Originally, after finishing The Wee Free Men, my plan was to start Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber and begin to sift through more scholarly materials. However, by chance I happened across the available issues of Harrow County by Cullen Bunn. The rest of this post contains my thoughts on both The Wee Free Men and Harrow County. Since I’m a bit unsure of Harrow County, I want to re-read Wytches before returning to my previous plan.
The Wee Free Men:
I have a deep seated fondness for all of Terry Pratchett’s works (in case that had not been made abundantly clear already). The Discworld is a unparalleled creation, a unique version of our own world as seen through some glasses tinted most definitely not rose-colored. Pratchett’s ability to lambast the problems of our society through humor is refreshing and scary. His stories always stand on their own but are made more because of the truth underneath them.
Gushing aside, I stick to my original assessment of The Wee Free Men, which is that I believe only the first three chapters to be useful when considering this course. I think this is actually a gentle introduction to the Discworld and Pratchett’s thoughts without overwhelming the students. While this book does take place late in the Discworld timeline, it is not a continuation of the adult Discworld novels even though it contains some of those characters. The Wee Free Men is the first book in a YA series about Miss Tiffany Aching, who learns a lot about people, perceptions, and personal strength during her journey to become a fully fledged witch.
Within the first three chapters, the book discusses how people think as a society, how level of education and knowledge of the outside world changes perception, stereotypes concerning witches, how fear and anger breed trouble, and what it perhaps mean to actually be a witch. It is not that the rest of this book does not continue the themes introduced in the first few chapters, but rather that I do not feel it necessary to have the students read the entire book. Everything needed to inspire discussion and make a contribution to the core course material is in the first few chapters.
Harrow County is a graphic novel written by Cullen Bunn which Dark Horse Comics began publishing in 2015. The story revolves around the Harrow and how the townspeople are dealing with the aftermath of killing a witch, Hester Beck. It is possible that Hester has been reincarnated as Emmy, an eighteen year old girl who does not want her supposed birthright.
The story and art are fantastic in my opinion; they are touching, though-provoking, and there are things that will make readers uncomfortable. Bunn very clearly draws on older, more rural versions of witches. He incorporates child stealing, the raising of monsters, consorting with demons, hedge witches, bogeymen, necromancers and the like. The magic in Harrow County reminds me of the October People in Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. Even without the art to give them life, those with abilities feel like dry leaves and soil older than my great-grandfather. However, Cullen mixes this with a desire to change. Emmy does not want to be the reincarnation of Hester Beck. Since she cannot deny her powers, she decides to be something different from Hester. Emmy begins to heal the wrongs of Hester and bargains with the “haints” as they are called to restore order to Harrow. There are elements of balance in this story and also the idea that while somethings are not necessarily evil but simply are, there is also the possibility for humans and haints to coexist.
Harrow County is a wonderful story that incorporates a lot of lore and trait ion concerning witches. I loved reading the graphic novel and I think it could have a place in the curriculum. However, I do not want to overload the students and the jury is still out on Wytches, a graphic novel by Scott Snyder released the same year as Harrow County. From what I remember of Wytches, it is more frightening that Harrow County. Wytches are a dark evil that lives in the trees and witches are their human servants. I originally wanted to sue it because Synder himself said he wanted to take witches back to being something dark and terrifying. He wanted to tell a story where witches were things that went bump in the night, but he wanted to do it in a way that was new. This could either work really well for the class or it may not. I won’t know until I re-read it.