Witches on Screen

Apr. 26, 2017
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Witchcraft and magic were prominent themes in fairytales, literature and theater before migrating to the nascent medium of film. “Witches on Screen,” the final chapter of The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic, doesn’t pretend to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject. Instead, the essay by Willem de Blecourt traces developments from The Wizard of Oz through Harry Potter with sideways glances at recent television series such as “Charmed” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Blecourt devotes many words to the roots of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling did not create her world of wizards and witches out of thin air but pieced it together from an enormous number of sources. One of the most important, surprisingly, was the ‘60s American TV show “Bewitched.” As Blecourt points out, “Bewitched” referenced “Hagatha’s School of Witchcraft” (Hogwarts’ sister academy?) “Bewitched,” of course, had its own roots, which Blecourt finds in three films, The Wizard of Oz (1939), I Married a Witch (1942) and Bell, Book and Candle (1958).

Edited by British social historian Owen Davies, The Oxford Illustrated History is comprised of chapters dealing in summary but enlightening fashion with magic (and its practitioners) from the ancient world through the present. One theme throughout is expressed by Blecourt thus: “Witches are among western society’s internal others.” Whether the mortals of “Bewitched” or the muggles of Harry Potter, ordinary folks usually confront witches and warlocks (read people with differences) with hostility or incomprehension.

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