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Weird sisters and wild women: the changing depiction of witches in literature, from Shakespeare to science fiction

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dc.contributor.author Lawless, Anthony Niall Gwilym
dc.date.accessioned 2011-04-11T01:47:07Z
dc.date.accessioned 2022-10-26T01:09:26Z
dc.date.available 2011-04-11T01:47:07Z
dc.date.available 2022-10-26T01:09:26Z
dc.date.copyright 1999
dc.date.issued 1999
dc.identifier.uri https://ir.wgtn.ac.nz/handle/123456789/23875
dc.description.abstract This thesis is both a summation of the origin and nature of the character of the Witch as she appears in popular literature from the 17th to the 20th century, and an examination of how that character has evolved in the works of recent science-fiction and fantasy authors. The first part of the thesis examines what are generally considered the two major sources of the modern popular tradition of the Witch - the Weird Sisters of Shakespeare's Macbeth, and the witches of popular fairytales. The Weird Sisters are examined in the first chapter, and analysed as a negotiation or compromise between several different traditions of the Witch, especially popular rural traditions and elite "demonological traditions". It is argued that their compromise nature leads to a radical indeterminacy in the Weird Sisters, an ambiguity which makes them especially powerful characters - they therefore become universal antagonists, composed of the hostilities and anxieties of all parts of society. The chapter on the witches in fairytales continues this analysis of the Witch as a compromise construction - here, Witches are examined as mediations between the popular rural folk tradition and the pedagogical project of the 19th century collectors/editors of folktale. Thus, the Witch as universal antagonist becomes a nursery antagonist as well - becoming the embodiment of both the teller's resentment of women who do not keep accustomed place in society, and the child's resentment of the punishing mother. She is a generalised Outsider figure, a combination of all conceptions of the "bad woman", who can be punished and scapegoated without sanction. The second part of the thesis examines how the Witch has been reclaimed in modern speculative fiction. The third chapter, examining the Lancre Witches in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, reinterprets the popular strands of the literary tradition by depicting Witches who are accepted by though separate from their rural society, who combat all forms of tyranny over human freedom, and whose true power comes from complete self-assurance and self-control. Pratchett thus reinvents the popular Witch tradition to portray the Witch as an individualist hero free from society and yet necessary to it. The final chapter emphasises this reading in examining several science-fiction and fantasy novels which are based on the neo-Pagan conception of Witchcraft. The role of this new kind of Witch as "necessary outsider" and individualist hero is re-emphasised - we see how the Witches of these novels use the neo-Pagan conception of "magical training" as a means to strengthen the personality and thus their personal independence, and how their struggles in the novels are against all those who wish to circumscribe the freedom of the communities in which they live. Overall, then, it will be argued that the Witch tradition as it has evolved since Macbeth is of individualist outsiders antagonistic to the community; and that, in line with the general preference of speculative fiction for individualism, modern writers are positively reinventing the Witch as the individualistic outsider necessary, and helpful, to the community. en_NZ
dc.format pdf en_NZ
dc.language en_NZ
dc.language.iso en_NZ
dc.publisher Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington en_NZ
dc.title Weird sisters and wild women: the changing depiction of witches in literature, from Shakespeare to science fiction en_NZ
dc.type Text en_NZ
vuwschema.type.vuw Awarded Research Masters Thesis en_NZ
thesis.degree.grantor Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington en_NZ
thesis.degree.level Masters en_NZ

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