Monsters are all around us. Walk around the mall and you are guaranteed to see one. They are all over the place at Disneyland, the ‘happiest place on earth’. So what is a monster? A quick search from Google provides a definition; a monster is “an imaginary creature that is typically large, ugly, and frightening.” Sully from the Disney Pixar movie Monsters Inc? He’s a monster. The Grinch from the Universal Pictures film How the Grinch Stole Christmas? He’s a monster as well. They both accurately fit Google’s definition of a monster. However, Google’s definition fails to mention other characteristics that a monster may entail. A monster is not exclusive to being large, ugly, and frightening. Monsters come in all shapes and sizes, and they are not always imaginary; they also come in human form. In Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s book, Monster Theory, the idea that monsters are “composed of a multitude of fragments, rather than of smooth epistemological wholes” is explored (3). Cohen explores this idea through his creation of seven theses. Each of these seven theses are categories that explain different qualities that a monster may entail. A monster may relate to just one of these theses, or all seven.
A common category of monsters are witches. According to Google, a witch is “a woman thought to have magic powers, especially evil ones”. It is not known exactly where and when witches first came from, but the increase of knowledge of Witchcraft grew during the Middle Ages in Europe. The word ‘Witch’ derives from the Old English noun ‘wicca’ which is the “alternate, and sometimes preferred, name for the religion of contemporary Witchcraft” (White 1). In short, any being who practices Witchcraft, is a witch. A well-known witch in popular culture is one of my favorite characters, Bonnie Bennett from the television show, The Vampire Diaries. Her family history, powers and abilities, and physical appearance and personality make her the most realistic depiction of real Salem witches instead of Ursula from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and the Wicked Witch of the West from the fantasy musical film, The Wizard of Oz.
Bonnie Bennett is a powerful witch character from The Vampire Diaries. The Vampire Diaries is a teen drama show that aired on the CW Network from 2009 to 2017. The show is about the life of a teenager girl named Elena Gilbert, and the chaos that surrounds her life after she is left an orphan, and falls in love with two vampires, Stefan and Damon Salvatore. Elena and Bonnie have been best friends since childhood. The Bennett family comes from a matriarchal bloodline of powerful witches.
The family fled from their hometown of Salem, Massachusetts to escape execution during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. The Salem Witch Trials were a string of prosecutions and executions on people who were accused of practicing Witchcraft. The trials in late February of 1692 and ended in April of 1693. In total, at least 25 people were killed, mainly women; 19 were publicly hanged, one was tortured to death by being crushed with stones, and five died in jail due to harsh living conditions (Woolf 3). Fearing prosecution, the Bennett family had been living in secrecy in the fictional town of Mystic Falls. Throughout the eight seasons of The Vampire Diaries, bits of the Bennett’s family history is revealed. The Bennett bloodline of witches is one of the most powerful to exist; they even have the most powerful witch in their family. With Ursula and the Wicked Witch of the West, very little to nothing is known about their background, which makes it difficult to relate to them. This is an essential reason as to why Bonnie is great representation of a witch.
One afternoon, Bonnie’s grandma, Sheila, drunkenly reveals to Bonnie about their witch family history. Bonnie had already been aware of her family roots, but didn’t fully believe the witch aspect. It wasn’t until she lit up a room of candles that she found out that her grandma was telling her the truth. After that incident, she begins discovering more of her supernatural powers. One of her powers is called Divination. With Divination, she is able to have strong intuition, and therefore knows where certain objects are. A more known power she entails is Telekinesis, which is the ability to move objects with magical spells or the use of the mind. With another one of her powers, Pyrokinesis, Bonnie is able to create fire.
Throughout the duration of the eight seasons of the show, she is also shown using Aerokinesis, the ability to harness another person, Biokinesis, giving supernatural beings an aneurysm to distract them, Accelerated Healing, to quickly heal wounds with ease, and Necromancy, which is resurrecting people from the dead. These powers vary greatly from two other witches in popular culture, the Wicked Witch of the West and Ursula the sea witch. Ursula’s powers include creating magic potions, metamorphosis, and size alteration. The Wicked Witch of the West has the powers of spell casting and Pyrokinesis like Bonnie, but unlike her, she can teleport, fly on a broomstick, scry (foretell the future) on a crystal ball, and manipulate animals through fear. The variety of powers Bonnie has in comparison to Ursula and the Wicked Witch of the West gives her an edge when it comes to originality. Her powers are not just your average witch powers, each serve a purpose that require the use of energy and connections to the Earth and its elements.
