Aside from Halloween making it the official spookiest month of the year, October's dark, cold nights, slowly rolling in earlier and earlier each day also make it the perfect month for reading about witches and wizards and their magic arts. I'm sure a lot of people will be re-reading their favourite Harry Potter books this month but today I'm sharing a few of my favourite magical stories that don't take place inside the halls of Hogwarts, just in case you want to get your magic fix from someone other than The Boy Who Lived this year.
The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy
A classic children's book is always fun to revisit and I'm sure many people who grew up in the UK in the 90s will definitely be familiar with The Worst Witch. Mildred Hubble isn't a naturally gifted witch like another female wizarding school pupil I could mention, but if she was then she wouldn't have to face the mishaps that make her story so charming! Plus, I hear they're remaking the television show soon, so now is a perfect time to get reacquainted with Miss Cackle's Academy.
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
Gregory Maguire on the other hand offers a far more grown up version of a magic school in Wicked. I'm sure you're familiar with the musical based on the novel, and almost certainly with The Wizard of Oz, from which Maguire look his inspiration, but the novel itself tells an even darker story of the life of one of the most famous witches in literary history. True, there are no songs in the book, but if you're interested in political commentary of a world where animals can talk and The Emerald City is the centre of all then this is the novel for you.
The Witches by Roald Dahl
Another absolute classic of children's literature. Roald Dahl's witches are not clumsy school girls or ambitious young women, but scary, square footed, old witches who plan to do away with all children! We all know Roald Dahl never worried about frightening children with his stories and I have a friend who is still to this day pretty scared of Dahl's witches, so I feel okay in saying that between these pages might just be some of the scariest witches in children's literature.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Not witches or wizards, but Gentlemen Magicians, the title characters of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell emerge in England during King George III's reign with very different ideas of what a magician should be. Mr Norrell believes in a scholarly pursuit but his student, Jonathan Strange, thinks that practical magic is the surest way to help the British defeat Napoleon. Then there is the matter of a pact Norrell did not mean to make with a creature neither of the magicians can control. This is a long book at over 1000 pages but definitely a good one.
The Once & Future King by T.H. White
And last but not least, of course, the ultimate magician: Merlin. The twinkly eyed Merlin of T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone (The first, and arguably best, part of The Once & Future King), who teaches the young boy, Arthur, everything he will need to know to be king, long before he even learns that he is to be one, by transforming him into bird and fish and a whole host of other animals that they cut out of the Disney movie. There's a reason that Dumbledore and Merlin kind of resemble each other, you know? Ultimate wizards.
I'd love to hear your recommendations for books about witches, and wizards, and magicians, and any other word we can think of for 'magic-user' in the comments!