Archetype Sighting! The Reluctant Witch

I’ve been reading Deborah Harkness’s Discovery of Witches, in which Diana Bishop is another heroine who has rejected her witchcraft at the start of the book. (So far I am enjoying this novel. This is not a criticism of Harkness’s work.)

But I am struck by the number of paranormal and urban fantasy books featuring a heroine who has vowed or neglected her magic at the start, and must come to terms with her powers in order to “save the day” or to embrace who their true identities. What makes this trope repeatedly/simultaneously occur to contemporary authors? And why does it speak to readers again and again?

In the mid-twentieth century, the domestic and urban witch popped up in film in I Married a Witch (1942) and Bell Book and Candle (1958). These women gave up their magic for the sake of love, to live normal lives with their husbands. If witchcraft is a symbol of feminine power, female mystique, earth magic, and/or paganism, the timing pf these films makes sense.

Now, in the twenty-first century, women are reclaiming the magic and power they gave up in exchange for security, normality, and traditional family values. Perhaps what the writers are (subconsciously) saying, and what us readers second by devouring this trope, is that now is the time to reclaim our uncanny, potentially dangerous and disruptive power.

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