Saturday, April 26, 2014

Diana Wynne Jones’s witch Aunt Maria: part I

Aunt Maria appears in Diana Wynne Jones’s Black Maria aka Aunt Maria. She operates and does a lot of damage on more than one level: she is both a dreadful, detestable, manipulative old woman and an evil witch.

Aunt Maria gets under my skin in a way that none of the other witches I have discussed so far does. I can read about her turning people into animals without any problems, but I can hardly bear to read the descriptions of her ‘this world’ behaviour towards the family that she asks to come and stay with her: it comes too close to home; it triggers very painful memories and feelings.

Her intrusive behaviour over the phone in the first few pages of the book is more than enough to make me want to stop reading, but I persevere because there are lessons to be learned and points and connections to be made.

Aunt Maria’s personality and behaviour
Aunt Maria is hateful; she is insufferable; she is intrusive, annoying, selfish, demanding and controlling. She is a complete expert in using suggestion, disapproval, martyrdom, disappointment, guilt trips, intimidation, emotional blackmail and mind control to manipulate people into doing what she wants. She is cruel and unscrupulous. She is a tyrant in disguise: she subtly forces everyone to dance to her tune.

Aunt Maria makes very intrusive phone calls with the pretext of being concerned for people’s welfare. This is ridiculous: people who genuinely care about someone think about the effect that their actions may have on that person. She is really trying to turn people into remotely-controlled puppets.

Aunt Maria is deceitful; she is not on the level; she is an expert games player. She gets a family – a girl called Mig, a boy called Chris and their mother (the father is missing presumed dead) - to come and stay with her under false pretences: she offers them a break, but when they get there they find that they are expected to do all her shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing and gardening and run her errands. They do not learn this immediately, but she has turned her home help into a cat and played the bait and switch game because she needs a replacement.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Robin Jarvis’s Whitby Witches: Rowena Cooper

When I first started to get my thoughts about modern-day fictional witches down on paper, I made a list of books from the past to re-read and mine for information and ideas. Although I enjoyed renewing my acquaintance with some old friends, the stories were incidental this time around. I wanted examples of various types of witch; I was looking for patterns and features in common in the witches’ lives, personalities and eventual fates; I was looking for fictional characters who reminded me of real people I had known or encountered along the way.

I remembered some relevant scenes and characters from Robin Jarvis’s wonderful Whitby Witches trilogy, which I had read soon after they were first published. The first book in the series is The Whitby Witches. Jennet and her little brother Ben, two children who are core characters, remind me of Gwendolen and Cat Chant in Charmed Life: they too are orphans whose parents died in an accident and they are much the same ages.

The villain of the story is a middle-aged woman who first appears under the name of Rowena Cooper. Just like some of the other witches I have written about, she is looking for something and will do whatever it takes to get it. She is the most ruthless of the bunch: anything or anyone who stands in her way will be removed. She attempts to manipulate people with threats and promises. She is described as having a black and rotten heart and being full of evil. She is desperate and eaten away with her lust for greater power.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Diana Wynne Jones’s witch: Gwendolen Chant

I am very interested in fictional witches whose attitudes, characteristics and behaviour remind me of people I have encountered in real life, including energy vampires, horrible stepmothers, unpleasant teachers and negative colleagues.

Not only that, but I also have an unpleasant and unwelcome suspicion that some of these witches show and embody something of what I might have become by default if I had taken the path of least resistance and not faced reality, escaped the clutches of energy vampires, fought my fate, defeated my destiny and overcome many unseen influences.

Gwendolen Chant, who appears in Diana Wynne Jones’s Charmed Life, is yet another witch of interest. There are some scenes in this book that make me feel very uncomfortable, not only because of how I was treated but because of how I felt and behaved – or wanted to behave – when I was much younger than I am now.

Gwendolen’s life before Chrestomanci
Gwendolen Chant is around 12 years old; she is a very pretty and charming young girl, a golden haired, blue eyed princess; she has much innate magical ability; she is convinced she has great talents and will achieve future fame; she displays queenly behaviour, feels destined for great things and expects to rule the world. The people around her take her at her own estimation and greatly admire her; they give her many presents; they praise, support and encourage her and do whatever they can to help the golden girl in her studies of witchcraft.