Cover via Amazon
Okay, this is probably going to be at odds with other articles you will see around the web but a couple of days ago, I came across a Guardian article talking about witchcraft and witches returning to popular culture in the wake of the Vampires and Werewolves trend. You can read it for yourself here.
The article mentions that various US television networks are starting to show different shows with witch protagonists, suggesting that this is the place that the trend is showing the strongest.
The only thing I took from it originally (it was late at night when I first read it) was the fact that Jill Murphy had published a new Worst Witch book. Not really surprising since she has released new books in the series recently however I did not recognise any of the other books or authors mentioned.
Today, I went to my local Waterstones and as I was browsing and picking up a book (or four!), I found myself unconsciously looking for books about witches. The result? I saw nothing to vindicate The Guardian’s article. I realise it is probably a trend that is just starting to find its feet but if there is a rising interest in books and other media about witches, why can’t I seem to see or find media about witches? Even in HMV, when looking, I couldn’t find anything about witches, not even on the shelves they had set aside for Halloween.
This evening, I returned to the article in question and re-read it. The result was the same. I decided to do some digging and had a look at the Waterstones and WH Smith websites in their best sellers generic listings and the best sellers for fantasy. Nothing.
The only patterns I could find was that vampire books are still popular and other authors, who had always been popular, like Terry Pratchett and Ben Aaronovitch, were still up there in the best sellers lists. A look on Orbit UK, Puffin and Gollancz future publishing schedules show none of this supposed trend. All I found was the tail end of the vampires craze and new books from established authors and series. (This is generalised I hasten to stress!)
So it has got me thinking about whether witches are becoming popular again or if, actually, witches (and wizards) had always been popular in their own way and had never really gone away?
I feel it is a valid question to ask.
A very brief survey of some of my friends from NaNoWriMo (just over 24 hours away!) revealed that they thought that has been a small rise in popularity but it could easily be an offshoot to the vampires craze. Also, confirming what I suspected, was the fact that paranormal creatures and beings had never really gone out of style. It’s just that the focus of attention shifts.
Cover of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone
The article mentions Charmed from the late 1990’s and that got me thinking about the fact that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released in 1997, during the same time period. The Harry Potter series has gone from strength to strength and continued being popular long after the end of witches popularity. The series has been so popular it has spawned spin-off books, a film series, a theme park and many other types of merchandise and not least of all, the recent news of JK Rowling wanting to return to the world of Potter and start writing a new spin-off series.
In the adults market, Ben Aaronovitch has gained success with his Peter Grant novels, featuring a London police officer and the country’s only remaining wizard. As well as them, there has also been Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus novels. These are just two series that I read that feature wizards and witches (though in Jacka’s books, they are known as mages).
Then there are the popular Dresden Files books by Jim Butcher, the only wizard in the phone book. These books are on my to read list and Butcher has recently released a new book in the series.
So books about witches and wizards have always been popular, bubbling away beneath the hubbub of the vampire’s (and werewolves) craze. They sell and create series. Jacka has talked about this in his most recent blog post. He is talking about urban fantasy books in general but his comments are correct: “For every Sookie Stackhouse or Dresden Files, there are twenty or thirty urban fantasy series that fizzle out” (Jacka, Benedict. (2013). Alex Verus: The Future (Continued). [Online]. Available at http://benedictjacka.co.uk/2013/10/25/alex-verus-the-future-continued/).
So maybe witches are not becoming popular again as suggested in the Guardian article but instead the spotlight and attention is being shifted to a new type of character within the fantasy genre. Whilst talking with my friends about this, I had the thought that perhaps that maybe the reason I had not seen much in the way of different media having prominent witch characters is that perhaps we are just on the cusp of a new craze. I put this theory to them and they agreed that perhaps, that is the case.
I think that is my theory then. We are on the cusp of a new craze, a craze that is just starting to spread its wings. The interest in these types of books and stories have always been there but it’s now going to experience a new resurgence and people are just beginning to notice.
Or perhaps, it’s just something that is going to fizzle out to nothing.