Celia Rees Witch Child Beginning Exercises



The following tasks are designed to help you engage with the opening chapters of “Witch Child” and to test your knowledge of the story, its characters and setting. There are also opportunities for you to develop your understanding of the writer’s methods. For each comprehension exercise, your should use the words of the question and you could try to integrate the quotations into your answer to support your ideas.

Entry 1 – Comprehension Questions

  1. What is the name of the narrator?
  2. Where does she live?
  3. What figure of speech is “hats as tall as steeples”? Explain why it is a suitable comparison in terms of shape and colour.
  4. What is a familiar? You can use words from the text and research this idea online.
  5. What was the initial evidence against Mary’s grandmother?
  6. What do they do to Mary’s grandmother?
  7. Why did they think she was guilty?
  8. Why was this test not a good idea?

Entry 2 – Sentence Structure

It is important for writers to vary the length and rhythm of their sentences. They don’t want their stories to become monotonous, but different types of sentences can also impact the reader in different ways. For example, consider the variety of sentences in the following extract:

“I should flee, get away. They will turn on me next unless I go. But where to? What am I to do? Get lost. Die in the forest. I look around. Eyes, hard with hatred, slide from mine. Mouths twitch between leering and sneering. I will not run away into the forest because that is what they want me to do.”

In this passage, Rees uses short and dramatic sentences, interrogatives which are designed to engage the readers directly because they ask us questions, and also includes description and detail in complex sentences.

What other sentence types are available to a writer?

Essay Question: How does Rees’ choice of sentence structure convey the terrible situation the narrator is facing after the death of her grandmother?

Entry 3 – Characterisation

The following questions focus on the lady “richly apparelled”.

  1. What adjectives are used to describe the “wool” of her “cloak”?
  2. What do these two adjectives suggest?
  3. What metal is the “clasp” made out of?
  4. What does that suggest about the woman?
  5. What adjectives are used to describe her dress?
  6. Again, what does this suggest about the lady?
  7. Why did the writer decide to include the detail about the “leather” gloves and the “bulge of many rings”?
  8. Final question of this section. Why did Rees include so many details about the character’s clothing?
  9. The lady is described as “pale”. What does this adjective suggest about the character?
  10. She has “high cheek-bones” and a “curve of finely moulded lips”. What do these images suggest about the lady?
  11. How is this reinforced by the phrase “young and comely”?

“She was obviously a lady, richly apparelled. Her cloak was soft dark wool fastened at the throat with a silver clasp and chain; her dress was green silk velvet, the shifting shade of young beech leaves turning in a spring wind. Her hands were gloved, her fingers long and thin and beneath soft leather I could see the bulge of many rings. Her face was veiled. Black gauze as fine as mist obscured her features, but I could see enough to know that she was young and comely. Her skin was pale and I could make out the shadowed jut of high cheek-bones and the curve of finely moulded lips.”

Essay Question: How does Celia Rees present the mysterious lady who is “richly apparelled”?

What is the name of the narrator?

The name of the narrator is Mary.

Where does she live?

The narrator lives in a “small cottage” which is located at the “very edge of the forest”.

What is a familiar?

Familiars are the “Devil himself in disguise”. Many people believed dangerous demons disguised themselves as animals to cause trouble in the world. For example, Mary’s mother had a cat and a rabbit which the villagers believed were evil.

What was the initial evidence against Mary’s grandmother?

Lots of “folk” accused Mary’s grandmother of “bringing sickness to their livestock and families”, cursing by “sticking pins in wax figures”. They also believed she had “transformed herself and roamed the country for miles around as a great hare” by using “ointment made from melted corpse fat”.

What do they do to Mary’s grandmother?

The villagers “decided to float her” and threw her into the water.

Why did they think she was guilty?

The villagers think she is guilty because she did not sink and drown in the river. This evidence proved she was a witch.

Why was this test not a good idea?

This test was not a good idea because innocent people would drown.

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Thanks for reading!