Witches in Literature From Around the World

Authors have long used the power of fiction to reinvent the image of the witch. In ‘I, Tibuta’, Maryse Condé subverts traditional depictions of witches through a post-colonial lens, while in ‘The House of Spirits’ Isabelle Allende subtly weaves magic into the day-to-day experiences of one family across multiple generations. Read on to learn more about these novels and to find other examples of witches in literature from around the globe. 

Nigeria 

Sunny from Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Born in New York, but living in Aba, Nigeria, twelve-year old Sunny is understandably a little lost. She is albino and thus, incredibly sensitive to the sun. All Sunny wants to do is be able to play football and get through another day of school without being bullied. But once she befriends Orlu and Chichi, Sunny is plunged into the world of the Leopard People, where your worst defect becomes your greatest asset. Together, Sunny, Orlu, Chichi and Sasha form the youngest ever Oha Coven. Their mission is to track down Black Hat Otokoto, the man responsible for kidnapping and maiming children. Will Sunny be able to overcome the killer with powers stronger than her own, or will the future she saw in the flames become reality? 

Finland

Serafina Pekkala from His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman 

In ‘Northern Lights’ – the first book in Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy – we meet Serafina Pekkala, a witch queen from a tribe in Inari, Finland. She appears throughout the story and is closely associated with our protagonist Lyra Belacqua and her companions as they embark on their adventures through other worlds. Her dæmon (similar to a witch’s familiar) is Kaisa, a large grey goose. 

The Malay Archipelago

Muna from The True Queen by Zen Cho 

The enchanted island of Janda Baik, in the Malay Archipelago, has long been home to witches. And Muna and her sister Sakti wake on its shores under a curse, which has stolen away their memories. Their only hope of salvation lies in distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal runs a controversial academy for female magicians. But the pair travel via the formidable Fairy Queen’s realm, where Sakti simply disappears. To save her sister, Muna must learn to navigate Regency London’s high society and trick the English into believing she’s a magical prodigy. But when the Sorceress Royal’s friends become accidentally embroiled in a plot – involving the Fairy Queen’s contentious succession – Muna is drawn right in. She must also find Sakti, break their curse and somehow stay out of trouble. But if fairyland’s true queen does finally return, trouble may find her first . . .

Australia

Amelia Spelled from The Kitchen Witch series by Morgana Best 

‘The Kitchen Witch’ trilogy is a fun cozy mystery series. In the first book, we find our heroine Amelia at the end of a very bad week. Her boyfriend dumps her when she inadvertently gives him food poisoning; her workplace, a telecommunications center, fires all their staff as they are outsourcing offshore, and she is evicted due to smoke damage resulting from her failed attempts at baking. 

Amelia thinks her luck has changed when she inherits her estranged aunt’s store, two mysterious cats, and beautiful Victorian house. To her dismay, the store is a cake store, and she discovers that her aunt was a witch. To add to the mix, the house has secrets of its own. When a man is murdered in the cake store, will Amelia be able to cook up a way to solve the crime or will her spells prove as bad as her baking?

England  

Alice Gray from The Familiars by Stacey Halls 

‘The Familiars’ is the story of 17-year-old Fleetwood Shuttleworth, pregnant for the fourth time. Determined that this baby will survive where the others did not, Fleetwood hires Alice Gray, a young midwife, who is drawn into witchcraft allegations. Fleetwood risks everything to help Alice, but by doing so puts herself in danger.

Set in Lancashire during the 17th century, this is a powerful look at how there is nothing that terrifies men more than women they don’t understand.

America

Tibuta from ‘I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem’ by Maryse Condé

Set in colonial America and originally written in French, ‘I, Tibuta: Black Witch of Salem’ follows young Tibuta who at the age of seven watched as her mother was hanged for daring to wound a plantation owner who tried to rape her. Following this incident, she is raised by Mama Yaya, a gifted woman who shared with her the secrets of healing and magic. Tituba’s love of the slave John Indian leads her from safety into slavery, and the bitter, vengeful religion practiced by the good citizens of Salem, Massachusetts. Though protected by the spirits, Tituba is unable to escape the lies and accusations of that hysterical time.

Chile

Clara del Valle Trueba from The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende 

The setting of ‘The House of Spirits’ is thought to have been inspired by historical Chile and twines the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate. Allende creates a luminous tapestry of three generations of the del Valle Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies. The family patriarch Esteban’s wild desires and political machinations are tempered only by his love for his ethereal wife, Clara, a woman touched by an otherworldly hand. Their daughter, Blanca, whose forbidden love for a man Esteban has deemed unworthy infuriates her father, yet will produce his greatest joy: his granddaughter Alba, a beautiful, ambitious girl who will lead the family and their country into a revolutionary future.

Written by Rachel Matthews 

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