Witch Week

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Witch Week
Witch Week Cover.jpg
First edition
Author Diana Wynne Jones
Cover artist Ionicus[1]
Country United Kingdom
Series Chrestomanci
Genre Children's fantasy novel
Publisher Macmillan
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 210 pp (first edition)[2]
ISBN 978-0-333-33189-7
OCLC 47044550
LC Class PZ7.J684 Wj 1982[3]
Preceded by The Magicians of Caprona
Followed by The Lives of Christopher Chant

Witch Week is a children's fantasy novel and school story by the British writer Diana Wynne Jones, published by Macmillan Children's Books in 1982. It was the third published of seven Chrestomanci books.[4]

Witch Week is set during the last four days of October 1981 at Larwood House, a boarding school in southern England, in a world parallel and close to ours. Many people have magical powers ("witches", male or female) but their use is a capital crime and convicted witches are burnt to death. The story begins with a teacher's discovery of an ambiguous note and dilemma whether to take it as a joke. "The note said: SOMEONE IN THIS CLASS IS A WITCH."

Fictional background[edit]

The Chrestomanci books are collectively named after a powerful enchanter and British government official in a world parallel to ours, who supervises the use of magic —or the Chrestomanci, a British government office that requires a powerful enchanter and is responsible for supervising. Witch Week is set in the late 20th century during the tenure of Christopher Chant, who is the Chrestomanci in five of the seven books and is often called Chrestomanci as a personal name.

The Chrestomanci is unique to what it calls "World 12A", the primary setting for the series and entire setting for some stories. There are other worlds with British governments, perhaps all of series 12 or even more. Our world is 12B, a next-door neighbour in some sense, and Witch Week is set entirely in one that is even closer to ours. The Chrestomanci has representatives in some worlds but does not know this one.

Plot summary[edit]

Witch Week is set in an alternative modern-day Great Britain, identical to our world except for the presence of witchcraft. Despite witches being common, witchcraft is illegal and punishable by death by burning, policed by a modern-day Inquisition.

At Larwood House, a boarding school where many of the children of executed witches are sent, a note claiming "Someone in this class is a witch" is found by a teacher. This launches an internal investigation of the more unpopular students at the school (Nan Pilgrim and Charles Morgan), who are gradually coming to terms with the fact that they are witches. Mayhem gradually ensues as magic is used to make birds appear in the classroom, to rain shoes, to curse a classmate into having his words always be true, and other pranks. When the magic gets totally out of control, one of the students runs away, leaving notes that blame the witch for controlling him. The headmistress of the school calls in an Inquisitor to find the missing student and locate the source of the trouble.

Four more of the students flee the school and two seek help from an "underground railroad" system that is known to save witches by sending them to a world where they are not persecuted. Instead they are given a spell to summon unknown help and all five students converge where they are able to use it, summoning the enchanter Chrestomanci. He and the children conclude that their world diverged from 12B (ours) by a particular historical accident. They work to outwit the local inquisition and to merge their history, thus their world, with ours. It turns out that most of the schoolchildren are witches and all must lose any such powers by revising history in that way.

Major themes[edit]

One of the major themes in the story is overcoming prejudice. Like many other books by Jones, Witch Week encourages readers to think for themselves and seek to make a positive change in the world.

Allusions to other works[edit]

Larwood House may be a reference to Lowood School from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, although in Witch Week the miserable conditions of the school are often used for comic effect.

Differences in editions[edit]

In almost every version of the book published, the class the story focuses on has a different name, according to the age group the publishers were aiming the book at the time. For instance:

  • The current[when?] UK edition calls the class 3Y, which suggests they are in the third year of secondary school and therefore around thirteen.
  • Another British edition, published by Collins in 2000, calls it 2Y, which suggests that they are in the second year of secondary school and therefore around twelve.
  • The current[when?] US edition calls it 6B, which implies the children are in the sixth grade and therefore about eleven.

Reception and reviews[edit]

Early in 1992 the science fiction writer Orson Scott Card reviewed reissues of several Diana Wynne Jones novels. He wrote concerning Witch Week:

Thus it is that underneath what seems to be rather low comedy—brooms that demand to be taken riding by witches (and hoes and rakes and mops that can be ridden, but behave more like mules and pigs than noble steeds); prankster spells at about the level of magic spitwads—there is a continuous foundation of truth. Children need powerful adult intervention to help them get control of their powers and keep their powers from taking control of them. Instead of using them for immediate self-gratification, the children instead have to create and respect certain limits to avoid destroying themselves and others. Not that anyone ever says such a thing outright. Rather the stories are that lesson, learned over and over again, yet with such humor and extravagant imagination and devastating satire that few readers will imagine that they are being civilised as they read.[5]


Witch Week was named a School Library Journal Book of the Year.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Diana Wynne Jones: UK 1st Edition Cover Art". maulu book zone. Katherine Ferguson. Compiled by the DWJ mailing list from August 1999. Retrieved 29 April 2012.
  2. ^ The infobox provides data from ISFDB for the first UK edition (from "Publisher" to "ISBN"). Witch Week (first edition) publication contents at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2012-04-28.
    ("OCLC Number" for 2001 US paperback.)
  3. ^ "Witch week". Library of Congress Online Catalogue. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  4. ^ Chrestomanci series at ISFDB.
  5. ^ Card, Orson Scott (February 1992), "Books to Look For", The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, retrieved 2 October 2008 

Chrestomanci series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2012-04-28.
• Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.

External links[edit]