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Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron Hardcover – August 28, 2012
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Anthology Authors' Favorite Witches
The contributors and editor of the witchy anthology Under My Hat make their cases for their favorite witches from literature and film.
Diana Peterfreund: Serafina Pekkala
I'm partial to Serafina Pekkala of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials books. Not only does she have one of the most awesome names in all of literature, but she's also an amazing character. Fierce and noble and strong, she'd be an alien and intimidating figure indeed if you didn't see her softer, more human side in her beloved daemon, the gray goose Kaisa, or hear of her history with her lover Farder Coram. Serafina Pekkala, who is almost always called by both names (because honestly, who wouldn't with a name that kick-ass?), leads her tribe of witches, riding the air alongside their bird-shaped daemons on branches of cloud pine like Valkyries of legend. I think everyone who meets Serafina falls in love with her, and I was no exception.
Frances Hardinge: The Wicked Witch of the West
I must admit, I still have a soft spot for the Wicked Witch of the West as portrayed in the classic 1939 film of The Wizard of Oz, just for her sheer glee and gusto. Other witches may be wicked, but she leaps headlong into wickedness, shrieking with unrepentant laughter as she goes.
Why does she have a bucket of water in her castle if it can destroy her? For that matter, why does she risk flying around Oz, when she might melt in the first unexpected shower? And why does she surround herself with guards who are just waiting to dance on her grave? Who cares? I certainly don't while I'm watching her in action.
Needless to say, I also covet her flock of flying monkeys. Who wouldn't?
Garth Nix: Miss Croot, Miss Hooting, and Miss Eaves
Miss Croot and the other witches appear in various Armitage Family stories by Joan Aiken, happily all collected in one volume called The Serial Garden, published in 2008 by Big Mouth House. There are lots of witches in the Armitage stories; in fact, the village where the family lives seems to be infested with them, though the other villagers cautiously refer to them as Retired Fairy Ladies.
Miss Croot appears in the story "Broomsticks and Sardines," and is described as "an exceedingly tall lady with teeth like fence-posts and a great many bangles." She is the Armitage children's schoolteacher, but Mark and Harriet learn witchcraft rather than the usual curriculum . . . at least until Miss Croot flies off on the family's Persian carpet to take up a new post as an instructress to the King of Siam.
Miss Hooting appears in two stories, "Armitage, Armitage, Fly Away Home" and "Miss Hooting's Legacy," and is rather more inimical than Miss Croot, turning the Armitage parents into ladybirds at one point, and in the second story arranging a curious resurrection for herself with the help of two mechanical helots and a magic mirror.
Miss Eaves is a journalist who writes a garden column for a Sunday newspaper but is also a witch, can turn into a ginger cat, and attempts to steal a quince tree from Mark and Harriet's grandmother in order to re-create the made-up garden she writes about.
There are many other witches in the Armitage stories, and indeed in other short stories by Joan Aiken, all of which are wonderfully inventive and original, while at the same time deeply interwoven with myth and legend. Her witches are often funny, sometimes terrifying, and always fascinating—and though Aiken wrote many stories, I wish there were many more.
Jane Yolen: Baba Yaga
Baba Yaga, hands down! She is not just a witch, but the iconic witch, a force for both good and evil. She enjoys (and not in a culinary way) feisty young girls—like Vasilissa, like I was once. However, she will quickly eat with gusto, and with her iron teeth, any child or adult who annoys her with whimpers, whinges, or whines, or one who does not simply Get on with It. Mary Poppins with a kink, perhaps. Baba Yaga is in touch with the old gods, the old ways, the old numinosity. She probably lives in a gated community with Cthulhu, Anansi, Loki, and Coyote. The originator of the concept of tough love, she nonetheless keeps her sentimental heart intact. Fear her or love her, you cannot ignore her. And oh, I so want a ride in her mortar and get a turn steering it with the pestle, and bedding down for an unquiet night in her house on chicken legs.
