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The Witch of Blackbird PondReview - The Witch of Blackbird Pond
by Elizabeth George Speare
Listening Library, 2002
Review by Su Terry
Apr 30th 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 18)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare is a heart-warming love story for young adult set amidst the prejudice, hardship, and superstition of colonial Connecticut. I read this book as a teenager, let's just say that was more than 25 years ago, and it stands the test of time for being as enjoyable today as it was for me then.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare is set in 1687 in the settlement of Wethersfield in the Connecticut Colony. As the novel opens, 16-year-old Kit Tyler is getting her first glimpse of Connecticut. It is cold and barren and very unlike her lush tropical Barbados, but Kit had few options. She is an orphan since the death of her grandfather with her only living relative her mother's married sister, Rachel Wood whom Kit has never met. Kit's unheralded arrival at her aunt's home is not exactly welcomed. Her dour uncle Matthew Wood has been worn out by the hard work of farming in the harsh New England climate. Her once beautiful aunt Rachel has rapidly aged and is care worn. Her cousins, the haughty Judith and meek, physically challenged Mercy, are intrigued by the arrival of their strange and colorful cousin with seven trunks of fancy dresses. Matthew, however, makes it clear to Kit that her fine ways and fancy clothes are unbecoming in Wethersfield and she will have to learn to dress and work like the rest. Kit tries and the Woods suffer her attempts with a mix of frustrated hostility and tolerant acceptance. Meanwhile, romance is in the air. While Judith had set her cap for the wealthy William Ashby, his head quickly turned to Kit who is the most suitable match in Wethersfield for his elegant manners and breeding. Not to be undaunted, however, by the turn of events, Judith readjusted her cap for the quiet and scholarly seminary student, Tom Holbrook who arrived on the ship from Saybrook with Kit. Tom, however, finds himself attracted to the quieter and studious Mercy and she secretly to him, but Judith wants what she wants and Mercy convinced that she cannot compete with her vivacious sister refuses to voice her feelings for him. Kit, for her part, is hardly interested in William or his plans for building his fancy new home for his bride-to-be. Kit finds her escape in the meadows by the swamp and the aged Quaker, Widow Tupper. The widow, like Kit is an outcast and it is not long before the Widow introduces her to another social outcast Nat Eaton, the son of captain who piloted the vessel from Barbados. Kit reciprocates by introducing the Widow to Prudence, newly arrived and poorly cared for Kit befriended the child on shipboard. Unfortunately, times are hard and getting hard. Governor Andros is eager to void the Colony's charter – if he can get his hands on it, that is. (Note: this was a real historic event!) The Indians are attacking the northern settlements and in a surprising plot twist, Tom enlists to fight the Indians. As winter draws on, a strange disease devastates the children of the settlement and cries of witchcraft can be heard. Who will fall under the charge of witchcraft? What will happen to Tom? Who will finally marry and to whom?

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a wonderful blend of historic fact and romantic fiction. Speares, a born and raised New Englander, took great care in accurately using historic facts in her works. She makes sure that along with a dollop of romance and adventure the reader also gets a hearty helping of colonial history. Her portrayal of colonial life with all its predictable hardships (hard work, repression, prejudices, etc.) and the unpredictable disasters (Indian raids, bad weather, illness, etc.) and the resultant superstitions toward anyone or anything that is different is very accurate and telling. The novel does a good job to illustrate the diversity in education levels, political views and religious affiliations, and views about witchcraft.

Elizabeth George Speare (1908-1994) was born in Massachusetts. She was educated at Smith College and Boston University. She was trained as a high school English teacher. She moved to Connecticut when she married in 1936. "One day I stumbled on a true story from New England history with a character who seemed to me an ideal heroine. Though I had my first historical novel almost by accident it soon proved to be an absorbing hobby." Speare published Calico Captive, her first novel, in 1957. She won the 1959 Newbery Medal for The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and the 1962 Newbery Medal for The Bronze Bow. The Sign of the Beaver received a 1984 Newbery Honor Citation, the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and the Christopher Award. In 1989 she was presented with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for substantial and enduring contribution to children's literature.

"Mary Beth Hurt is an American actress. She was trained for the theater at New York University's School of the Arts. She then spent a year in London, where she performed with the Questers, a well-known amateur theater troupe. In 1972 she made her professional debut with the New York Shakespeare Festival, then went on to a very successful stage career on Broadway and elsewhere; she won two Obie awards (one for her work in the play Crimes of the Heart) and was nominated for a Tony for Trelawney of the Wells. Her theater work impressed filmmaker Woody Allen, who cast her in a supporting role in her screen debut, Interiors (1978), Allen's first non-comedy. Hurt has remained primarily a stage actress, appearing in films every two years or so. From 1972-82 she was married to actor William Hurt. She is now married to writer-director Paul Schrader, and co-starred in his film Light Sleeper (1992).

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare is a historic novel about young love, witchcraft, and coming-of-age in colonial Wethersfield. Mary Beth Hurt brings a wonderful sense of the Britishness of the early American colonies. It filled my heart with longing at some of her evocative descriptions of warm cloaks, crackling fireplaces, and the smell of candle making. It is a harsh warning about the devastation played by prejudice and superstition that is as current today as it was in 1687. This book won a Newbery Medal Book, An ALA Notable Children's Book, A Child Study Children's Book Committee: Children's Book of the Year, and the New York Public Library--Books for the Teen Age. This book is rated "Ages 9 and older". I highly recommend it.

 

© 2003 Su Terry


Su Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental Health: She is interested in the interplay between psychology, biology, and mysticism. Her current area of research is in the impact of hormonal fluctuation in female Christian mystics.


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