The Witch Trials of the 1600s
During the late 1600s, there was a very popular theory going around that witches were living among the common folk. Many books were written, biographies were published and stories were told about the infamous witches of Salem, Massachusetts and other places along the east coast. Two of these books are The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, and Witch Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Hunt, by Marc Aronson. In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Barbados native Kit Tyler goes on a journey across the pond to live with her Aunt Rachel Wood. After being orphaned at a young age and then losing her grandfather, Rachel is the only living relative left of Kit’s. Kit arrives in Connecticut hoping to pursue finding her family, but she is unaware of the life that she has gotten herself into. Kit walks off of the sailboat that she journeyed in to America and walks straight into the Witch Trials. Things that would have been considered normal in Kit’s home in the West Indies are associated with witchcraft in Wethersfield. For example, she jumps off of the boat to retrieve a toy that a child had lost, which earns her appalled stares and much judgement. The Witch of Blackbird Pond follows Kit Tyler throughout a year of her new life in America. She is not accepted very warmly in her new home, and is far too quickly involved in a witch trial scandal. The novel leaves off with Kit planning her “escape,” or her way back to her home of Barbados. The non-fiction novel, Witch Hunt, takes a different approach to the witch trials. Providing real-life facts and events, Marc Aronson tells numerous stories of the victims that were a part of the Salem Witch Trials. Pictures and various graphics are scattered throughout the novel to give the reader a different perspective on the issue. While both novels, Witch Hunt and The Witch of Blackbird Pond, revolve around the same subject, the reader obtains a different perspective on the issue of the witch trials from each.
Witch Hunt and The Witch of Blackbird Pond both discuss the same topic, but each author presents information in a different way. Marc Aronson, author of Witch Hunt, presents the information in the format of true stories, as the novel is non-fiction. As opposed to the novel just telling a story, it is structured into collections of short stories. The stories are accompanied by graphics; small images with short captions are included next to and around the information that corresponds with the image. The author intends for the reader to feel emotionally in-touch with the victims mentioned in each story so that they, the readers, understand what the accused were going through. The format of the entire novel begins on the first page after the introduction, “‘The Queen of Hell.’ May 31, 1692. In a plain Salem meetinghouse, a woman stands before her judges,” (page 3). Aronson sets the time and setting before each story to give the reader a perspective as to when and where the events occurred. Elizabeth George Speare, author of The Witch of Blackbird Pond, structured her fiction novel in a very different manner. She presents her work in the form of a story. The novel has a defined beginning, middle and end with everything in between, including a climax. It is formatted in chapters, while Witch Hunt is divided into different categories as well as chapters, each chapter have several different sections. The climax of The Witch of Blackbird Pond occurs on page 177 when, “Five days after John Holbrook’s departure Judith fell ill.” This was the most important scene for the rest of the novel, as the town falls ill and Kit is to blame. This is but one example of the structural techniques used by Speare. Aronson uses no such techniques.
Although similar, the two novels do disagree in quite a few ways. The first being the portrayal and position of teenagers in each novel. In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, the primary suspect of witchcraft is Hannah Tupper, an older lady. After announcing that some thought Hannah to be a witch she explains, “She’s queer, that’s certain, and she never comes to Meeting. I’d just rather not get any closer” (page 77-78). Kit Tyler, a teen, does get involved in the whole witch ordeal, but she would not have been involved if she hadn't interacted with Hannah Tupper. In Witch Hunt, however, the teenagers were commonly accused yet also on the accusing side. Marc Aronson is demonstrating that while no one was safe from being accused, teenagers were commonly in the line-of-fire, so to speak. During Martha Carrier’s trial, “The girls [were] beginning to wail now, baring their wounds, holding out the very real pins that draw their blood, collapsing as if struck down by invisible rays blazing from Martha’s eyes” (page 5). Another area that the novels disagree on is the status of the accused. In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Kit Tyler is very wealthy and fairly upper-class, from Barbados in the West Indies. Regardless, she is still being accused alongside Hannah Tupper. When discovered with Hannah, the sailors that found Kit exclaim, “Kit! What kind of a game is this?” (page 191). In Witch Hunt, particularly the trial revolving around Martha Carrier, “the accused is a poor, unpopular woman from Andover, who had her first child before she was married” (page 4). This woman is Kit Tyler’s near opposite, and yet they were both similarly accused.
Reading both books drastically altered my view of the Salem Witch Trials and other witch accusations and trials. I had a basic understanding of the situation before reading the novels, but I was interested to learn more; I was interested to learn the truth. The Witch of Blackbird Pond was the novel that I read first, and it simply confirmed my beliefs about the matter. It was a bit more lighthearted, as it was fiction, and seemed to make the information at hand more appealing for the reader. When I picked up Witch Hunt, however, I learned a lot about the circumstances. The trials were more gory and extreme than I could have ever imagined. What was most surprising was the extent and lengths the accusers went to just to have a person deemed guilty of witchcraft. Teenage girls would actually, supposedly, hurt themselves in order to make it out that the “witches” did it. That is simply mind-boggling to me. Aronson wrote a really eye-opening book that allows the readers to understand what exactly went on at the witch trials. While The Witch of Blackbird Pond might have been a more enjoyable, fun read, Witch Hunt was very informative and helpful to read.