This is a series of books about a girls boarding school that teaches magic. We follow the adventures of a trio of friends who are good hearted and kind. The lead character is an animal lover who gets into all sorts of scrapes but ends up alright in the end because of her good heart and good morals. She has an arch enemy who is scholastically perfect, but is selfish, mean and of flexible morals. The arch enemy loses in the end. There are kind teachers and strict scary ones. There are broomsticks and spells.
My book reviews will likely contain spoilers.
There is some discussion on the internet about how much the Harry Potter stories owes this series. I think the notion that Rowling “stole” from Murphy is way too strong.
The British have a love affair with stories about their public schools. Billy Bunter and Malory Towers were two that I read and loved. In this tight space of ideas, it is normal that when people write public school based books with magic added, in many ideas will overlap.
The tones of the two series are very different. Harry Potter (HP) is scary, dark and angsty. The Worst Witch (WW) is homely, funny and warm. WW weighs in at, perhaps, 50,000 words for the whole series of 7 books. Sometimes it feels that one chapter of HP goes on for 50,000 words.
There are however some interesting parallels. WW introduced the theme of bad witches/wizards planning to take over the school. This, like all themes, is taken to an extreme in HP, but you gotta wonder, why did Rowling have Voldemort fascinated with taking over the school?
In the latter WW Books the idea of apparating is introduced. Looking at the time lines of HP and WW I’d say this is an idea that appeared first in HP. Similarly, the idea of magic mixing with the real world, and there being prohibitions of doing magic in the presence of non-magic people appeared in the last WW book, which was published after the HP books.
In any case, the space of ideas is small enough that collisions will happen.
I will now say an odd thing. I’ve read both series of books to my 1st grader. She enjoyed both of them, though she had scary moments for HP. I however, enjoyed WW much more. I felt that the word count in HP was inflated, especially for the later books. There were places in WW where despite the more brief writing, I felt Murphy described some things much better. A big example is episodes where the lead character is changed physically, such as being made tiny, or turned into a different animal, or turned invisible.
8 broomsticks out of 10
Notes on technique
- Third person close is mostly used, and the author will on occasion change perspective and also go to omniscient. At the start of the first book the author spends enough time with a secondary character that my 6 year old, who has a fine nose for character and plot already, pointed out confusion about who the main character is.
- The author shows great skill in putting us inside alien minds. This is especially true in the later books where we see the world though Mildred as she flies, become invisible and turns into different animals. This reminds me of Roald Dahl’s “The Witches”.