Halloween approaches, and in the interest of providing you with All Hallow’s Eve reading material, we took to Twitter and asked you for some of your favorite literary witches! Below, we gathered some of your picks (and a few of our own)—from Hermione Granger to Granny Weatherwax, from the Cotswolds to outer space, these sorceresses are sure to cast a spell on you. Let us know who we missed in the comments!
Practical Magic—Alice Hoffman
The women of the Owens family have always been accused of witchcraft—hell, the elder spinster aunts encourage it. But orphaned sisters Sally and Gillian are tired of being freaks, and decide to escape their magical lives. Sally does so by marrying and settling into family life, while Gillian, ever the impulsive and reckless one, runs away.
Years later, when Gillian shows up at Sally’s house with a dead body in her trunk, the two women have to come to terms with their family, their history, and their own magical natures.
Witches of Lychford—Paul Cornell
The villagers in the sleepy hamlet of Lychford are divided. A supermarket wants to build a major branch on their border. Some welcome the employment opportunities, while some object to the modernization of the local environment. Judith Mawson (local crank) knows the truth—that Lychford lies on the boundary between two worlds, and that the destruction of the border will open wide the gateways to malevolent beings beyond imagination. But if she is to have her voice heard, she’s going to need the assistance of some unlikely allies… Read an excerpt here!
The Memory Garden—Mary Rickert
The Memory Garden was Mary Rickert’s debut novel after the success of the World Fantasy Award-winning short story collection Map of Dreams. Nan has to keep some secrets from her granddaughter, Bay—particularly the bad times she spent years ago with her friends Mavis and Ruthie. But over one reunion weekend many truths are revealed, including the fact that Bay can see the ghosts that live in Nan’s garden. Only with the help of the three elder women can Bay learn to accept her gift, and use it to heal her family’s torturous past.
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series encompasses pretty much every facet of life at this point, and it has skewered just about every fantasy trope. Witches are no exception: He gave us the best crone ever in Granny Weatherwax (not that we would ever call her that to her face), a great Mother in Nanny Ogg, and multiple Maidens, Magrat Garlick and Agnes Nitt. And that’s before we get into Tiffany Aching’s arc, or Granny’s sister Lily, or Mrs. Earwig, or Goodie Hamstring… In Equal Rites, Pratchett explores the fantasy conventions around practitioners of magic – do women have to be witches? Or can a girl be destined to be a wizard instead? Wyrd Sisters plays with Shakespeare, as Granny, Nanny, and Magrat attempt to save a kingdom. And Witches Abroad sends the Three across all of Discworld, where they have to battle a ridiculous number of fairytale conventions.
The Witches of Karres—James H. Schmitz
Is anyone in the mood for SPACE WITCHES? James H. Schmitz’ The Witches of Karres introduces us to Maleen, Goth, and the Leewit, three witch sisters of the planet Karres. Unfortunately the sisters’ attempt at an interplanetary vacation goes horrifically wrong when they’re kidnapped an enslaved, but luckily the spacefaring Captain Pausert swoops in to rescue them! And things are going great, until their magically speedy Sheewash drive attracts the attentions of a whole horde of nefarious people including the extremely angry Sirians, the even angrier Uldanians, the dread pirate chieftain Laes Yang, and the Empire Itself! Will Captain Pausert manage to keep the young witches safe? Or will their powers be his undoing? This fun, light-hearted book was nominated for a Hugo in 1966. And, since we are talking about ’60s sci-fi, rest assured the Sheewash drive involves psionic powers. Plus, Hayao Miyazaki did the cover for the Japanese edition – check it out here!
All Souls Trilogy—Deborah Harkness
After Diana Bishop takes some notes from a medieval alchemy manual, Ashmole 782, she sends the book back to the stacks without realizing that she’s just unleashed a centuries-old spell, and now its her responsibility to break it. Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy—A Discover of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life—follows Diana, and the helpful vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, as they travel into Elizabethan London, France, and finally Venice to save the modern world from an ancient evil.
The Witching Hour—Anne Rice
A brilliant neurosurgeon named Rowan Mayfair! A secret occult legacy! A demon named Lasher! A decaying antebellum mansion where bad freaky stuff happened! Is there a connection to Haitian voodoo? Probably! Is New Orleans described in exhaustive detail? Definitely. Will lovers be resurrected and psychic witch abilities accepted? This would be an awfully short novel if the answer was no… The Witching Hour is the first in the Mayfair Witches trilogy, which also includes Lasher, a happy-go-lucky jaunt across Europe, and ends with Taltos.
Of Sorrow and Such—Angela Slatter
Mistress Gideon is a witch. The locals of Edda’s Meadow, if they suspect it of her, say nary a word—Gideon has been good to them, and it’s always better to keep on her good side. Just in case. When a foolish young shapeshifter goes against the wishes of her pack, and gets herself very publicly caught, the authorities find it impossible to deny the existence of the supernatural in their midst any longer; Gideon and her like are captured, bound for torture and a fiery end. Should Gideon give up her sisters in return for a quick death? Or can she turn the situation to her advantage? Read an excerpt here!
