The Witch Is Back

While reading is both our professional area of expertise and (not so) guilty pleasure at the end of a long day, that doesn’t stop us from indulging in a Netflix binge pretty regularly, too. This week, like the rest of the world, we are absolutely spellbound by the new original series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

I grew up watching reruns of the American sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch, so, in an effort to be fully transparent, I will admit that I am deeply upset by the loss of a talking Salem the cat — I almost didn’t give the new Sabrina a chance because of it. While the graphics weren’t perfect, I appreciated Salem’s brutal commentary and hankering for mischief. What we didn’t get from the original series that we’re being given through the Netflix remake, though, is a story line laced with unapologetic feminist attitude — and I am absolutely willing to stick around for that.

Stories of witchcraft have long been used as a space for a celebration of the feminine. From Samantha of the 1960’s Bewitched sitcom to every trendily dressed character of American Horror Story: Coven, witches are the perfect place to nestle in tales of women finding their power in a patriarchal culture. Even fan-favourite witch Hermione Granger — though she went easy on the common tropes of witch-hood — has become a feminist icon for Harry Potter readers and watchers alike.

But why do witch narratives harbour feminism so well? That is, besides the obvious answer that it’s because witches are, usually, women. Perhaps, it’s because they demand that there is a place in the world for women. A place where they have power and control, and in most cases must fight against the patriarchy to find those things. Broadly points out that the occult is a ‘natural allegory for any sort of veiled existence.’ Finding a way to thrive when you’ve been taught to hide or diminish your existence is a common thread among both women and the supernatural, so portraying women on the fringe fighting for their place in society just pairs well with witch stories.

In addition to their patriarchy-bashing tendencies, our favourite trait of Sabrina and other witch stories is their propensity to resist fitting neatly into one genre — much like feminism propels women out of the roles they’ve been forced into for centuries. Watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has reminded all of us at Agora of our other favourite genre-bending, witchy icons: the Way sisters from our Witch Ways series. In Helen Slavin’s Crooked Daylight and Slow Poison, three sisters learn to embrace their ‘Strengths’ and what a life of magic means after losing their grandmother and a dark power threatening their village.

Both Sabrina and the Witch Ways series defy fitting neatly into the supernatural genre. They put the silly and the profound side by side. They merge the spooky and the mundane. They add a twinkle of fantasy to what are otherwise stories about everyday lives. At their core they’re witch stories, but they actually extend far beyond that. While witches and women are challenging the order of the world they live in, so too are the stories we consume about them.

When we were originally trying to sort out a category for the Witch Ways books, we had a hard time picking just one. But that initial frustration has turned into what we love most about them. Crooked Daylight and Slow Poison can be called much more than witch stories, and that’s why they’re fantastic.

This Halloween, thanks to a little nudge from our girl Sabrina, we’re feeling extra thankful for the witches who’ve pushed boundaries and become our feminist heroes. So once we’ve emerged from our Netflix binge, there’s no doubt we’ll have a wander back into Havoc Wood with the Way sisters, and we think you would enjoy doing so too.

As always, thank you for reading, and be sure to tweet us  @AgoraBooksLDN to tell us about your favourite witch stories and why you love them!