Eva Ibbotson,
illustrated by Annabel Large,
Which Witch?
(Macmillan, 1979; Dutton, 1999)

Which Witch? is another original quirky fantasy from the author of The Secret of Platform 13.

Arriman the Awful was fortunate that his parents recognized early on that he was destined to be a great and evil wizard and raised him accordingly. Now he is the dreaded Wizard of the North, blighting and smiting for all he's worth. There a problem, though; he's bored and ready to go do something else.

The catch is that he has to wait for his successor to show up. So he waits, first patiently, then less patiently, then in exasperation, then despair. Finally, it seems that the only way for Arriman to have a successor is to produce one himself, by marrying a witch. The question that remains is which witch?

It should be a local witch, which immediately narrows his options to a less than appealing assortment. From the shrill and argumentative Shouter twins to forgetful old Mother Bloodwort to Madame Olympia, a particularly determined an unpleasant candidate, none of the witches seems quite right.

One contestant, Belladonna, enters even though she knows it's hopeless. No matter how evil she tries to be, she can't seem to produce anything except white magic. Then she meets an orphan named Terence and his pet worm, Rover, and suddenly, things begin to turn around for her. But there is a surprise in store for all of them, Terence included.

I am not certain whom this book will annoy more, modern-day witches or those who rail against books with witches in them in the conviction that they will cause children to trot out and cut up the neighbor's cat. The rest of us can just sit back and enjoy Ibbotson's tongue-in-cheek, arch humor as she spins her tale, highlighted by Large's black-and-white drawings. Ibbotson has a knack for juxtaposing the ludicrous with the fanciful, and she's not afraid to go for the gross-out when the situation calls for it, as Madame Olympia's ghoulish audition proves.

Yes, the witches are stereotypes, warts and all, but you get the feeling that Ibbotson is playing them up, and for the most part, they become sympathetic. How could anyone not have a soft spot for a witch who turns herself into a coffee table when flummoxed? Written a little over 20 years ago, Which Witch? has stood the test of time and is sure to please anyone who likes to read fantasy with a pinch of eye of newt.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 21 December 2001

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