stories themselves, though, is the spirit of this book, which, as I reflect on it now, has really has a surprisingly profound impact on the types of stories I want to read and want to write, too. It’s creepy, feminist, dubiously historical horror that is a little ridiculous and a lot of fun.

That sounds pretentious, I know. Sorry. I’m getting emotional. *Girds loins, gets back to business*

As I said above, this is a collection of twelve histories of women accused of witchcraft: from Margaret Barclay in 1618 to Marcia Goodin in 1974. It is definitely not the kind of history book you’d use for your thesis, though, if you know what I mean – no footnotes, no bibliography, a history prof’s night terror. It’s written in a narrative style, with recreated dialogue, so it’s really more like a collection of short stories. The tone is definitely informal, the prose is deliciously purple (“The Scottish rain fell like thin grey spears”) and it’s a little dated (the author frequently breaks out of the narrative to address the reader), but it is so fun to read. The stories are short, scary, and oozing second-wave feminism. What more could you ask for?

I guess my only complaint is that very little actual witchcraft happens. These are all stories about women who were accused of witchcraft, and the author just assumes that they weren’t actually witches. As though real witches aren’t a thing. Ha. Ha ha. Ha.

the craft movies angry witch

Verdict: Read it. Read it when you’re tucked into bed, covers pulled up to your chin, flashlight shining on the yellowed pages. Read it until you hear a sound, a sound that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, until you think you see a shadow move in the corner of your eye. Then shove it under your bed so you don’t have to look at that cover (I mean, COME ON, that is horrifying) and pull the blankets over your head and try to sleep. Just try.

light models hocus pocus long hair spell

Best lines: One chapter is called “The Queen of Hell” (Martha Carrier, 1692) and I always adored that – it’s the page the book automatically falls open to. The first lines are very evocative and pretty representative of the book as a whole… “She looked more like the queen of beggars, with her tangled hair hanging down her back, her brown dress torn and dirty. She stood in the court, head down, chains on her wrists. Those who did not know her might have thought her meek.” (p. 65)

Rating: Five out of five pointy black hats, because nostalgia.

ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT: Ruby, I miss you. You weren’t always a good grandmother, but you were  a damn good witch in your own way, and I miss you. Sorry-not-sorry for stealing your book. I bet you’d appreciate that.

And now a word from my loyal familiar:

I think my cat might be a witch…

Book Cat says: Dabo ultionem meam contumelia, bibliothecario. Pone verba mea.

That sounds ominous, guys. I might have to reconsider my position on dressing up one’s cat in elaborate costumes to match the theme of book reviews.

Or not.

witch anjelica huston the witches fabulous

 

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You know what we need? Marxist YA Lit. I’m on it.

So this week’s topic is… “Conspicuous Consumption and Teen Markets” (dum dum DUUUM). This is like double weird timeliness, what with the Occupy movement appearing to be on its last legs and – oh, the irony – the Christmas consumergasm/shopping orgy beginning to strike us all with the temporary insanity of a European soccer riot. As I consider this thorny issue, I feel like I ought to be wearing the Guy Fawkes mask my idiot brother bought before the 99% made him their poorly-reasoned poster boy (Guy Fawkes, I mean, not my idiot brother).

Anyway. The Glenn article was an excellent examination of this trend of conspicuous consumption in YA literature. I haven’t read any of the books she analyzes, but I’m familiar with the titles and the general ‘plot.’  And, frankly, the phrase “ethically and morally bankrupt” made me want to read them just to see if they’re as terrible as they seem to be (I’m sure they’re worse). (Digression: the publishers should probably emblazon that phrase across the covers of the books: ETHICALLY AND MORALLY BANKRUPT!!! There would be a huge bump in sales, I’m sure.)

And how delightful was it to analyze YA texts using a Marxist critical framework? Very very delightful. Of course, it would be even more awesome if we were to analyze YA texts from the perspective of this Marx (my favourite Marx – oh, there’s a book title for you). Glenn discusses problematic issues of entitlement, disparity of class and race, empty relationships, and conspicuous consumption (which sounds eerily like my family reunion) in three YA series: Gossip Girl, The A-List, and The Insiders. I especially liked her thoughts on encouraging and developing audience resistance: “Literacy is empowering only if one is a critical reader—one that analyzes,  questions, and critically evaluates that which is being read […] [T]hese texts provide the ideal opportunity to engage adolescents in discussions that encourage the development of a critical stance” (p. 40). I agree wholeheartedly. These books, with their atrocious writing and, worse, insidious messages of elitism, privilege, and conformity, should not be banned. Their flaws become, in fact, valuable – as tools for not only raising discerning readers, but for developing critical thinking and for encouraging YA readers to ask questions extending beyond the craptastic novel in their hands.

HEAVY!

So Glenn suggests teachers call attention to the stereotypes and elitism in these books and create a dialogue. I loved the idea of reading books like  The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men to compare and contrast the treatment of these economic and social issues (although I’m sure comparing their works to Gossip Girl would have Fitzgerald and Steinbeck rolling over in their graves ). But what can librarians do? It’s more difficult for us to convey the need for critical reading than it is for teachers, who have teens hostage in the classroom. I have no answers (remember, I’m still a librarian chrysalis). Some ideas? Teen book groups seem like a way to potentially engage YA readers in critical reading, in addition to guerilla Marxism in the form of subversive readers’ advisory (“When you finish The A-list, check out Das Kapital in the 330s!”) and muttered rabble-rousing (“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles!”). Hey, any excuse for Marxist mutters, am I right?

And you could wear T-shirts with this on it:

The REAL Communist Party

Yes, yes, I know – Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview while communism is a political movement and form of government. But come on – what teen could resist a librarian rocking that T-shirt? And if they ask about it, so much the better. Their curiosity about this slammin party is the perfect chance for the conscientious librarian to introduce philosophies often ignored in high schools and get teens to start questioning what they’re reading. Huzzah for dissidence!