Friday, September 6, 2013

Joan Aiken’s witch: Mrs Lubbage

Mrs Lubbage is a character in one of the books from Joan Aiken’s wonderful alternate history series for children, the first of which is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Mrs Lubbage appears in The Cuckoo Tree. She is not exactly a modern-day witch, but she has some interesting characteristics in common with other fictional witches I have discussed.

Mrs Lubbage is the local nurse and wise woman; she has the gift of healing and knows about herbs. The doctor says that many of his patients would not have recovered without her intervention – and adds under his breath that many of them would not have fallen ill.

Mrs Lubbage is in many ways a stereotype. She is a large lady and wears grubby clothes. Her manner is hostile, threatening, surly and unpleasant. Her home is filthy and squalid; the chickens she keeps are in bad condition. She has a huge rat living with her who helps her cast spells. She also has a child living with her whom she treats very badly.

She is feared: some people call her a witch and are reluctant to go near her in case she puts a curse on them. She also has powerful allies: she is lending her powers to various plotters.

She will not tolerate criticism or interference in her affairs, no matter how justified this may be. She puts a hoodoo on the lock on her front door so that no one can break in while she is away from home. It gives strange prickling sensations when touched, like those given by stinging nettles. Something similar to this happens in Diana Wynne Jones’s Wilkins’ Tooth, when two boys attempt to get into Biddy Iremonger’s hut without her knowledge. When they touch the lock, they receive an agonisingly painful sensation, like a huge electric shock.

This is an interesting coincidence: it could be some kind of metaphor for the repercussions people feel when they threaten, interfere in the affairs of or try to get too close to someone with a witch-like personality in real life.

Another character in The Cuckoo Tree – who appears in several other books in the series - is Dido Twite. She has many enviable qualities: she is very tough, bold, cheerful and resourceful; she is not easily intimidated by threats; she can stand up for herself and her rights; she rises to the occasion when faced with the unexpected, and has a lot of spirit and inner strength. All this helps her considerably in her dealings with Mrs Lubbage.

For example, the latter casts a spell to make a group of farm animals appear to be a dragon in the moonlight, but Dido throws a stone and their true forms appear. Unfortunately, you are in a double bind with people like this: you suffer if you do resist and confront them and suffer if you don’t. This defiance makes Mrs Lubbage even more malevolent, and she aims a curse by directing a long, angry stare at Dido. The curse ‘takes’ because Dido has not worn her protective charm. The effects are very interesting, and not unfamiliar: Dido has a run of bad luck: she keeps dropping and breaking things, which is not normal for her; she hits her thumb with a hammer and drops a heavy bucket on her toe, and no matter how many times she washes her hands they feel unclean.

I have often felt blighted, hurt myself and had accidents after having a blast of anger aimed at me by negative, energy vampire type people. Traditionally, when done deliberately it is known as ‘overlooking’: it is known to be dangerous to cross a witch.

Mrs Lubbage threatens to put a freezing spell on the child who lives with her; this too is familiar as some people do have a very chilling effect. This child becomes pale and speechless when threatened by Mrs Lubbage: she has none of Dido’s spirit or coping ability and is terrified of the witch.

One characteristic of witches is feeling entitled to something - from a particular person or life in general - and taking revenge when it isn’t forthcoming. Revenge is witches’ business. Fictional witches do this deliberately; real life people usually do it unconsciously. Biddy Iremonger in Wilkins’ Tooth does this when she decides to marry someone and he chooses another woman. Mrs Lubbage feels outraged and entitled to revenge because Dido removed a basket of food Mrs Lubbage had decided to keep for herself, even though it was just left in her care for her to pass on to Dido and her friend.

She puts this friend of Dido’s into a coma in revenge for Dido’s sabotaging her plot to obtain money under false pretences.

Mrs Lubbage is accused by a young man of poisoning his mother in the past; she died. The reason isn’t given, but it could well be jealousy: perhaps, just like Biddy Iremonger, she had hoped to marry a man who chose someone else.

Mrs Lubbage like many witches has a goal, something to work for: she wants to move with a fellow witch to a warm and green tropical island where they will live well and be treated with respect. They cheat their patrons, double-dealing and making false scryings in order to get money out of them to pay for the passage on a ship.

Mrs Lubbage loses her mind when all the plots are foiled: she has nothing to fall back on once her dream has collapsed.  Her fellow witch dies, possibly from lost hope. It is strange how some people invest everything in an outcome that may never happen. She wanted to move to a much better place where she would be treated with respect: she would have done better to behave in such a way as to deserve respect where she already lived, and make the most of what she already had.

These people are an object lesson, just as Dido is a very good role model for people who must deal with energy vampires and manipulative people - although we can’t all be as strong as she is.