Tough Travelling: Witches
Welcome intrepid adventurers to Tough Travelling with the Tough Guide to Fantasyland!
That’s right, we’ve dusted it down and brought back this feature (created by Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn, revived by our friends over on Fantasy Faction, then dragged kicking and screaming to the Hive).
It is a monthly feature in which we rack our brains for popular (and not so popular) examples of fantasy tropes.
Tough Travelling is inspired by the informative and hilarious Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. Fellow bloggers are absolutely welcome to join in – just make your own list, publish it on your site, and then comment with the link on this article!
This month, if you’ve somehow missed it, we’re shining a spotlight on Women in SFF!
So we decided to take a look at a particular set of Women in SFF – Witches:
WITCHES are special and probably at least the equal of WIZARDS. They come in several kinds:
- GOOD. These are the commonest type. Most of them seem to be, at most, in their early thirties, and they are often good-looking and extremely well dressed. All of them have commanding personalities and great skill in MAGIC, but from time to time they show an endearing lack of confidence in themselves. This is because they are alienated from normal society. Witches of this type normally live in a College or Hall sited in a remote spot, along with numerous other Witches and governed by strict Rules and an even stricted Mother Superior. This establishment will have sent the Witch forth with instructions to perform a task, such as SAVING THE WORLD, that she feels to be almost beyond her power. You may become quite friendly with this type of Witch, but do not attempt to have SEX with her unless she invites you. A condition of her POWERS may be that she remains a VIRGIN. But you never know.
- BAD. (See ENCHANTRESS, which is really the same thing.)
This kind seems younger than Good Witches, but it is not the case. They always prolong their life, looks, and youth indefinitely by their arts.
- FREELANCE. These are rarer and tend to be:
a) Mature ladies who have decided to strike out on their own, in which case they look like Bad Witches or are fat, overdressed, and silly-seeming. In very rare cases they may be retiring and ugly. They live in CITIES and can usually be persuaded to join your cause.
b) A very young Witch in search of more Magic or adventure, who will probably join the Tour. You may not realise she is a Witch until there is a magical attack of some kind (see INCIDENT) and she is forced to help. Then she counts as a COMPANION.
A big thank you to Theo, Nils, Jonathan, Laura, James, and Beth for their recommendations…
Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg.
Esme Weatherwax and her incomparable headology. Sisters Abroad was my first Terry Pratchett book and the subversive feistiness of Granny Weatherwax, and the fantastic cat Greebo, captivated me straight away. The great thing about Granny Weatherwax is you don’t ever see her really doing magic, nothing flashy, no whizz bangs, but every single time she gets the job done. – Theo
Since you mentioned Greebo, I’m going to follow this up with a mention of the Discworld legend that is Nanny Ogg, specifically her appearance in Wyrd Systers.
Nanny is ancient, runs her own little empire of sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren, and thinks that actors come from a faraway country called Thespia. When locked in a dungeon and threatened with torture she passes the time by playing ‘I-Spy’ with a ghost. She has no teeth at all, is fond of a drink or three, and is known to burst into cackling song whenever she’s had one too many apple brandies, some of her favourite ditties being ‘A Wizard’s Staff has a Knob on the End’ as well as the old classic ‘The Hedgehog can Never be Buggered at all’.
As I said: legend. – Laura
Andrzej Sapkowski’s Yennefer.
Behold my beloved Yennefer! If you’ve read The Witcher books by Andrzej Sapkowski then you’ll know that Yennefer is a powerful, fiery, seductive, manipulative and downright badass witch! Yennerfer is never wholly good or evil, the only side she’s on is… well… Yennefer’s side. I love that she’s obsessed with Geralt of Rivia, but also above all else, longs to be a mother. The Netflix adaptation of The Witcher seemed to tame her characteristics, but just know that Yennefer is a force to be reckoned with. – Nils
Stephen King’s Gramma.
Have you read any of Stephen King’s short stories, folks? There’s one I’m particularly fond of, Gramma. Some families have nice grandmothers, but George Bruckner, his brother Buddy, and their mom Ruth aren’t so lucky. Gramma isn’t a long piece by any margin, but it is one of my favourite stories — and it does an excellent job of showcasing just how horrific a figure a witch might strike. I first read it when I was a teenager, butI often come back to it…though the sense of dread keeps me away as often as not. – Filip
Alix E Harrow’s Beatrice Belladonna, Agnes Amaranth, and Juniper James.
I fell in love with Harrow’s sisters from The Once and Future Witches; Juniper’s fierceness, Agnes’ loyalty, Beatrice’s desire to be left alone with her books… These women leapt from the pages, each with her own distinct idea of what magic is. Similarly to Pratchett’s maiden, mother, and crone, Harrow explores the classic triptych in her three sisters. Out of the three, Juniper was hands down my favourite. She had zero fucks to give anyone, and I think that angry kind of magic is my favourite (see also Granny Weatherwax, Sully and Fell Noon). – Beth
G. D. Penman’s Sully.
We cannot talk witches and leave out the Snarkiest Witch of Them All. It would be a crime. And she’d kick our arse. Sully, from G. D. Penman’s Witch of Empire Books, is top of her field – powerful, exuding confidence, not afraid to push the boundaries. And yet so very flawed. Hers is a magic that requires exact calculations and can have catastrophic results… – Beth
Jen Williams’ Fell Noon.
You’ve taken a lot of the best witches, but what about the Fell-Witch, Noon, from the Winnowing Flame Trilogy by Jen Williams? She can shoot fire and rides a giant bat – when she’s not riding a giant dragon warbeast, that is! – James
Liz Williams’ Fallow Sisters.
The four Fallow sisters, Bee, Stella, Serena and Luna, plus their mum Alys, from Liz Williams’ Comet Weather. They’re all such likeable characters, and I love their family interactions, you can tell that underneath all their squabbling they really care for each other. Plus I love the way that Williams makes their powers part of their everyday lived lives.
Also, of course, Lolly Willowes, from the book of the same name by Sylvia Townsend Warner, who just decides to pack it all in and become a witch, and society’s expectations of her can go hang.
And I have to give a shout out to Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo horror film Suspiria, my favourite movie of all time, and the very good 2018 remake by Luca Guadagnino, which is a worthy successor.
Next month, we’ll be looking at our favourite Beginnings in speculative fiction.
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