I read Witch Child by Celia Rees because, apparently, I’m on some ultimate quest to relive The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Since I read the entire book comparing it to WOBP, it should only seem fitting that the comparison continue in this book review.
The year is 1659. Fourteen year old Mary Newbery is in danger. Her village had just tried, tortured, and hung her grandmother for witchcraft; it wouldn’t be long before they turn on Mary. With the help of a mysterious stranger, Mary flees England and boards a ship to the New World. She is given a diary and a quill. Mary records everything.
The chief passengers on board the ship are Puritan separatists lead by a fanatical pastor who fancies himself a prophet guiding his flock to a city on a hill. The ship is bound for Salem, Massachusetts—not exactly the ideal time and place for a young girl with an independent spirit to escape from witchcraft accusations.
The premise of Witch Child is similar to The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Once again you have a young girl journeying to the New World. She is different from her Puritan counterparts (she refuses to be part of the flock) and thus, incurs suspicions when times are hard and a scapegoat is necessary.
Witch Child, however, has a grittier feel to it than The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It’s historically dirtier, if such a description makes sense. Allow me to explain.
No one can accuse The Witch of Blackbird Pond of skimping on historical realism. I recall the mind-numbingly dull and strenuous domestic chores Puritans are subjected to. Visions of Kit Tyler carding wool, stirring that enormous caldron of lye to make candles for the winter months, boiling corn meal and serving them on wooden dishes, getting down on her hands and knees harvesting weeds and onions, come to mind. Every day the same tedious tasks and the same humble homespun calico dress; the only thing that varied in Kit’s young life were the aching blisters on her calloused hands.
The impression I got from WOBP: life was hard for a girl in Puritanical New England. Despite the message, I still got a warm feeling every time I read WOBP. Maybe it was the little details: Kit discovering Blackbird Pond and devouring Hannah Tupper’s homemade blueberry cake, popping corn by the fireplace in the Wood’s household, or simply sitting on the thatch roof with Nat Eaton during summertime. Of course, Kit Tyler worked her youth away and the winters of New England were so cold that the ice seeped into her bones, but wasn’t there always the promise of spring? And in spite of the little problem of the fuming mob and the witch craft trial, there was a part of me that wouldn’t mind living in Kit Tyler’s shoes. In other words, I wouldn’t mind living in Connecticut circa 1687, crazy as that may sound. Sure, times were hard, but at least Kit Tyler had Nat Eaton and a warm cottage to go to and a chance to discover inner strengths that she didn’t know existed. Maybe the appeal is an idyllic, back-to-nature setting to ‘find yourself’… Maybe it’s this same appeal that prompt people to apply for Survivor?
Witch Child delivered the same message as WOBP: life was hard. Italicize the “hard.” Triple underline it.
After reading Witch Child, I didn’t want to live in the 17th century anymore! I loved my daily showers, fresh change of clothes, scented shampoos, and above all, I love my toothbrush. I don’t want to ‘find myself’ in the past, I can find myself here.
Witch Child depicts a 17th century New England mired in muck. The inhabitants smell like unwashed bodies, vomit, waste; they are emaciated and poxed. Young men smile with discolored teeth and bleeding gums. Wolfs are hunted and their heads hammered to the side of the Meeting House as their blood dribble into the virgin snow. We’re definitely not in Blackbird Pond anymore…
Witch Child is a more “mature” version of WOBP. There’s more sexuality, more terror, more injustice, and the accusers seem slightly more wicked and hypocritical. I wouldn’t say Witch Child is either better or worst than WOBP; it deserves to stand on its own.
A note to anyone who has read this book: didn’t anybody think that there were a few scenes that were straight from or very similar to The Crucible? The courtroom scene for example… I’ll leave it at that for I won’t be guilty of spoilers.