Children’s Stories: A Medium for Magic

Children’s literature is full of magic, including the presence of witches, sorcerers, and others with magical abilities. Although the term “witch” implies witchcraft and often brings to mind the warty, cauldron stirring cliché, witches in children’s books have many forms and include fairies and special guardians as well. Generally, magic exists in children’s books to serve one of three purposes: to endow a character with special powers, to act as the antagonist in the story, or to teach about tradition, especially traditions with witches. These “friendly witch” approaches are most common in children’s literature, as antagonists are rare, except in fairy tales. Generally, modern children’s literature focuses on natural problems that children really face: fear of the dark, growing up, fitting in, and discovering talents. Witches are also had for good and evil in some of the most classic fairytales, which are considered (at least in our modern world) children’s stories. Some iconic witch figures include:

  • The evil queen from Snow White, who tries and fails to kill the princess three times, always by magical means.
  • The fairy godmother in Cinderella who magically changes her rags to a beautiful gown and her pumpkin into a carriage.
  • The witch from Rapunzel that banishes both the longhaired princess and her blinded prince to a desert.
  • The sea witch from Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, who turns the young mermaid human so that she can win the heart of the prince.
  • The gingerbread-dwelling witch who imprisons Hansel and Gretel.

Other children’s books include retellings of old myths and explanations for holidays. Some books might be written about Halloween; others might explain the life and magic of the tooth fairy. For example, tradition books may have a broom-flying witch as a main character, perhaps from the perspective of a child who is trying to live up a parent’s expectations for performance. Maybe the young witch must conquer a fear of heights before flying a broom with the rest of the witch-clan. Witches have a permanent place in human storytelling, even permeating the stories intended to educate and entertain children.