Tim Pratt: Granny Weatherwax
My favorite witch in literature—and one of my favorite characters, period—is Terry Pratchett's Granny Weatherwax, featured in many of the Discworld novels. She's a classic wicked witch who, by sheer force of will, chooses instead to use her powers for good. She is one of the most badass figures in fantasy literature, though she almost never resorts to physical violence to get her way. She's adept at being indescribably nasty, for all the best reasons—and her occasional moments of weakness, humanity, or sympathy are all the more affecting in the context of her vast curmudgeonliness.
M. Rickert: Mrs. Fischer
Mrs. Fischer was my neighbor, and people said she was a witch. The day I decided to meet her I stood at the foot of the concrete stairs leading up the hill to her house. "I need to find out for myself," I said to my baby doll in the buggy. She taught me how to eat ground cherries, peeling the papery skin off the gold fruit that grew in the wild meadow of her backyard, and she told me stories. Sitting in the rocking chair in her parlor, she told me about the piano-playing girl who once lived in my house, and she told me about murder. On Halloween she left her porch light off because, she said, she'd forgotten the date entirely and had no treats to give. Children took advantage of the dark to write mean words in chalk on her sidewalk. Someone decided she was too old to live by herself. I stayed in the parlor with her, though I didn't know what to say as she cried while everything she owned, including her house, was auctioned off. I never saw her again.
Ellen Klages: Maleficent
My favorite witch is, obviously, Maleficent. But a close second is the Wicked Witch of the West. Every December my family had a picnic on the living room floor, and I squirmed with anticipation through the black-and-white part until we finally got to Oz and the witch. Despite my parents' urgings that Glinda was the good witch, I liked her counterpart. Glinda was pink and wussy, and the WWotW had attitude and an awesome castle—and flying monkeys!
When I was around eight, Margaret Hamilton was in a summer-stock tour that came to my hometown. She turned out to be an old friend of one of my dad's buddies, so I got to go backstage and meet her. She was, by then, a tall, patrician-looking woman in her late fifties, dressed in a robe. "You're not green!" I blurted. She looked down at me with a tired, mildly amused smile, and said, "No, dear. I'm not."
Ellen Kushner: Lolly and Froniga
I have a lot of favorite witches—Terry Pratchett's Granny Weatherwax, for instance, makes me think while I'm laughing, which is the best of all worlds. But the witches who define witchiness for me are the creations of two writers who, though very popular in their day, have been largely forgotten: Sylvia Townsend Warner and Elizabeth Goudge. Both were English, both wrote in the troubled years following global wars, both wrote about the place of women in a restrictive society. Both created witches whom Granny Weatherwax would have recognized and approved of.
Lolly Willowes, by Sylvia Townsend Warner, published in 1925, is the story of a woman who prefers the country to the city, animals and trees to people, and solitude to the eternal demands of her family. After her beloved father's death, she avoids her family's attempts to move her to London and marry her off by escaping to a town in remotest Buckinghamshire, where she becomes a witch. Warner makes it clear that Lolly is a witch long before she sells her soul to the actual Devil (in the shape of a jobbing gardener); she is a tramper in the woods, a tender of plants and animals, as steady as a rock and about as sentimental as one. Lolly—or Laura, to use her proper name, the one that means who she is rather than the obedient aunt and sister her family sees her as—is very much Granny Weatherwax's sister. She is a witch not so much because of the magic she can do, but because she is absolutely and exactly herself.
Romantic witchdom (also love and sex, which Laura can't be having with) I learned from Elizabeth Goudge, whose historical The White Witch was published in 1958. Froniga is a half-gypsy who has put aside her green gown for the gray and white of the Puritans, whose armies are overrunning her quiet corner of England. It's a very complicated book, and I haven't read it recently, but what I retain is the image of a woman who is respected by her neighbors even while they fear her for what Goudge calls her "unordinary powers," whose true religion is the natural world and whose sense of responsibility is for the people she loves. She's a figure of romance, an object of desire, but fully a subject in her own right—nobody's property but her own.
