Witching Perceptions

A Review of Helen Marshall’s “Secondhand Magic” in “Gifts for the One Who Comes After” (ChiZine Publications, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications
Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Childhood and the desire for magic are something that we have constructed as intertwined in our Disneyfied society, seeing magic as a manifestation of imagination which we relegate almost exclusively to the realm of children and a few eccentric artists. Yet, Marshall illustrates her ability to play with her reader’s perceptions in “Secondhand Magic”, a tale at first illustrating the vulnerability of youth and the threat of elderly single women… the traditional expected folkloric tale. Sayer, a child with a stutter who just wanted to perform magic steals a hat from an older neighbour’s snowman, and when she comes looking for him, she pulls the hat over him, consuming him and leaving the community in mourning. The tale constructs for us an easy view of vulnerability and exploitation, creating youth as a categorical innocence, a figure to be protected. Fortunately, Marshall shifts this expectation.

The typical caricature of the witch in this narrative is uncontrollably drawn to take the actions to remove Sayer from the world, yet the boy resists any of her attempts to return him. His desire for magic creates a predatory, vampiric quality in the boy, viewing witches as sustenance for his quest for otherworldly power. Marshall inverts the expected fairy tale narrative of youthful innocence threatened by the presence of independent femininity and instead reveals the threat of a child who imagines the possibility of their own power and is willing to feed on powerful women to sustain his perception that he is entitled to power and ability without those being tempered by wisdom and the slow acquisition of skills.

To read more about Helen Marshall’s work, visit her website at http://helen-marshall.com/

To find out more about Gifts for the One Who Comes After, visit ChiZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/books/gifts-for-the-one-who-comes-after

Derek Newman-Stille

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