A week to go to Witch Week

One week from today, Lizzie Ross and I will be hosting Witch Week, a celebration of fantasy fiction and feminism. If you haven’t already, do look back at my announcement post or at Lizzie’s post here. Then come back here and/or to Lizzie’s blog on October 30 for a preview, a schedule, a readalong and more before the fun really starts on Halloween, continuing until Bonfire Night on November 5th, followed by a wrap-up post. Do join us!

Incidentally, the Witch Week 2018 logo features a detail from The Little Foot Page (1905), a painting by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. This shows Burd Helen, a tragic Scottish heroine who dressed as a page boy to follow her cruel lover barefoot while he rode on horseback. The painting shows her dressing as a boy and cutting her long hair. (After this painting was exhibited we’re told that female art students started cutting their hair in page boy style, possibly inspired by this image.)

An old Scottish ballad in Francis James Child’s 19th-century collection gives a flavour of her awful treatment by the lover who’d made her pregnant.

‘And ever I pray you, Child Waters,
Your foot page let me be!’

‘If you will my foot page be, Ellen,
As you do tell it me,
Then you must cut your gown of green
An inch above your knee.

‘So must you do your yellow locks,
Another inch above your eye;
You must tell no man what is my name;
My foot page then you shall be.’

All this long day Child Waters rode,
She ran barefoot by his side;
Yet was he never so courteous a knight
To say, Ellen, will you ride?

But all this day Child Waters rode,
She ran barefoot through the broom;
Yet he was never so courteous a knight
As to say, Put on your shoon.

When feminism combines with fantasy, female characters are more likely to ride, and to wear shoes — as we’ll learn during Witch Week. Past conventions required women to sacrifice quite a bit — the fates of Tess of the D’Urbervilles and other heroines — exactly what Le Guin was fighting against in her re-visioning of Earthsea and as we hope to explore further!

9 thoughts on “A week to go to Witch Week

  1. Pingback: A week to go to Witch Week — Calmgrove – Earth Balm Creative

  2. earthbalm

    Great post. I love the Child ballads and perform a couple. Perhaps I should add a few more to my repertoire? Currently reading the Alan Garner British folk tale collection which sits beautifully (as cousin) beside these ballads.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Which ballads do you perform? I still have the odd few from 60s folk revival bands rattling around in the dim recesses of my memory and dig out their LPs from time to time.

      Haven’t seen the Garner collection but I have a few others, from late Victorian compilations to late 20th-century selections. Must look them out again.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I came across Burd Ellen recently via a Pre-Raphaelite site. I admired Ellen for her perseverance in doing her best for her child, but goodness, what awful treatment she receives from her lover!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, a dreadful example of a man’s inhumanity to a woman and a dreadful riff on the Patient Griselda theme, which (as I’m sure you know, Lynden) underlined women’s abject subjugation whatever injustices were heaped on them. That such attitudes persist today is nothing short of criminal and not a little soul-destroying. 😦

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It certainly is. I feel parents have a very important role to play in passing on good attitudes to the opposite sex. My mother-in-law is a force to be reckoned with, and my husband grew up respecting women – not afraid at all, but respectful. And our children, while not perfect, are showing signs of a healthy attitude to the opposite sex. (It might not be as prevalent, but sweeping disrespect is sometimes shown by women to men as well.)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I tried to be a good role model to my son and particularly my grandsons, to show them how ‘real men’ treat not just each other but particularly the respect women are due. We never know what parts of our behaviour are remembered that will impact on future generations’ own behaviour but one hopes for the best.

          Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: Which week Witch Week? | Lizzie Ross

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