Marsha has provided a lot of nifty coverage from DragonCon since her adventures over Labor Day weekend. I was particularly intrigued by her Illusions of Intimacy post yesterday about the witchcraft panel. We often talk about magic and supernatural creatures here in the Salon, but it occurs to me that witches don't get as much attention as some of the others, despite the fact that they have been popular characters in fiction for a very long time.
A comment that stuck out to me was regarding the appeal of witches; the fact that we can relate because anyone can be one. I think that's certainly part of the attraction. I'd also add that the diversity of the type makes it particularly fun to work with, a fact that was demonstrated by the variety of answers from the panel. It's true that most paranormal beings are evolving, and new twists on the standards are prevalent. But the core of what makes a vampire a vampire, or a werewolf a werewolf are still the essential core of those characters.
While witches can be practically anyone or anything, as long as magic is part of the equation. They can be male or female, human or other, have religious affiliations or not, come from a wide range of historical references, and practice with numerous styles and influences. Much like real modern practitioners who use a gamut of techniques and styles.
American stories inevitably tend to focus on certain events in Salem during our early history; some of my favorite authors have made the reference even though it's been done so many times before. There are so many other wells to tap on the subject. Ronald Hutton's The Triumph of the Moon looks at many aspects of the pagan revival, including much lore and history of witches. I've also enjoyed works by Owen Davies, Carlo Ginzburg, and Julio Caro Baroja which have all illuminated some unique and obscure tidbits on the subject.
As far as fiction goes, I'm a big fan of Kelley Armstrong's and Kim Harrison's witchy characters. Deb Harkness's A Discovery of Witches is one of this year's breakout hits, and a very good read. Fortunately, the witch has developed a more positive reputation over the years, although I don't mind the powerfully nasty types either. They are mentors, nurturers, destroyers, vixens, warriors and just plain awesome, which is why I'm pretty sure they're here to stay.
What do you like (or hate) about witches in fiction? Have a favorite series or character to share? If you write about witches, I'd love to hear about it!