Every so often, a book I read as a child will pop back up in my memory. I was always a great reader, from the time I was eight or so and got my first library card. Back then, I didn’t understand why someone would check out more than one book at a time. I remember the first time I checked out three books at once. I took them home and rotated reading them, so I’m not sure I finished any, but started them all. I think at least one was a Nancy Drew book. I read many of those, along with “Little Women”, “Little Men”, “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew”… and so many others I can’t recall now.
Now that the weather has given us a preview of autumn, I’ve started scouting (no, that’s not true. I do this all year long) for new Halloween decorations. I treat myself to a couple new ones every year, and have a small collection of witch figurines that I want to keep adding to. From the time I was very young, eight or nine, I have always been fascinated with witches. Historical, fictional, present-day, I read anything that dealt with witchcraft, the supernatural, ghosts, and so on. One of my all-time favorite books was “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” by Elizabeth George Speare. It’s set in the late 17th century, just as Salem Village was about to experience the witch hunts although there are in fact no witch characters in the book. Perhaps I was drawn to the character of Hannah Tupper, the old woman who lived on her own and was suspected of being a witch. I think part of me wanted to be her.
I read books about the actual witch trials, and at one time knew the names of most of the people who were accused and executed as witches in Salem. To this day I can rattle off that 19 people were hanged, and one man, Giles Cory, was pressed to death (this was accomplished by putting a board on his chest, and piling on more and more large stones in an effort to extract a confession of being a witch. He died rather than give such a confession). No one was burned at the stake in Salem, but others died in prison awaiting their trials.
Another favorite was “The Witch Family” by Eleanor Estes. Oh my, what a magical book. I think I read this when I was ten. At the time I’d never heard the name Malachi, so I pronounced the bumblebee’s name like “Ma-LATCH-ee”. Malachi, Malachi, the Bumblebee… These were spells and rhymes, magic coming to life. THIS was what witches were supposed to be! I think part of my head is still in that book.
Now as a grown-up, I’ve devoured the entire Harry Potter series, and am always on the lookout for more along these lines. I’m desperately hoping for a sequel to “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke, and if you haven’t read this yet, treat yourself. It’s wonderfully original and imaginative, even though there’s not a witch in sight. I thought I read somewhere that Clarke had a three-book contract with the publisher, but perhaps they were not all going to be Jonathan Strange novels.
So where am I wandering with all this? Well, I’m working on my own story about witches. Modern witches, less Hollywood, but a good dose of the supernatural. The problem I’m having is (no surprise here) I keep wandering off on tangents and can’t decide where I want to take the story. I’m sort of following the advice from Toni Morrison, “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I’m trying to write the kind of book I would read. I want to be able to create characters who become as real to me as my friends. When I read a book I love, I don’t want to finish it because it’s like having to say goodbye to dear friends with whom I can never spend enough time. Do I live too much in my head? That’s a scary thought. I’m not sure that’s the best neighborhood to be traveling through alone.