Witches are an abiding and perennial feature in books for young readers. From the youngest who enjoy the Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul anarchic and humourous Winnie the Witch picture books up through the Jill Murphy series Worst Witch, Roald Dahl’s Witches and the entire Harry Potter series all the way to teen offerings including Celia Rees’s seminal Witch Child and Sally Green’s Half Bad.
What is it that makes them so irresistible to young readers? I have a couple of opinions naturally. First of all they are obvious outsiders, rebels and rule-breakers, either for good or for bad. They are not containable and controllable and as such of course exercise allure and a hint of danger. In picture books this often is shown as an adult acting like a child, being wild and free and naughty. In the full on magical fantasy world of witchcraft there is also the potential for the ultimate power that the witches wield to fundamentally change events or people and even to destroy them. Harry Potter is made all the more exciting because we know that the use of magic in the books is for good and bad; that characters lose their lives and ultimately a wand is a tool in the battle between good and evil.
In books for teenagers, witches often play the part of the oppressed and in the narratives it is their ability to withstand and overcome the oppression that the reader most empathises. The horror of the witch hunts and the false accusations of witchcraft continue to cast a spell down the centuries and young people reading about that time can use the narratives to reflect on prejudice and sexual discrimination today. The centuries may be far apart and the use of accusation slightly different but there are contemporary parallels to be found. Witches are often cast as the outsider fighting for justice, or autonomy or freedom and it is through this fight that the reader shares the motivation and concerns of the character. Witches can encourage a sense of rebellion and a questioning of authority and this is without their ability to use magic and make the world different. It is a power to affect change.
Witches in literature have power; the power to captivate our imaginations and allow us great flights of fantasy in their use of magic, the power to make us think about the politics of oppression and in their transgressive nature we are all made just a little more rebellious ourselves.
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After reading Minus Me by Ingelin Rossland, I was inspired to discover more about Norway and learn more about what everyday life for Linda, the main character, would be like. Where would she go on holiday? What books did she read? Do they celebrate special holidays? What is her favourite dinner? Mostly, I was interested in knowing if she was like me when I was her age, and I wanted to experience some of those differences myself.
The author, Ingelin, suggested going to visit some of the dramatic landscapes in the west to get to see the mountains, the fjords and the coast. But I’m running out of holiday, and as much as I’d kill to go to a landscape like this, I thought I could experience some of Norway in my own kitchen.
Ingelin recommended kjøttkaker i brun saus – meatballs in brown gravy – as a dinner that many Norwegians are fond of, and we wanted to share it with you.
For the Meatballs