“Don’t get in a witch’s path. Especially if you are the weaker witch. If you do, be prepared to face her.” – “Bloodlines” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Witches are represented in different ways throughout cultures. In this anthology they take various forms – powerful women, young, old, poor, influential, timid, rich, classic fairy tale hags etc. Even though Witches: Wicked, Wild and Wonderful contains stories of many different themes, they all come to one central character that is wickedly passionate about something they love. Ultimately their actions are seen as good or evil. Is it enough though to label them “white” or “black” witches?
Witches mostly are seen as strong, perhaps a bit aloof and wicked women. However, in this anthology they are presented as humans with as many powers as insecurities. “Bloodlines” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia tells the story of a young girl who not only doubts her skills and appearance but also the possibility of being a real witch like other women in her family. This story of a growing up witch, who doesn’t know what she is capable of, is full of adolescent insecurities and raw, uncontrollable power still to be tamed.
Another of my favourite stories is “The Only Way to Fly” by Nancy Holder about a witch, Jessamyne, on the way to the retirement home who seemingly sacrificed her magic for the man she loved. Her sober analysis of what she has lost is either going to make her more bitter or free. Demeter Alcmedi in “Marlboros and Magic” by Linda Robertson also rebels against strict rules of living amongst people who simply adhere to the order of life in the Woodhaven Retirement Community. The consequences are hilarious.
One of the recurring themes is witches in love – love in many shapes and forms. Sometimes love is manifested in the form of love of humans in general, and sometimes it’s a poignant and deep adoration of someone the witch has lost their heart to. “The Ground Whereon She Stands” by Leah Bobet pictures a shy witch who, not knowing how to get closer to the person she loves, enchants them with a truly flourishing spell. Ceren, a young witch in “Skin Deep” by Richard Parks struggles to understand her feelings and actions which consequently forces her to decide what is important in her life.
At the same time, love for a child might be one of the strongest, unconditional manifestations of love – yet at the same time most tragic and misunderstood. “The World Is Cruel, My Daughter” by Cory Skerry is one of the gems in this anthology. It’s a re-told tale of “Rapunzel” – the story of a manic over-protective mother and the disastrous relationship with her daughter. It’s one of the darkest in this anthology, and is written with great skill and a great dose of murkiness. At the same time, another dark tale of the parents-children relationship, “Catskin” by Kelly Link, is amiably surreal and creepy.
Witches try to blend in but communities are full of nosey busybodies ready to share someone else’s secrets. What happens when a beautiful house appears on the street out of the blue? “Walpurgis Afternoon” by Delia Sherman tells a story of a suburban community magically transformed by two girls. Stories like “Basement Magic” by Ellen Klages, “Afterward” by Don Webb, “Poor Little Saturday” by Madeleine L’Engle and “Magic Carpets” by Lesley What are more sinister and lead to somewhat tragic consequences.
Stories about witches are very often haunting and atmospheric – with the magical ambiance embedded in the very worlds they are set in. “The Cold Blacksmith” by Elizabeth Bear resonates with charm of Scandinavian myths where a task of mending a broken heart might be a real challenge. Tanith Lee created a mesmerising exotic tale of illusions and transformations in “Mirage and Magia”. However, it was the spin on the classic tale of “Hansel and Gretel” that freaked me out. This horror version by Margo Lanagan titled “The Goosle” is full of stomach wrenching descriptions and horror with which the author spun the story. It is truly terrifying.
“The Witch’s Headstone” by Neil Gaiman is a lovely story of a boy befriending a ghost of a witch, but those who read “The Graveyard Book” will know it, as it’s actually chapter four in the book. Also “The Way Wind” by Andre Norton is set in the world of her Witch World universe which might be familiar to readers of her books.
Some witches choose to be protectors of people like Diana in “Nightside” by Mercedes Lackey and Marla Mason in “Ill Met in Ulthar” by T.A. Pratt. What I liked in both of them is that their two central characters are strong, confident urban guardians who love kicking evil’s ass. Others just experiment and toy with magic which leads to mixed conclusions. Girls in “Lessons with Miss Gray” by Theodora Goss decide to pursue magic, which helps them find out the truth about themselves. In a similar manner, Boris tries to discover who he really is when, by means of help from the legendary Baba Yaga, he discovers he might not be the failure he thinks he is. “Boris Chernevsky’s Hands” by Jane Yolen is a nostalgic revival of the Russian folklore icon. “The Robbery” by Cynthia Ward shows what might happen when in the face of helpless mutiny against an unpunished local burglar, the main character decides to try knots magic used by fishermen like her dad and grandpa, with surprising results.
As much as I like most of the stories in this anthology, as they cover such a wide range of themes and representations of witches, the true gem in this anthology is Ursula K. Le Guin’s very first story published in 1962 titled “April in Paris”. It’s a poignant story of passion, accidental time travel, friendship, love and power of loneliness. It’s a superb little story which brings people from different worlds together and saves them from despair of poverty and solitude. “April in Paris” was a marvellous debut story of such a great writer.
I love reading anthologies, as I come across writers I have not read before and little gems like the story of “April in Paris” which I didn’t know about. Witches: Wicked, Wild and Wonderful is full of stories from which each reader might find something they will love. I must admit I am not overly keen on all the stories in this anthology, but the majority of them are great and bring lots of quirky magic tales for those who, like me, love books about witches.
Author: Edited by Paula Guran
Title: Witches: Wicked, Wild and Wonderful
Publisher: Prime Books
Format: Kindle Edition
Published: March 13th 2012
Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.