That's what I love most about these literary witches. They are answerable only to their own moral sense—which is strong, if not conventional. Existing on the fringes of society, they live under a constant threat of persecution, petty in Laura's time, mortal in Froniga's, when witches were still burned. Both are women who would rather pay the price of living free than bow their heads to any rule imposed by society or custom. Laura will sleep in the woods if she pleases, and Froniga will wear her green gown and live among the gorgio, though both her cultures judge her for it. That's my kind of witch. That's my kind of woman.
Jonathan Strahan: Tiffany Aching
It doesn't seem fair to pick just one favorite witch. There are so many different kinds of witch, and each has her charms. The wise but curmudgeonly Granny Weatherwax, the gleefully wicked Wicked Witch of the West, brave young Kiki with her delivery service—any one of them could serve as favorite. But the one who inspired me to go looking under witches' hats was Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching. She's young, she's tough-minded, and she's practical. When she was just nine, fairies tried to kidnap her younger brother and she knew to whack them with an iron skillet. When she was thirteen, she accidentally danced with a winter spirit and affected the seasons. And by the time she gets to the end of I Shall Wear Midnight, she's grown into a mature, clearheaded, fair, and really quite amazing young woman. In many ways, she's every kind of witch—okay, except for the old kind—you could possibly imagine.
This 18-story anthology, featuring such notable authors as Garth Nix, Ellen Klager, Margo Lanagan, and Patricia McKillip, offers up an enjoyable witches’ brew of tales. In Charles de Lint’s “Barrio Girls,” two teen fans of vamp fiction find the genre’s glamour diminishes upon meeting a nasty, real-life brujá. Neil Gaiman’s eloquently and evocatively written “Witch Work” explores the power of witchery, emotions, and nature. Jane Yolen’s “Andersen’s Witch” interweaves elements of the iconic author’s life and writings into an inventive meta-tale. These mature, edgy stories feature supernatural elements and also deal with resonating themes, from bullying to self-discovery and self-determination. The mainly young adult protagonists, whether they encounter, become, or already are witches, find their lives transformed—and sometimes transform the lives of others—in diversely magical ways. Editor Strahan’s introduction provides background and context for witches and witch types (and also touches upon the origins of the infamous pointy hat). Lively author biographies are appended. Grades 9-12. --Shelle Rosenfeld
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Top Customer Reviews
"B is for Bigfoot",
(Bigfoot Trilogy, 3 published) &
(Bigfoot, 1 chronological)
Dresden Files: Short Stories, 15
An anthology of eighteen short stories revolving around a theme of witches and magic.
Diana Peterfreund`s "Stray Magic" is so sweet! Peterfreund created a lovely story that really pulled my heartstrings with a seemingly abandoned dog who desperately wants his master back.
Frances Hardinge`s "Payment Due" is wicked good! Even short stories can suffer in this economy and Caroline does her best to ensure the bailiff understands how his attitude affects those upon whom he preys.
Garth Nix`s "A Handful of Ashes" was excellent! A nice turnaround in which evil is repaid while saving a world. Nix creates an entire world with amazing characters in such a short span of pages.
Holly Black`s "Little Gods" is about a teenager's search for belonging and the Beltane celebration she and her new friends attend. It's an eye-opening weekend for Ellery. This was okay. I know Black wanted to make a point, but it was too laid back for me.
Charles de Lint`s "Barrio Girls" is both typical and atypical de Lint. I haven't read all of de Lint yet so I may well be wrong. The typical is the kindness Abuelo requires of them to offset the bruja and gain revenge for Pepé. A sweet read by a master.
Tanith Lee`s "Felidis" is in the fairytale style, but with a twist. It's sweet.
Neil Gaiman`s Witch Work is actually a two-page poem about time, revenge, and hurt.