Enchanted Forest Chronicles—Patricia Wrede
Morwen rejects most witchy stereotypes, and subverts the rest, as befits a resident of Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Sure she wears black robes, but only because they’re practical. She often brews a particular potion—but it’s really just cider, made from her homegrown and completely non-magical apples. And she does love cats, but rather than having a single familiar she has nine furry friends: Jasmine, Murgatroyd, Fiddlesticks, Miss Eliza Tudor, Scorn, Trouble, Jasper Darlington Higgens IV, Chaos, and Aunt Ophelia—and they’re every color except black.
Lewis Barnavelt series—John Bellairs and Brad Strickland
John Bellairs undertook his cult classic The Face in the Frost while under the decidedly un-witchy spell of J.R.R. Tolkien. His follow-up book, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, has also since become an underground hit, and spawned a wholes series of spooky mysteries. The series’ resident witch, Mrs. Zimmerman, is no black-cloaked crone. Instead she’s a friendly, vibrant woman who loves purple and does her best to help her neighbors, Lewis Barnavelt and Rose Rita Pottinger, as they embark on magical adventures. She pops up in several of John Bellair’s New Zebedde books, but is most central to The House with a Clock in its Walls, The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring and The Ghost in the Mirror.
Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side (especially amongst Safi’s noble family) so Safi must keep her gift hidden. Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. When she and Safi become friends the Truthwitch’s impulsive nature drags the warier Threadwitch into adventures she’d often rather avoid. Now, as war looms over the Witchlands, the two must join with the Windwitch Prince Merik to fight a Bloodwitch (who is as terrifying as that title implies), evil emperors, and canny mercenaries, all of whom will stop at nothing to capture a Truthwitch. Read an excerpt here!
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane—Katherine Howe
Connie Goodwin is cleaning her grandmother’s old house when she discovers a scrap of paper with the name “Deliverance Dane” tucked inside a key hidden between the pages of a 300-year-old family Bible. As she traces her family’s history to find evidence of a woman named Deliverance, she finds a book of spells and potions that soon become vitally important: her new friend Sam is being targeted by a series of increasingly sinister events, and deciphering Deliverance’s work may be the only key to saving him. The book weaves the modern story together with flashbacks to the Salem hysteria to create a gripping account of witchcraft and love.
The Penguin Book of Witches—Katherine Howe (Editor)
Katherine Howe also works in the realm of non-fiction, most recently editing The Penguin Book of Witches. Not your average collection of spoooooky witch stories, these primary sources include accounts of women who were burned, staked, and stoned (in the streets of Philadelphia during the Continental Congress, no less), a witch-hunting manual written by King James, and the lofty condemnation of Increase Mather.
Rather than just rehashing the stories we all know from Salem, Howe’s book shows us how peoples’ fear of witches destroyed lives and communities, and lived side-by-side with some of the greatest moments of The Enlightenment. As related in this NPR interview, Howe’s interest in witches is personal as well as historical: her ancestors include two women accused during the Salem witch trials, Elizabeth Procter and Elizabeth Howe.
The Witches—Roald Dahl
Real witches don’t ride on broomsticks. They don’t wear black capes or pointy hats. In fact, they don’t look like witches at all…but a real witch is the most dangerous of all living creatures. Especially dangerous? The Grand High Witch of All the World. Our narrator learns this lesson when said Witch unceremoniously turns him into a mouse, and he has to learn quickly how to navigate the world in his new form, convince his grandmother that he’s still himself, and figure out how to thwart the Grand High Witch and her colleagues’ plot to turn all of England’s children into tiny, killable mice. We’re in Dahl country here, so be warned: this book gets dark.
Garden Spells—Sarah Addison Allen
The Waverleys have tended their magical garden for generations. The other residents of the town of Bascom, North Carolina, regard them with caution, but are happy to buy magic-infused food from Claire Waverley’s kitchen, or accept prophetic gifts from Claire’s cousin, Evanelle.
When Claire’s long-estranged sister suddenly shows up with a daughter in tow, the family has to decide how to create a future together, and how to deal with their legacy in Bascom. As in Practical Magic, a history of witchcraft binds sisters together, and creates a bond that provides a foundation for a different type of family.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond—Elizabeth George Speare
This is a classic witchy starter kit as well as an involving story about tolerance and acceptance. For those of you who didn’t get to it in middle school: Kit is a bright 16-year-old from Barbados, who is betrothed to a gargoylish older man after her father’s death. She runs away to Connecticut to live with her Puritan relatives, and soon learns that she has to live a much stricter way of life, made up mostly of mind-numbing work and six hours of church on Sundays. Naturally, she befriends the town’s other misfit, a kind Quaker woman, and finds herself having to fight the entire community when witchcraft accusations start flying. Will Kit weigh as much as a duck, or will she teach the Puritans to be a little more understanding?
Harry Potter series—J.K. Rowling
Since no list of fictional witches would be complete without Hermione Granger, I’m including J.K. Rowling’s series here. Hermione isn’t just the best literary friend you could have—smart, funny, and occasionally willing to bend school rules in the name of thwarting evil—she’s also the best young witch at Hogwarts. And since she doesn’t have the benefit of a wizarding world childhood, she succeeds through study and hard work. All that hard work pays off when she, Harry, and Ron leave school to fight an underground war against the greatest threat the world—magical and muggle alike—has ever known. Seriously, that bewitched bag of tricks she carries around all year really saves their necks on any number of occasions. The books are of course filled with all sorts of other witchy characters, from Luna Lovegood and Ginny Weasley to Minerva McGonagall and Bellatrix Lestrange. Join our reread here!