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Girls Are Wicked: Gender and Magic

By Evelien Bracke

How would you react if you walked into the classroom one day to find your new teacher was Professor Dumbledore, Gandalf the Grey, or Merlin the Wizard? Would you fear their magical powers? Would you worry they might turn you into a newt if you failed a test? Of course not. You would know that their powers, though vast, are benign and that they actually helped their pupils – Harry, Frodo, and Arthur – find their way in the world. Ancient Greeks and Romans also told tales of famous wizards, but these men were known for more than their magical powers.

[Snip] …but let’s turn our attention to witches. You might like to have Harry Potter’s Professor McGonagall as your teacher, but can you think of many more good witches? A quick glance at ancient and modern fairytales reveals an abundance of old and usually ugly hags with a fondness of poisoned apples (Snow White), red shoes (Wizard of Oz), Turkish delights (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), and happy-ever-after potions (Shrek). These witches are entirely evil: they usually pose a danger to girls or heroes trying to find their path through life, and have to be overcome in order for the girl or hero to achieve their goal. In Greek and Roman literature, we find lots of similar figures. Women from the Greek region of Thessaly, for example, were known for their ability to bring down the moon from the sky.

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(H/T History of the Ancient World)

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