Bonnie Bennett does not look like the most known depiction of witches, which are ones that have green skin, big noses, and wear black dresses and pointed hats. This depiction stemmed from the character the Wicked Witch of the West from the classic film, The Wizard of Oz, and has become a staple for how most think witches look. A ‘witch costume’ search on Google easily proves this point. Bonnie is human, and therefore looks like one. She is a beautiful 5”2 teenage girl, with black hair and piercing green eyes. She has a light brown complexion and a slim figure. Bonnie’s appearance is the complete opposite of the Wicked Witches’, and even more so different than Ursula’s. Ursula is an obese octopus-like sea witch with lavender skin and short platinum blonde hair. Yet although Bonnie is and looks human, she is still seen as a monster. She is subject to the criterion of Cohen’s fourth thesis, The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference. Because Bonnie goes against the norm of the culture by entailing supernatural powers, she is considered monstrous.
As far as personality goes, Bonnie is good-hearted, strong-willed and sympathetic. She always puts others above herself, even if doing so means she is put in very dangerous situations that threaten her life. Throughout the series, she dies a total of three times, and all three times, she had sacrificed herself to protect a loved one from dying themselves. She ends up being resurrected each time which ties her in to Cohen’s second thesis, The Monster Always Escapes. “No monster tastes of death but one” (Cohen 5). To this day, she is the only living witch in her family, and one of the strongest of all of the lineages of witch families. Her selflessness is a refreshing take on how witches are typically portrayed in popular culture. She makes us evaluate our morality; going against the norm of a typical witches personality traits. Witches have a stigma of being grumpy, selfish, and egocentric; Ursula and the Wicked Witch of the West are great examples of witches that entail those qualities. Ursula took advantage of Ariel’s naïve nature and gave her an almost impossible task of having to kiss the Prince without the use of her voice. She was manipulative and showed no remorse. The Wicked Witch of the West was powered by power and greed; she wanted to own the ruby red slippers and eventually conquer the Land of Oz. The reputation that witches are evil arose during the Renaissance, when Christians opposed all witches because they considered anyone who practiced Witchcraft to be working with the Devil (Barta). The drastic differences between these three depictions of witches tie in to Cohen’s Monster Theory’s first thesis, The Monster’s Body is a Cultural Body. As our modern society continues to struggle with ethics, the need and want for monsters that are either evil with good intentions, or just genuinely good beings, like Bonnie, has risen from them just being purely evil and serving no useful purpose to society.
Overall, I rate Bonnie Bennett from The Vampire Diaries a high 87 out of 100. Though not a completely accurate representation of real witches, she comes the closest out of her, Ursula from The Little Mermaid, and the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. Because The Vampire Diaries was on air for eight seasons (171 episodes in total), the writers of the show were able to give Bonnie great depth and many layers when it comes to her family history, personality, and powers and abilities. The qualities she entails are a nice surprise to the usual ways I am used to seeing witches be portrayed in texts.
Barta, Peter I. “Witches.” Women in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia, edited by Katharina M. Wilson, and Nadia Margolis, ABC-CLIO, 1st edition, 2004. Credo Reference, https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/abcwma/witches/0?institutionId=5312. Peter Barta details how women who practiced Witchcraft were seen in a negative connotation during the Middle Ages. I used this source to give background on how Christians believed women who practiced Witchcraft were thought to be worshipping the Devil. Credo is described as a scholarly peer-reviewed Wikipedia.
LeRoy, Mervyn, et al. The Wizard of Oz. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939. This is one of the secondary sources that I used to compare and contrast to my primary text. It is a film.
Plec, Julie, et al. The Vampire Diaries, The CW, 10 Sept. 2009. This is the primary text that I chose to evaluate. This is a television series.
Teitelbaum, Michael, and Sue DiCicco. The Little Mermaid. Golden Books, 2003. This is one of the secondary sources that I used to compare and contrast to my primary text. This is a children’s book.
White, Ethan Doyle. “The Meaning of “Wicca”: A Study in Etymology, History, and Pagan Politics.” Pomegranate, vol. 12, no. 2, Nov. 2010, pp. 185-207. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1558/pome.v12i2.184. Ethan White explores the term “Wicca” and how it relates to Pagan Witchcraft. I used this source to state where the word ‘witch’ comes from. This is a scholarly journal.
Woolf, Alan. “Witchcraft or Mycotoxin? The Salem Witch Trials.” Journal of Toxicology — Clinical Toxicology, vol. 38, no. 4, June 2000, pp. 457-460. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=7430216&site=ehost-live. Alan Woolf details what went down during the Salem Witch Trials that took place in 1692. The events of the Salem Witch Trials played a pivotal role as to why Bonnie’s family migrated to the fictional town of Mystic Falls. This is a scholarly journal.