The Wonders of Witches

On Saturday at 3PM, the Urban Fantasy Track hosted a panel on Facebook and YouTube called “Good Witch or Bad Witch? The Varieties of Approaches in Urban Fantasy.” Panelists included Jeanne Adams, Jennifer Blackstream, David B. Coe, Rachel Graves, Corinne O’Flynn, and moderator Carol Malcolm.

Malcolm opened the discussion by asking the panelists why they found witches appealing enough to write about them. O’Flynn cited the magic coming to and through witches in a way that makes them badasses where others are not. They are repositories of feminine power. In a similar vein, Graves noted that witches are the archetypal outsiders, but with power. They often acquire the ability to wield it through study, which allows people to be strong without having to fit in. Blackstream amplified that by citing the advantages of power and forthrightness, adding that witches can care for people because they often know what needs to be done at a given time.

Coe pointed out that because witches feature in fairy tales and are common at Halloween they’re often the first supernatural beings children encounter. Adams noted that magic gives people who aren’t extraordinary in other ways the chance to do extraordinary things.

Malcolm also asked the authors to discuss the ways they used magic in their various series. The answers spanned a wide range from a magic-like gift of communing with the dead to various forms of drawing on natural power, to using a potion or having power passed from another witch or through the bloodline. The panelists all laughed when Graves replied that her witches’ magic is born of sugar, which forces them to eat a lot of sweet junk food when they need to top up their power.

When discussing how their characters’ powers work and the situations in which they use them, the panelists agreed that magic must have a cost and so couldn’t be infinite. In each of their series, witches must wield magic in ways they aren’t prepared to use and/or find that the power isn’t enough to provide the final solution to the main characters’ problems.

Picking up on the question of magical cost, Malcolm asked the panelists to give an example of something that happened to one of their characters due to cost or price. Graves and O’Flynn each described a character unexpectedly experiencing a huge power surge that interfered with their desired goals. Adams and Blackstream have written characters who tried to use their powers in particular ways that led to disaster because the attempt failed for Blackstream’s character but because it succeeded for Adams’s.

The authors also discussed the distinctions they draw between good and bad witches. Several panelists said the magic for good and villainous characters is the same, with the distinction coming from the way they use the power. Graves and Coe were the exceptions. Graves cited three types of magic from her series, with the highest belonging to death witches, who are hated and discriminated against. In one of Coe’s series, the use of blood for conjuring is seen as a road to darkness.

The authors also listed their favorite witches from classic tales or folklore. Morgan in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon was a favorite of O’Flynn and Coe, with Adams citing the witches of Andre Norton’s Witch World and Coe adding mentioning Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series and Kalayna Price’s Alex Craft. Blackstream contributed Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax and the folklore figure Baba Yaga. Graves chose an historical figure, Marie Laveau, a voodoo queen who lived in nineteenth-century New Orleans.

The panel concluded with the panel listing favorite witches from other media. These included Willow, Tara, and Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with some debate as to whether Drusilla qualified as a witch, the Sanderson sisters from Practical Magic, Vera from The Order, and Diana Bishop from A Discovery of Witches.

In place of the missing live audience, Malcolm applauded the authors at the panel’s end.

Author of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.