2-4 | Broomsticks Flying in Circles


Broomsticks Flying in Circles
Playing with Narrative in Eleanor Estes’s The Witch Family

Elizabeth Gargano


The author contends that reading some narratives of make-believe can become for many children the ultimate form of fantasy play, providing them with a sense of control absent in their real world. She employs terms from French structuralist critic Gérard Genette, from Austrian child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, and from English pediatrician D. W. Winnicott, to discuss Eleanor Estes's classic 1960s children's novel The Witch Family. The author shows how the embedded stories of the work engage its young readers in narrative games and offers them a complex picture of children at play, one they recognize and enjoy. She contends that young readers come not only to relish the structurally transgressive manipulations of the story but that, because they do so, they are better able to face the world at large. As children learn to handle the monsters and witches of Estes's narrative fantasy, they learn to cope with the doubts and worries of childhood itself, and this proves key to the book's longevity and continued popularity.