Tuesday, August 9, 2022

"Wizards and Witches" by Frances Wilkins and Fritz Wegner

Wizards and Witches, published in the United Kingdom in 1965, was part of The Signpost Library (also known as The Byways Library). This was an educational series from publisher Oliver & Boyd of 64-page hardcovers aimed at younger readers. The back cover of the dust jacket lists the first 13 titles, which included Pirates and Highwaymen, Tools and Machines, Costume Through the Ages, Bridges, Cathedrals and Churches and, most disturbingly, Clowns Through the AgesAn internet search shows that later titles includes Folk Costume of Western Europe, Folk Costume of Southern Europe and Ballet and The Dance.

This is not a book about folklore, necessarily, but more of a clear-eyed look at the purported practice of magic throughout the age; and the sad, and very real, consequences for many of those accused of "witchcraft." Chapters cover the cunning folk; Roger Bacon and other alchemists; Joan of Arc; witchcraft in the time of Henry VIII; the book Daemonologie by King James VI of Scotland (later the King James I of England who brought us the most famous translation of the Bible); and the Salem witch trials. There's an unfortunate chapter toward the end, written from a colonialist perspective and embedded with racism, that briefly discusses witch doctors and is titled "Jungle Magic."

Author Wilkins covered many topics during her writing career, which appears to have continued until at least 2003. She wrote about Morocco, smuggling (in multiple books), Uzbekistan, the Tudor era, caves, Thailand and the slavery trade.

Illustrator Fritz Wegner (1924-2015) had a long and successful career after, according to his obituary in The Guardian, a harrowing episode as a young teenager: "Born in Vienna to secular Jewish parents, Michael and Eti, he had a secure childhood, but it was abruptly ended by the Anschluss of 1938. After drawing a cartoon of Hitler and enraging his pro-Nazi teacher, he understood the danger he was in, and his parents organised his departure, alone, by train to London."

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