Witch images in Australian children's literature

Masters Thesis

Young, Penelope M.. 2001. Witch images in Australian children's literature. Masters Thesis Master of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.

Witch images in Australian children's literature

TypeMasters Thesis
AuthorYoung, Penelope M.
SupervisorBull, Geoff
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameMaster of Philosophy
Number of Pages198

In this dissertation it is argued that the European witch trials that took place between 1450 and 1700 have resulted in a legacy of stereotypical themes in Australian children's literature. Those accused of witchcraft were almost always women who were old, without protection, and physically ugly. They were accused of consorting with the devil, making harmful spells, flying through the night on a magic staff and exhibiting malevolent intent towards others. An analysis of this period forms the contextual framework for identifying themes that appear in contemporary Australian children's literature. A survey of twenty-three books, identified as stories about witches, was conducted to ascertain whether the stereotypical witch from the European witch-hunts continues to be characterised in Australian children's literature. The findings suggest that the witch figure in Australian children's literature mirrors the historical evidence from the European witch trials, but has evolved into a more powerful and proactive character than that identified in the historical literature. The characterisation of the witch in the books for older readers is powerful and evil, compared to the witch as a trivial and diminished figure in the books for younger readers. Gender is also a major influence in the characterisation of the witch, with all readers exposed to themes that may influence their expectations regarding the behaviour and role of women. The representation of the witch in the books reinforces the misogyny of the witchcraft era, and weaves patterns of meaning in the texts that construct undesirable female images. Readers of all ages can link these images to the social world beyond the text.

Keywordschildren, literature, education, witch, story, writing, fairy tale
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020470599. Literary studies not elsewhere classified
390406. Gender, sexuality and education
Byline AffiliationsFaculty of Education
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