The Little Broomstick: A strange and mysterious little story

The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart

Having recently watched Mary and the Witch’s Flower, I was curious about how it measured up to its source material, particularly since I usually read the book before watching its filmic adaptation.

And The Little Broomstick (1971) is a strange little book in so many ways: beautifully written, with plenty of haunting passages, but with a story and setting that would have been served well with a lot more detail and background. Imagine Hogwarts School without any sense of its history — though Endor College predates Harry Potter by over two decades, there are so many unanswered questions about why it exists and who attends.

Mary Smith is a ten year old girl who’s thoroughly unhappy with her current situation: bundled off to the Shropshire countryside, separated from her siblings, and living with an elderly great-aunt while her parents are in America. But adventure is on the horizon: in quick succession she discovers a little black cat, a strange and beautiful flower, and an ordinary looking broomstick.

But one night the broomstick whisks Mary into the air, carrying her to Endor College (this also predates The Return of the Jedi), a school of witchcraft, where she’s welcomed into the fold by the imposing Madame Mumblechook.

To her delight, Mary finds she has a propensity for magic, but something is wrong at the college. All the sinister spells and locked doors and strange noises make Mary deeply uneasy.

And when she realizes what’s happening, she knows it’s up to her to set things right. All things considered, I actually think the film does a much better idea of fleshing out some of Mary Stewart‘s ideas: Peter is introduced much earlier, for example, the animal stampede is much more satisfying, and the ending is more uplifting (the book ends on an oddly ambiguous note). It even makes better use of the mystery surrounding the name “Mary Smith” that Stewart introduces but never explains with much clarity.

But The Little Broomstick is exciting, and intriguing, and illustrated throughout with distinctive pictures by Shirley Hughes. It’s not by any means a children’s classic, but it’s not without its charms.

Published in 1971. A black cat that needs to rescue its brother from a witch’s spell enlists the help of a lonely ten-year-old Mary Smith. It is Tib the black cat who leads Mary to the strange flower in the woods. When she discovers a little broomstick shortly afterwards, she is astonished to feel it jump in to action. Before she can gather her wits, it is whisking her over the treetops, above the clouds, and in to the grounds of Endor College, where: ‘All Examinations Coached for by A Competent Staff of Fully-Qualified Witches.’ Here she discovers evidence of a terrible experiment in transformation – deformed and mutant animals imprisoned in cages. In the moment after her broomstick takes off, she realises that Tib has been captured. Returning to the College the following day, she manages to free the animals, but not before the Head of the college, Miss Mumblechook, and her colleague, Doctor Dee, have seen her. Mary manages to flee… but the evil pair are in hot pursuit!

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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One comment

  1. It sounds strangely charming. I thought the witches of Endor were in MacBeth, but this is what I found on Wikipedia:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch_of_Endor

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