The element of witchcraft in movies
Witchcraft has always been a fascinating subject in the literature and movies. Writers and filmmakers alike capitalize on humanity’s seemingly natural curiosity about the unknown and the supernatural. More than its element of the supernatural, however, witchcraft signifies power – the ability to do things that no ordinary mortal can do, the power to do what is not human – and this element is what attracts people the most. However, witchcraft is a multidimensional subject matter, to say the least. For many, witchcraft involves worship of the devil or something that is unnatural and which only brings harm to other people. For some, it is neutral, there are good witches and bad witches – it is the person’s character that determines whether or not practice of witchcraft is good or evil. In this paper, this multidimensionality of witchcraft as a subject matter or theme, particularly in literature and movies, and the people’s attitude towards it will be discussed. The discussion will, therefore, be limited to three literary pieces that have been translated into movies: Sleepy Hollow, The Crucible, and Harry Potter.
First, Sleepy Hollow, starring Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane, is a movie adaptation of Washington Irving’s short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In the short story, Irving was able to masterfully paint a picture of a ghost town with a vivid description of the setting of his story. The feel of witchcraft was pervasive in the mood and setting of the story and the people treated witchcraft as a component of the place of Sleepy Hollow itself. In the movie Sleepy Hollow, however, witchcraft took more of an active part than in the short story. Aside from the eerie, gothic setting presented by director Tim Burton, the characters themselves engaged in witchcraft: Katrina Van Tassel, who tries through symbols and incantations to protect the townsfolk and Ichabod Crane from the magic of Lady Van Tassel, who controls the Hessian Headless Horseman, in her pursuit for revenge against the richest patriarchs in Sleepy Hollow.
In this movie, witchcraft was viewed as something to be feared of – most especially because of the spooky figure of the Headless Horseman. When Katrina Van Tassel was discovered to have been practicing witchcraft, Ichabod Crane, who considers himself a rational human being, suddenly distances himself away from the young lass and concludes that she is the one controlling the Headless Horseman and responsible for the deaths all over the town. In the end, however, when it is finally revealed that the culprit all along is Lady Van Tassel, the multidimensionality of witchcraft surfaces – Katrina representing good and Lady Van Tassel representing evil.
Another critical work is The Crucible by Nathaniel Hawthorne that was translated into a movie with the same title with Daniel Day Lewis and Winona Ryder as the central figures. In the movie, witchcraft is being identified as an evil, as a work of the devil. The movie illustrates the attitude of people and history against it, more than anything else. It does not elevate the supernatural character of witchcraft. No magic in the true sense is really performed by the characters. Interestingly, the notion that witchcraft itself is evil becomes the source of power, not witchcraft itself. Those who believe that witchcraft and those accused of practicing it are evil are the power wielders – they condemn maidens accused of being witches to death by burning them at stakes.
In the widely popular Harry Potter books and movies, however, the parallel structure of the magical world to the “muggle” (non-magical) world makes the main character’s own sense of ordinary and extraordinary (Nezol 2). In the “muggle” world, Harry Potter is a nobody. He lives in the attic of his uncle’s house whose family fears and hates the practice of magic. Little does Harry know that he is a celebrity in the magical world – even before he sets foot in it. While his uncle despises the thought of Harry practicing magic, the magical world even nurtures his powers and trains him.
At the start, the extraordinariness of the magical world is highlighted as Harry encounters the most interesting characters he has ever met and the fact that everything in the magical world is, well, magical. As the story progresses, however, it becomes obvious that magic is a neutral element – it can be used for good or evil. The central theme becomes the battle of the good witches versus the bad witches as Harry Potter and his friends and mentors rally against the cohorts of Lord Voldemort.
As discussed above, the multidimensionality of witchcraft as illustrated in movies takes on many interesting turns. In Sleepy Hollow, witchcraft is something that people fear. They regard it with utmost trepidation, something that one needs to avoid if need be. There is also shown the aspect of the good-evil duality to it. In The Crucible, people fear witchcraft so much that they despise the idea of it. In Harry Potter, the extraordinariness of magic is glorified, although the movie principally takes on the good witches versus bad witches theme.
All in all, it can be concluded that witchcraft as a theme in movies is one of the more interesting ones. Its multidimensionality allows it to touch upon human beings’ fascination not only with the idea of the supernatural, but also the aspect of humanity to it – that it can be molded into something good or evil.
Irving, Washington. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Rip Van Winkle & The Legend of Sleepy
Hollow. The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917. <http://www.bartleby.com/310/2/2.html>
Nezol, Tammy Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from About: Literature: Contemporary.
December 6, 2006 ;http://contemporarylit.about.com/od/fantasy/fr/harryPotter1.htm;