The Science of Witchcraft: The Truth Behind Sabrina, Maleficent, Glinda, and More of Your Favorite Fictional Witches by Meg Hafdahl Kelly Florence

Reading the Science of series by Hafdahl and Florence are really fun. This latest installment is no exception. The Horror Rewind podcast hosts and Horror genre lovers are the perfect pair to lead us in uncovering the pop culture and science layers surrounding the making of horror (primarily in movie form).

Their super-fan knowledge and enthusiasm come through in every chapter. It’s entertaining and also eye-opening when they talk about the tropes that have framed our view of witches in say, Eve’s Bayou vs. Goldie Hawn/Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her.

The “science” in the titles of these books are mostly social science: psychology, socio-anthropology, media studies of fictional tropes, mixed in with bits of medical science– like when they answer the question posed by The Love Witch about whether there actually are “love potions” by discussing chemicals, effect of hormones on brain systems, etc.

The call out boxes in each chapter were a mixed bag. When they had to do with aspects of the movie making, like the call out box about Angelina Jolie’s Malificent make-up taking 3 hours or The Conjuring 2 being based on a real life event, I was fascinated. Other call out boxes felt a little more awkward. The pythagorean theorem or statistics on 15-17yr old teens vs 13-14 yr old teens having more crushes didn’t add as much to the unpacking of society views of witches.

But some of the really juicy bits that you get in this series are the conversations and access to the creative thinking of current directors and writers in the horror genre. In particular, the conversation with The Love Witch’s Anna Biller really reveals the intense focus, thoughtfulness, imagery, and symbolism that makers of these movies put into their stories, stories often dismissed by the general public as only blood-and-gore.

I challenge you to read this book and not see your own prejudices or assumptions about women’s power reflected back at you when you come across witches in mainstream or horror tv shows and movies.