Zombies, Move Aside: The Witches Have Arrived

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Entertainment that revolves around the supernatural moves in trends like anything else. The success of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight franchise renewed interest in vampires. These contemporary vampires were assigned humanistic tendencies that made them more sexually appealing than terrifying. The television and publishing industries both took note of the vampire craze – presenting us with shows like True Blood and Vampire Diaries, filling bookstore shelves with young adult series books about teen vampires.

When that trend grew stale, zombies stole the spotlight. Though zombie films have been around for decades (as had vampire films), a new breed of zombie tale emerged. The character-driven AMC show The Walking Dead (based on the graphic novels of Robert Kirkman) is a landmark show for a number of reasons. High ratings, the level of gore they have been permitted to show on network cable, and the balance between survival and human interconnectedness – those are only some of the praiseworthy aspects that make it a show worth viewing. There have been countless zombie films – including ones with outlandish twists like Zombieland and Warm Bodies – that add humor to the horror genre. Again, there have been many young adult and adult fiction titles that present post-apocalyptic wastelands ridden with zombies or dystopias where most people are wiped out by some sort of virus.

Then, for a moment, it seemed werewolves might be next up for some public love. But lycans never really generated enough interest to start a sort of ‘movement.’ It seems that witches have become the new star in the world of entertainment.

One of the surest signs that witch madness has arrived is FX’s hit series American Horror Story: Coven.  The show that uniquely features many of the same cast members every season with a new story arc is set in New Orleans this time. Characters are mainly witches of different ages – including the infamous Marie Laveau, a notorious practitioner of Voodooism. Jessica Lange plays Fiona, the Supreme witch in a coven/school that helps young witches protect themselves. Her coven traces back to the time of the Salem Witch Trials, while Laveau (played by Angela Bassett) the Voodoo Queen is in constant rivalry with them. In classic American Horror Story style, its third season shifts between two time frames – modern day and the 1830s. Even though it’s a female-driven theme this season, fan favorite Evan Peters is still woven into the story in a curious way that would be a spoiler to reveal.

American Horror Story: Coven with its trademark complexities and allegories is fun to watch: it repackages what we know about witches in a way that is refreshingly inventive. There is something beguiling about a powerful witch that uses her sexuality as trickery. A recent article on Huffington Post’s site argued that witches have made their mark as the next go-to characters because they can be sexy; zombies are never ever sexy.

The network Lifetime jumped on the broomstick bandwagon by adapting Melissa de la Cruz’s popular young adult series the Beauchamp Family into a TV series show entitled The Witches of East End. Premiering in October 2013, the show features a family of witches on Long Island who are threatened by dark forces. Like American Horror Story: Coven, there are references to the Salem Witch Trials and one of the lead characters has the ability to bring the dead back to life. In addition, the plot features components of Norse mythology.

In addition, WGN America is slated to debut an hour-long series in the spring of 2014 called Salem about the Salem Witch Trials. Though it was never historically proven that witchcraft was a reality during the real 17th-century trials, the show’s witches will be the real deal with supernatural powers. This show will be the first scripted series for the network and features Shane West in the lead role.

Witches have begun to appear increasingly more in recent young adult fiction. Arguably the biggest contribution to sorcery-based fiction has been the Harry Potter series. There is a surge of upcoming paranormal titles that revolve around young witches. Just browsing Amazon’s selection of new Teen/Young Adult books under the search term ‘witches’ or ‘witchcraft’ generates a list of witchcraft trilogies, historical fiction rooted in magic, and new non-fiction Wicca books geared toward the younger crowd.

Reminiscent of the Sookie Stackhouse series, The Line (book one in the Witching Savannah series) by J.D. Horne is about a witching family residing in the South. Mercy Taylor, the youngest child of the family, is the only one born lacking the gift of magic. Another highlight is Sally Green’s upcoming Half Bad trilogy, about a boy in modern-day England who is both types of witches: good and bad. Because of this duality within him and the fact that his father is such a powerful and cruel Black Witch, he is hunted from all sides.

Michelle Zink’s novel, This Wicked Game, puts a slight twist on the witchcraft tale. The protagonist, Claire Kincaid, comes from a family that has been involved in the voodoo business for fifty years. They also belong to a secret voodoo society called the International Guild of High Priests and Priestesses. Claire hides a big secret from her family – she doesn’t believe in any of that voodoo nonsense and cannot wait to move far away from New Orleans.

The trend extends even further, as it has crept into the fashion world. Since the film adaptation of Beautiful Creatures, mainstream and alternative designers alike have incorporated the visuals of a mystically spellbinding woman into darker wardrobes. Jessica Rayne, a South African designer with a penchant for vampy designs told the New York Times earlier this year that, “the witch is a strong character, encompassing what it is to be a woman: powerful and sometimes terrifying.”

It seems that witch-centric entertainment provides both escapism and empowerment. It’s fun to envision possessing magical abilities. Characters that utilize their power to bring evil unto the world serve as a fantastical yet cautionary tale. So dive into a book series, dive into a fictionalized coven, or stay tuned for the next book-to-film adaptation. And if you aren’t ready to give up on zombies just yet, that’s fine too!

This article was originally published in Issue 43.