Ellen Klages`s "Education of a Witch" is scary! It was Lizzy's obsession for Maleficient in Sleeping
Beauty that prompts Lizzy along the path of magic. And it's her baby sister Rosemary's arrival and need for attention that encourages its use. Klages understands children very well and provides a chilling scenario of vengeance. New parents should read this and pay special attention to their children. Lizzy's feelings are reasonable; it's her child's viewpoint and all that she knows.
Ellen Kushner`s "Threefold World" is another excellent story! Set back in time in Finland when it was ruled by Sweden, Kushner uses the conflict of oppressor versus oppressed to create an ambitious character, Elias, who believes that his own Finnish background is nothing to be proud of. He sets off at the end of the school year to earn the money needed for the next year's tuition and it's a Finnish folktale come to life that changes his mind and his life.
Delia Sherman`s "Witch in the Wood" is another fairytale combining several different elements from the genre. The prince forced into stag form by day, the evil wizard, and the orphaned young witch who rescues the stag. It's cute.
Patricia A. McKillip`s "Which Witch" is not a typical McKillip, lacking her lyrical turns of phrase. I'd have thought more de Lint or Lackey with the witches who form a band, dress artistically, and the urban setting. It is an excellent read and I'd love to see it develop into a series.
Tim Pratt`s "Carved Forest" is safety in a cage. Carlos definitely takes a chance in this one when he takes action to rescue his sister and keep her memory alive. Scary with a sweet ending.
M. Rickert`s "Burning Castles" was very confusing with a very obscure ending. It's more like the author had an outline that was dashed off and somehow a lot of the details were forgotten. It doesn't encourage me to seek out other works by Rickert.
Isobelle Carmody`s "Stone Witch" was excellent! A quest of a test with thrown-in confusions in true fairytale style, albeit with a contemporary twist and a chance for a mutual rescue.
Jane Yolen`s "Andersen's Witch" provides a theory as to why Hans Christian Andersen wrote his fairytales and incorporates its own fairytale elements.
Jim Butcher`s "B is for Bigfoot" is supposedly the third in the Bigfoot Trilogy, but reads more like it should have been the first. So, I'm confused. It's Harry Dresden's first meeting with River Shoulders, Irwin's dad, and his first meeting with Irwin where he helps him defuse an escalating situation at school.
Peter S. Beagle`s "Great-Grandmother in the Cellar" is another good tale incorporating fairytale elements with a short peek into a catastrophe that hits a small family and requires intercession from the dead.
Margo Lanagan`s "Crow and Caper, Caper and Crow" is another sweet tale incorporating fairytale elements with a grandmother wanting to grant a grandchild wishes. Lanagan includes the age-old "mother-in-law versus wife" conflict. It reads more like the start of a tale than one complete in itself.
The cover has a glowy brown background with a black cauldron at the base pouring forth purple steam with authors' names and, just to ensure that we remember the theme of this collection of short stories, a witch's hat is parked right next to it.
The title reflects the theme as well--it's all Under My Hat.
Out of all the stories there were only a fews that really stick with me a few days after reading the book. Garth Nix’s “A Handful of Ashes” had excellent world-building and was an engaging read that I enjoyed. Ellen Kushner’s “The Threefold World” was beautifully written and had a very classic fantasy feel to it. “Which Witch” by Patricia A. McKillip was great fun to read and was an action packed urban fantasy that I really enjoyed. I also enjoyed Jane Yolen’s history of Hans Christian Andersen in “Andersen’s Witch”.
Overall this was an okay collection, but honestly I didn’t love it. I thought more of this was okay than was awesome. See below for details by story. Additionally I should mention this is an adult collection of fantasy stories (for some reason the cover had me thinking this was a middle grade collection of fantasy and it is definitely not).
“Stray Magic”, Diana Peterfreund (4/5 stars)
This was a cute story about a stray dog that is more than she seems to be. I liked it and thought it was interesting, touching, and sweet.
“Payment Due”, Frances Hardinge (3/5 stars)
In this story an older woman loses something special to her and a younger witch gets revenge for her. This was an okay story.
