March Book Madness! Day 11, Eva Ibbotson’s Which Witch (1979) 5/5

Not the cover I’m used to, but it will do.

Book Details

Children’s Fantasy

Arriman the Awful, feared Wizard of the North, has decided to marry. But his wife must be a witch of the darkest powers . . .

A sorcery competition is held to discover which witch is the most potent and fiendish, and glamorous Madame Olympia conjures up a thousand plague-bearing rats Belladonna, the white witch, desperately wants to be a wicked enchantress, but her magic produces flowers instead of snakes. How can she become more devilish than all the other witches? 

Goodreads Overview

Witty, Funny, and Altogether Charming

Which Witch is another one of my childhood favorites! While I was going through my Harry Potter phase (which I haven’t quite grown out of. 🙂 ), I needed other books to fill my time. My mother insisted. I might have read the first four Harry Potter books ten or more times each. I found Ibbotson’s quirky, witch romance when I was eleven or so, and I’ve loved it ever since! 

The Narrative

Ibbotson has a similar writing style to Diana Wynne Jones, but without as much sass. The whole premise of Which Witch is Arriman needs to marry to keep the balance of evil. But he doesn’t want to marry a witch. . . because they are ugly and have weird habits. His somewhat arrogant personality, mixed in with brilliant prose and sarcastic banter makes this book just as charming for adults as it does for children.

Ibbotson has a magical way of writing children’s stories. When I was young, Ibbotson’s quirky characters happily danced along every page of the book. The tone in this story feels somewhat like Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl, where horrible things happen but they’re brushed off with dry, British humor. 

The Characters

All the characters, except for Belladonna, are wonderfully strange and awful. Each witch has too much ambition for their own good and is ugly enough to make Arriman regret being talked into marrying anyone. Some of my favorite moments in the book were between Arriman and his butler Lester because Lester acts more like a lamentable teenager’s nanny than part of his staff.

I have nothing bad to say about any of the characters. They fit well within this delightfully, snarky Beauty Pageant esque love story. (Except the beauty contestants are ugly contestants.) I do like the good witch Belladonna and I’m glad she got her happy ending along with Terence.

Who is this book for?

Lovers of Roald Dahl’s many charming children’s books, Diana Wynne Jones’ book Howl’s Moving Castle, or Philip Ardagh‘s Eddie Dickens Trilogy will really enjoy this book’s delightfully disgusting witches and reluctant, whiney groom.

Favorite Quotes

Arriman could not see Belladonna, who was hidden behind a thorn tree, but he could see Mabel Wrack, whose sea slug had fallen over one eye, and Ethel Feedbag, a burnt jackdaw feather sticking to her chin. He cuold see Mother Bloodwort and he could see the Shouter twins, and when he’d seen them he turned and tried to scramble down the rock.

Belladonna: ‘Tell me, is he really . . . as marvelous as he looks?’

Mr. Leadbetter thought. Pictures came to mind. Arriman shrieking with rage when he lost his suspenders. Arriman filling the bath with electric eels and giggling. Arriman ordering twelve stinking emus for the zoo and leaving his secretary to unpack them . . .

Arriman was as happy as a lark. Whatever else happened, he wouldn’t have to marry the with with the Wellies. all through supper he laughed and joked until he went upstairs, heard the steady drip-drip of water, and found that the kraken had climbed onto his bed.

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