Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Anita, by Keith Roberts

Anita the Teenage British Witch: Georgy Girl meets Granny Weatherwax.


Ace Books, 1970, 221 pages

Meet Anita Thompson: she's young, she's lovely, she's clever ... and she's a witch. A real one.

Anita lives in two worlds: the modern world of supermarkets and sports cars, radio and rock & roll, where she is a thoroughly modern girl with a thoroughly modern interest in boys and fast living and her own independence. But the ancient and rustic world of traditions, cauldrons, and familiars , where she and her Granny (a witch of the Old School, broom and all) invoke elemental spirits in the service of Him Wot's Down Under. She has senses no ordinary mortal can imagine (at least nine); with them, she can hear the voices of every creature of the night. She can changer her shape, call a drowned corpse from a lake, reverse the flow of time, and ride the Sea Serpent (there's only the one, you know; always has been -- always will be) deep into the ocean in the company of a mermaid, even though the modern world is trying to crowd aside -- and even change -- that world of witchcraft and magic. Yet, complicated as a young witch's life may become, Anita never loses her sense of fun, or her essential innocence.

This collection contains sixteen short stories, most of which originally ran in Science Fantasy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the late 60s. They're all about Anita Thompson, a lovely young British gal who lives with her Granny in a rustic cottage, practicing her spellcraft and getting into trouble, more often than not trouble involving either a boy or a girl whom she's in love with.

This collection of short stories is very, very British and very, very Sixties. Written contemporaneously with the Bewitched TV series in the U.S., British author Keith Roberts wrote a virtual antithesis of her family-friendly sitcom American counterpart: Anita is dedicated to a cartoonish reverse-Christianity in which she and her granny swear by 'Him Wot's Down Under', and Anita is an earthy, promiscuous tart who chases anything in trousers.

These "contemporary" fantasy stories are fun, usually a bit tongue in cheek, but sometimes quite dark. They're all self-contained and don't follow a single arc, but there is some continuity as there are recurring characters, and events in earlier stories sometimes echo in later ones.

Anita frequently violates Lovecraft's Law ("Do not call up that which you can't put down"). She is chased and molested by a scarecrow she brought to life on a whim. She conjures a double made of sand to get out of trouble, with sinister consequences. She's caught in a battle between her Granny and an elderly rival. She has many lovers, old and young. But in the more serious and touching stories, she angrily reanimates a girl who drowned herself for love, tries to lay to rest a melancholy ghost, helps a bedridden little boy, rescues a mermaid captured by a fisherman, and sends a pair of star-crossed lovers back in time to a place where they can be together.

Anita's Granny is a character to match Granny Weatherwax or Minerva McGonagall. Her dialog, which Roberts writes out in all its phonetic peculiarity, is thick enough to cut with a broomstick.

"Yis," shrieked the old lady, dancing with temper. "An' so kin I... Arter wot you said an' orl... gooin' slummockin' orf wi' them things, leavin' — this — leavin' yer pore old Gran ... Om seed you git up ter some bits, my gel, but I ent seen nothink ter match this. Ter see the way om brought yer up an' orl ... jist look at yer. Deceitful, deceitful ent in it... sly young cat... pokin' fun at yer old Gran wot yer dun't think knows no better —"

The writing is very much a product of its time, loaded with British pop culture and slang.

I recommend the Owlswick Press edition which is illustrated by Stephen Fabian. It is also available as an audiobook produced by Neil Gaiman:

"Anita is an almost forgotten novel by one of the finest UK writers. But it is a favorite of mine. Anita works on two levels: on the one hand, the stories are a product of the 1960s - they come out of a swinging world and a "Georgy Girl" time, and Keith Roberts, then a young art director, has captured the feel of the sixties. At the same time, he writes about a teenage witch being brought up by her Granny; he writes about a young witch falling in love, getting her heart broken, about change and growing up and compromise, about what magic is and how you can lose it sometimes and how you can get it back. And the character of Anita's Granny is amazing, one of Keith Roberts' best characters... [Anita] set the template for all the teenage witch stories that come after, and she did it better and more magically. I wanted these stories back in "print", where people could hear them and could fall in love with Anita and Granny, as I did."

Anita (Owlswick Press)

Anita (Stephen Fabian)

Anita II

Stephen Fabian

Stephen Fabian II

Verdict: These stories are a trip, a dated trip back to 60s Britain. Anita is a precursor to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Charmed, Buffy, and the entire contemporary urban fantasy genre. I would love to see someone write Harry Potter fan fiction with Anita appearing at Hogwarts. 7/10.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, fantasy, reviews

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