“A Handful of Ashes”, Garth Nix (4/5 stars)
This was a well done longer story. Nix did an excellent job of creating a believable and interesting world here with characters that you care about. This is about a school of young witches; a few of the witches end up having to counter an evil summoning.
“Little Gods”, Holly Black (3/5 stars)
This was an okay story that explains some Wiccan ceremonies. Not a lot happens in it and in general it was pretty boring, but okay.
“Barrio Girls”, Charles de Lint (4/5 stars)
This was a decent story about a couple of teen girls who go out looking for vampires at night and find something a bit different than they were expecting. I enjoyed it.
“Felidis”, Tanith Lee (3/5 stars)
In this story a young wandering man meets and falls in love with a woman who is half cat and half woman. As the story progresses she finds out she has many secrets. It was okay, but I thought it was a bit hard to read and didn’t flow all that well.
“Witch Work”, Neil Gaiman (4/5 stars)
This was a poem about a witch. I liked it and it was fine.
“The Education of a Witch”, Ellen Klages (4/5 stars)
This was a story about a young girl who is obsessed with Maleficent from Disney movies; this repels the people around her. When the young girl, Lizzie, finds out she has magic powers she takes it out on those around her. It was an entertaining story but it ended just as things were getting interesting.
“The Threefold World”, Ellen Kushner (4/5 stars)
This was the most well written story of the bunch so far. It is beautifully written with writing that flows very well. It’s about a man who flees his homeland to become a scholar and snubs all history from his native homeland. Then he meets and old man who shows him that his native homeland might provide answers to deep questions. I loved the folklore feel to it and loved how the main character grew and changed.
“The Witch in the Wood”, Delia Sherman (4/5 stars)
So far this is my second favorite story. I loved the magic and fae elements to it and enjoyed both the main characters. It’s about a young woman who is a very isolated witch; she meets and saves a young man who turns into a stag. Then she must unravel the curse around him.
“Which Witch”, Patricia A. McKillip (4/5 stars)
This was a cute and edgy urban fantasy story about a band (literally a musical band) of witches that ends up having to confront a horrible evil. I enjoyed it a lot; it was snappy and fast-paced and fun.
“The Carved Forest”, Tim Pratt (4/5 stars)
In this story an older brother goes to save his sister from apprenticeship to a witch only to find that the witch very literally controls the well-being of everyone in her town. This was a creative idea and generally entertaining. I enjoyed it.
“Burning Castles”, M. Rickert (2/5 stars)
I didn’t really like this story much. It’s very short and very ambiguous; I didn’t completely understand what was going on. It’s seems to be about a mother and daughter and the mother’s abusive husband.
“The Stone Witch”, Isobelle Carmody (4/5 stars)
This was an entertaining story in which a middle aged woman who doesn’t like children, ends up with a child as a familiar and off on a strange quest to prove that she deserves to be taught how to use her late-blooming with powers. I enjoyed it.
“Andersen’s Witch”, Jane Yolen (4/5 stars)
Another well done Yolen story in which we learn the supposed history of Hans CHristian Andersen and how he came up with all those wonderful children’s stories. I enjoyed this story a lot.
“B Is for Bigfoot”, Jim Butcher (4/5 stars)
This is a short Harry Dresden story in which Dresden is asked to help a half-Yeti boy deal with bullies. It wasn’t all that exciting but was decently written and I enjoyed it.
“Great-Grandmother in the Cellar”, Peter S. Beagle (4/5 stars)
When an evil wizard puts a young man’s sister into eternal sleep he takes is upon himself to seek aid from his dead grandmother. This was a well done story and I enjoyed the characters and the resolution to the story.
“Crow and Caper, Caper and Crow”, Margo Lanagan (3/5 stars)
This was an okay story about a grandmother witch named Pen who goes to her granddaughter’s birth only to discover there are secrets she doesn’t know both about his daughter-in-law and the new granddaughter. Not much happens in this story, it was okay but not great.
Plus...I'd read the back of a fertilizer bag if Peter Beagle wrote it.