One aspect of supernatural and fairy tales which take many forms is witchcraft, and of course, the witches who practise it. And witches have always appealed to me (more than the twee vampire stuff that’s floating around these days anyway), because of idea of magic they are able to have access to, and the idea of abilities beyond human ones. Here’s a list of the top ten witches which are most recognisable in both literature and film.
1. The Grand Witch – The Witches, Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl made us shiver with his imagination when we were kids, and with a kid-murdering, bald, toe-less, evil group of witches like these, it’s no wonder why. And of them all, the Grand Witch (is majestically and wonderfully captured by that good old magician Quentin Blake) is the scariest witch, being a creepy, mad-eyed woman whose beautiful mask hides an ugly heart and a plot to turn all the smelly children into miceys. If you didn’t read this in your childhood then you won’t know what a witch is.
2. The Three Hubble Bubble witches – Macbeth, Shakespeare
One from the classic, the ‘original’ three witches who warn Macbeth of his future as a king. Sort of like a medieval, Scottish version of the three Greek Fates, but without the single eyeball between them. Much of the witchy lines we recognise today is taken from this play (“Something wicked this way comes” for example) and while their appearance in the famous play isn’t very long, they are pivotal to the plot and give a dark tone to the idea of being King . We never find out what’s boiling and toiling in the cauldron though.
3. Jadis, or The White Witch – Narnia Chronicles, C. S. Lewis
Literally a cool one, she a white witch by colour only, but her intent is all black. Keeping the land of Narnia in permanent Winter, turning her rivals and opposers into stone, sacrificing Aslan the lion and feeding Turkish Delight to Edward, the crime list goes on (I never forgave her for the Turkish Delight, I absolutely hate that stuff. Yeuch.) While her arrogance is her undoing, her reign in Narnia is one which becomes legend in both the book itself and in Narnia.
4. Hocus Pocus sister witches – Hocus Pocus
We loved watching Hocus Pocus (still do), if only because the witches are amazingly dopey, each sillier than the last. And they’re a personal favourite in my house because all of my sisters like to describe each other as being one of the witches (apparently I’m the Sarah Jessica Parker one, probably cos she jumps around a lot with her hair flying out. I dunno.) Bette Midler is never better as the goofy, evil witch in this film, and while it’s cheeky, it’s also a hilarious combination. The classic line in my house is ‘booooookk‘. Now there’s a real book lover.
5. Sabrina – Sabrina the teenaged witch
Who said all witches had to be bad? Sabrina was the witch who was just like us…and also a secret witch. And who wouldn’t want to change her clothes in the morning with just a click of fingers? Sure, there were nosey Aunts, philandering black cat familiars and the annoying love rival at school, but Sabrina managed it all in time to come home for tea and do her homework in time.
6. Mildred, The Worst Witch – Jill Murphy
I remember reading this series when I was younger, about a scatty, unorganised witch with the worst luck ever, making her a terrible witch. But it was always great fun, there was something slightly Enid Blyton-ish about reading about her school adventures, her little cat Tabby and of course her teachers, such as Miss Cackle (obvious name, no?) – although she also appealed to me because of her slightly geeky, and very messy plaits.
7. Hermoine – Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling
Who can forget this witch? She’s a genius with her academics, she’s a crazily talented witch, and she seems to prefer redheads. ‘Nuff said.
8. Samantha, Bewitched – Bewitched tv series
Witches have marriages, in-law issues and parent problems too. And no one does a nose-squiggle like Samantha. I always liked the older series over the new version, if only because I kinda want my marriage to be one like Samantha’s and Darrin’s (including the random penguins you’ll find walking around in their house!)
9. Serafina Pekkala –The Golden Compass/Northern Lights trilogy, Philip Pullman
This is one of the more interesting witches, she’s young, beautiful and fights on the side of evil. I like the protrayal of witches in the Golden Compass trilogy because of how non-conventional the witches are, they are seen as full of fire and vivacity, with Serafina Pekkala at the forefront as the witch queen. I thought Eva Green played this role quite well in the movie, especially because her style lends itself a lot to the fanstasy aspects of the novel.
10. The Wicked Witch of the West, or Elphaba – Wizard of Oz, Wicked by Gregory Murphy, Orange mobile adverts
Out of all of them, this has got to be one of my favourites. And not just because of her stripy tights (I used to have a similar pair in high school. Those were not my best fashion moments). The Wicked Witch seems to encapsulate all the clichéd things about witches we grew up with – a green, pointy face, a black hat and cap, a wicked cackly laugh and evil creatures to do her bidding. One of my friends once said that I look a bit like green witch in the Orange adverts. All I can say is that if I had a team of flying monkeys at my disposal, I wouldn’t be chasing after a girl for her sparkly shoes, I’d send them to Louboutin instead. I also LOVE the re-interpretation of the Wicked Witch (and her sister, the Witch of the East) in Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, showing the political struggles of animals and their hierarchy, as well as the discrimination suffered by Elphaba the green ‘witch’ due to the colour of her skin.
I did try to think of more witches but didn’t have a lot of luck (apart from the ‘Disney witches like Snow White’s Evil Queen, or the cannibal witch in Hansel and Greta, similar to the Baba Yaga type character in African stories), especially because I didn’t want to churn out a list of the standardised idea of what a witch should be. For example, I was going to include the evil witch Maleficent from the classic Sleeping Beauty, but she’s more of an evil fairy, and there are many versions of this story which means there will always be another type of fairy or witch.
What other witches can you think of? And would you put fairies and witches in the same category?