The Alchemy of Authenticity - Uncharted

The Alchemy of Authenticity

By Jessica Evans

Have you ever read a witch story and felt torn between wanting a classic “good versus evil” plot and craving something totally different? You’re not alone. Writing about witches is tricky business. On the one hand, we love the tried-and-true story arcs, those classic patterns we’ve seen since the days of Shakespeare or even Greek tragedies. On the other hand, witches are anything but ordinary. They deserve stories as unique as they are. So, how do we blend the old with the new? That’s the million-dollar question.

A Tale of Two Journeys

Imagine reading a witch’s story as driving down a two-lane road. One lane is her personal journey—maybe she’s grappling with love, identity, or self-acceptance. The other lane? That’s her magical journey, where she’s learning to harness her powers, be it casting spells or concocting potions. Both lanes should run parallel, and sometimes, they even merge into one transformative experience.

Let’s look at the protagonist, Elloren, in Laurie Forest’s The Black Witch. Elloren is raised to believe she should aspire to become the next Black Witch like her grandmother, a powerful mage with significant influence. However, as she goes to a university and meets people from different races and backgrounds, she begins to question her upbringing and the prejudices she has unconsciously harbored. The magic in the story isn’t just about Elloren’s growing power but also about her personal growth, unlearning the bigotry she was raised with and forming her ethical stance.

Now, consider another example from modern witch lit: the story of Nadya in Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan. Nadya is a cleric who can communicate with gods, granting her magical abilities. Simultaneously, she’s embroiled in a rebellion and forms complex relationships with other characters, including a prince and a rebel leader. Her magical journey isn’t just about mastering spells. It’s also about the ethical implications of using divine power in a war. As she grows in her abilities, she also confronts complex emotions like love, trust, and betrayal. The two journeys—personal and magical—are interwoven, each enriching the other and making for a far more captivating narrative.

These modern examples reveal how the best witch lit stories harmonize the personal and the magical. They allow us to see the witch as a fully realized character whose choices in magic are as essential and revealing as her choices in life. This rich duality provides fertile ground for storytelling, making witch lit not just a thrilling but also an emotionally resonant genre.

The Witch as a Hero

If you’ve dabbled in classic literature or folklore, you’ll know that witches often get the short end of the stick. They’re usually cast as villains, wicked characters to be defeated by the noble hero. But let’s look at how modern literature is breaking those molds and giving witches the spotlight they deserve.

One excellent example is Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic. Here, the Owens sisters are the main characters who use their inherited witchcraft to navigate life’s complexities, from love to family curses. In these narratives, witches aren’t regaled to the background, lurking in the shadows. They’re front and center, guiding their own destinies.

Then there’s The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, where the protagonist, Paige Mahoney, is a clairvoyant in a world where simply having such abilities is a crime. She’s hardly a villain, just a young woman fighting against an oppressive regime. Her journey is not just about survival but also about harnessing her powers to fight back and change the world around her.

Another standout is Uprooted by Naomi Novik. The heroine, Agnieszka, is not your typical witch but becomes one out of necessity. She’s not evil but is the essential hero of the tale. She uses her newfound magical abilities to protect her village from a corrupting influence known as the “Wood.”

These books show the witch can be more than a foil or antagonist; in fact, she can be the hero, too. She’s not waiting for someone else to write her destiny. She’s grabbing her proverbial quill and writing it herself. In doing so, modern witch lit both entertains us and helps us reshape old -old narratives, empowering its characters in a way that feels both groundbreaking and utterly refreshing.

Witches and Feminism

It’s a subject so rich and layered that it could fill its own essay: the alignment of feminism with the modern witch narrative. Most witches in literature are women, but they’re not waiting to be saved. Instead, they’re the ones doing the saving or, at least, steering their own fates. They’re strong, independent, and not afraid to defy societal norms. In turn, they become statements about what it means to be a woman with agency.

For instance, consider Circe by Madeline Miller, published in 2018. In this reimagining of the classic Greek myth, Circe is the protagonist rather than a supporting character. She turns from a neglected nymph into a powerful witch, ultimately choosing her path rather than letting gods or men dictate her destiny. The story isn’t just about her magical abilities and emotional and intellectual growth, making her a multifaceted character who defies patriarchal norms.

Another example from 2020 is The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson. The protagonist, Immanuelle Moore, lives in a puritanical society that condemns witchcraft. However, she finds herself drawn to the forbidden Darkwood and the witches that dwell there. Immanuelle is both challenging the religious orthodoxy and questioning the foundations of her society’s treatment of women. Her journey involves not just magical confrontations but also a struggle for social justice.

