Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Witches

Practitioners of Witchcraft (or, to stretch a point, Shamanism), either male or female, although in fiction usually female. Such characters turn up quite rarely today in Secondary-World fantasies – although there is a spectacular example in Conan the Barbarian (1981; > Conan Movies), while of course L Frank Baum deployed Good and Evil witches in his Polder, Oz – but they are slightly more common in Occult Fantasy, Horror and Contemporary Fantasy. The image of the hag riding a broomstick is subverted in Sheri S Tepper's quasi-horror novels Blood Heritage (1986) and The Bones (1987), where a clutch of witches is presented as if straight from a sherry party, full of homely wisdom, and in Keith Roberts's Anita series, whose eponym is the kind of lass one might expect to find dancing in a disco. Witches of a more traditional sort feature in the movie Hocus Pocus (1993), although only to be sent up, and witchcraft is likewise a target for humour in several of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, such as Witches Abroad (1991). It is rare, in fact, for witches to be treated very seriously in modern fantasy: the movie I Married a Witch (1942), based on The Passionate Witch (1941) by Thorne Smith and Norman Matson, is typical in regarding its central young witch as both mirthful and infernally sexy. Roald Dahl's The Witches (1983), filmed as The Witches (1989), provides a very notable exception: its witches are intended to terrify, especially since they may be encountered on any street-corner. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.