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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

In an essay on witches in The New Yorker last month, Michelle Dean wrote:
We’ve always had a good witch to go with the bad, of course. Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (though it was South in the books) was no innovator there. She was just a modern ambassador for an ancient tradition of wise women and cunning folk, her powers submerged in yards of tulle and masked by a treacly voice. But as Alison Lurie once pointed out, just the word “witch,” applied to an allegedly good character, once held enough menace for [L. Frank] Baum to be forced to change it (Glinda is called a “sorceress”). Baum’s audience sensed a threat in there, the kind of thing feminists will tell you is really an instance of the fear of the uncontrollable wildness of the feminine. The good witch was not approachable, because even in her beneficence she had a certain unpredictability; hold her close, and she might cut you.
I agree that Glinda is a formidable character, though not unpredictable. And Lurie is a true Oz fan. But I think she read too much into Baum’s choice to change Glinda from a “Good Witch” to a “Good Sorceress.”

It’s true that once Baum reintroduced Glinda in The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904), he referred to her only as a “Sorceress,” no longer a “Witch.” However, in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (1908), the Wizard recalls Glinda as a “Good Witch,” and Ozma doesn’t correct him.

Furthermore, Baum continued to refer to the Good Witch of the North by that name in The Road to Oz (1909) and other books. Sky Island (1912) introduces an admirable character named Rosalie the Witch, who tells Trot, “I've always tried to be a good witch and to do my duty." For Glinda of Oz (published 1920) Baum created the Three Adepts of Magic, using a theosophical term; they “practiced only good witchcraft,” he wrote.

Baum’s clearest statement about “good witches” appears in his short story “The Witchcraft of Mary-Marie,” added to American Fairy Tales in 1908. A character tells the heroine: “You may find good people and bad people in the world; and so, I suppose, you may find good witches and bad witches.” Read the full conversation here.

Baum’s writings thus show that he never backed away from the concept of a “good witch.”

TOMORROW: So why did he make Glinda a sorceress?

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