Both of these books serve as modern examples of how witch lit aligns with feminist ideals. The witches in these stories are powerful in how they challenge and redefine traditional gender roles. They’re not just reacting to a man’s world. They’re actively shaping their own.

In this era of #MeToo and ongoing conversations about gender equality, witch lit serves as a magical mirror reflecting broader cultural dialogues. The topic is so significant that it deserves its own comprehensive exploration in essay form.

Crafting Transformational Witch Lit

Writing witch lit is a high-wire act of literary craftsmanship. As a writer, you’re spinning a yarn and performing magical alchemy by transmuting words into a living, breathing world. The challenge lies in striking the perfect balance between several competing elements, each vying for attention:

the traditional story arc with its rise and fall

the ethical dilemmas that lend complexity to the characters

the undercurrents of feminism that redefine agency and empowerment

In this sense, every sentence you write in witch lit is a magical incantation of its own, with the power to either sustain the narrative spell or break it. Each chapter becomes an ethical and emotional touchstone, where characters confront choices that will either deepen their complexity or render them mere caricatures. Running through it all is the subtle thread of feminist empowerment, a constant reminder that the witches you’re crafting are not just magical beings but agents of their own destiny.

As a reader, this balance is palpable. You feel it when a character’s magical development mirrors her emotional growth or when her ethical choices add layers of complexity to a seemingly straightforward spell. The story is both an escape and a transformative experience, challenging you to confront your own preconceptions about morality, agency, and the very nature of power.

This is the ultimate magic of well-crafted witch lit. It’s not just about wands, spells, or flying broomsticks. It’s about the more subtle yet profound magic of transformation—that uncanny ability to change not just the characters within the story but also the person absorbing the words on the page.

Action List for Crafting Authentic Witch Lit

Parallel Story Arcs: Work on creating two interlinked arcs for your protagonist: a personal journey (e.g., self-acceptance, love) and a magical one (e.g., mastering spells). Reference modern works like Wicked Saints to see how these arcs can enrich each other.

Heroic Witches: Make a conscious effort to place your witch character as the story’s hero, breaking away from traditional literature that often casts them as villains. Take cues from novels like Practical Magic and The Bone Season, where witches lead the narrative.

Ethical Complexity: Introduce ethical dilemmas related to magic, adding layers to your story. Think about how your witch character grapples with the moral implications of her powers, similar to Nadya in Wicked Saints.

Feminist Undertones: Imbue your story with feminist themes that align with the nature of modern witch narratives. Use works like Circe and The Year of the Witching as models for crafting witches who challenge traditional gender roles.

Transformative Writing: Consider each sentence you write as a “magical incantation” that can make or break the narrative spell. Aim for each chapter to be an emotional and ethical touchpoint that adds complexity to your characters.

Reader Transformation: As you revise, remember the transformative impact you want the story to have on the reader. Your goal is not just to entertain but to challenge the reader’s preconceptions about morality, agency, and power.

Cultural Relevance: Given the contemporary importance of discussions around gender equality and social justice, think about how your story can reflect or contribute to these broader cultural dialogues.

Cast Your Own Spell

In the entrancing realm of witch lit, every word you pen is a brushstroke on a rich tapestry that weaves together the mystical and the mundane, the traditional and the transformative. As writers, we are gifted with the unique power to create worlds and characters that not only entertain but provoke thought, challenge norms, and, in the best of cases, awaken something profoundly transformative in the reader.

Yet, like any form of magic, this power comes with its responsibilities and complexities. We must be both the composer and the conductor, crafting individual notes of character, plot, and theme while ensuring that the final symphony resonates with the intricate harmonies of authenticity, ethical depth, and cultural relevance. It’s a daunting task, to say the least, but one that offers unparalleled rewards.

To readers eagerly turning the pages of the next great witch tale, know that you’re not merely spectators. You’re active participants in a magical ritual that transcends ink and paper. The story can change you, challenge your beliefs, question your moral compass, and even reframe your understanding of agency and power. And isn’t that the most potent magic of all?

So, whether you’re a writer looking to craft a narrative that captures the multifaceted richness of witchhood or a reader seeking stories that offer more than mere escapism, remember this: The true magic of witch lit lies in its transformative power—its uncanny ability to alter not just the fates of its fictional characters, but the hearts and minds of those who engage with them.

Armed with this essay and action list, let your own magical journey begin.