Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Witch Family

I spent Halloween in the most Halloweenish possible way: not dressing up, not giving out candy to trick-or-treaters (I had the candy, but no trick-or-treaters came to collect it - not one!). I spent it working on revisions for the scholarly essay I've written on one of my most favorite ever children's books: The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes. In the book, a little girl named Amy decides to "banquish" Mean Old Wicked Old Witch to a glass hill in punishment for all her past wickedness; she and her best friend, Clarissa, then create a whole witch family to keep Old Witch company - Little Witch Girl arrives first, and then her baby sister, Weeny Witchie. Throughout the book it's hard to tell whether what's happening is "real" or just invented by Amy and Clarissa - or somehow both. So the book is both a wonderful, scary, funny story about witches and also a wonderful tribute to the creative power of imagination. And it all builds to its climax on Halloween, when Little Witch Girl arrives on her broomstick to go trick-or-treating on Amy's streeet and Amy takes her place, disguised in her witch costume, in Little Witch Girl's world.

I used to read the book to Gregory every Halloween - well, in the weeks leading up to Halloween, as it's a full-length novel. Toward the end of the years in which I read it to him, he'd tell me how dumb he thought it was - but still ask me to read it.

So I spent yesterday on final (I hope!) revisions on my essay. The essay focuses on how morality is handled in the story, for the witch world is portrayed as having a moral code diametrically opposed to ours: "The better the witch, from the witch point of view, the worse she is from our point of view." And vice versa. Old Witch is told by Amy that she has to learn "to be good, not good in the way witches enjoy being good - that is in casting spells and eating up little rabbits whenever they have the chance - but good in the way that real regular people ae good - that is in not casting spells and not eating up little rabbits every minute." My paper argues that Estes ends up showing that even witch morality shares certain key features with human morality, with any prescriptive system that can be called morality at all: "Estes's story reveals that even socially constructed morality operates within certain externally given constraints, just as the storyteller's imagination operates within constraints generated by the very nature of story."

I finished the revisions and sent it off. Now I have to wait to see: trick or treat?

1 comment:

  1. We also had no trick or treaters this year, so I took the candy to my Latin class where it was enthusiastically devoured by my fellow students and teacher! We deserve chocolate for conjugating and declining our little hearts out three days a week!