In the not too distant past, I explored two modern day Little Women graphic novel adaptations in the post Drawing Little Women: Graphic Novel Adaptations of Alcott. Both Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy and Jo take Alcott’s characters and place them in a modern day setting exploring sisterhood, life, love, and growing up in ways that might connect more with modern readers than the original 1868 text.
Given my well documented love for Little Women, I was delighted this past week at the library to stumble across Leigh Dragoon’s Little Witches: Magic in Concord. I’m not sure how this 2018 graphic novel had managed to escape my attention for so long, but of course I couldn’t resist checking it out and I knew that it would make an excellent addition to my blog posts looking at the ways in which artists and authors adapt Alcott’s work.
*There will be spoilers. You’ve been warned*
Rather than placing the March sisters in modern times, Dragoon’s adaptation gives the March sisters magic, as is indicated by this graphic novel’s title. The Marches live in a world where magic appears to be largely normalized, but things are going missing in Concord and with Mr. March off fighting in the war, Amy accidentally exploring pickled limes in the face of one of her classmates, and Marmee run ragged, the townspeople wonder if the March sisters are the ones at fault. Joining in are Mr. Laurence and Laurie, who are new to town. Mr. Laurence is a witchfinder, sent to solve the problems in Concord.
Mr. Laurence and Laurie are both black, as Mr. Laurence is well-known author who escaped from slavery. He decided to become a witchfinder due to the fact that many slave catchers were witches who were using their powers for evil rather than good (or even simple subsistence like the Marches who largely practice domestically based magic).
Aunt March is also a witch who disagrees with the way that the Marches use magic and makes an agreement with Marmee to train Amy in her style of witchcraft (of course leaving Jo jealous).
The premise of this book is a really great concept, and as such I felt that it had a lot of promise (how it executed that concept, I’ll get to in a second). I love the idea of taking a familiar story and adding magic to it!
Each of the March sisters should have a style of magic that complements their personality. Mr. Laurence and Laurie offer a unique perspective into the text that works to diversify 19th century Concord.
Early on the book also makes several references to things about the Alcotts such as referencing transcendentalism and Bronson Alcott’s admission of an African-American student to a school her ran before the Alcotts concord years. Those small details show a really cool understanding of the factors in Louisa May Alcott’s life that could have had a really cool effect on this adaptation.
Unfortunately, while this book had a great concept, the execution seemed to be lacking.
At just under 146 pages, my main complaint is that this book is too short to actually accomplish anything. The characters felt under developed and if I were reading this with no knowledge of Little Women, I doubt I would have actually felt like I had any real connection to or understanding of the the characters. Only Amy really feels to me like she gets her due. Marmee is the character who suffers the most from this adaptation as she feels almost like a non-entity in the text.
The magic also suffers as the world-building feels slightly hasty and things regarding the magic system are under-explained. Beth is something called an unraveler, but I don’t feel like I know what that means, even at the end of the text where her powers actually come to fruition.
The whole magical catastrophe that is facing the town of Concord also feels under explained. It also has to do with Mr. Davis. Remember him, the Mr. Davis that is Amy’s teacher that has a bit part in Little Women? This man suddenly becomes the villain of the story and also has a few weirdly touching moments with Jo that just feel weird to me. Plus, the solving of the catastrophe, while involving a touching moment with all four sisters, feels rushed and then THE STORY JUST ENDS.
As far as hitting the plot points of Little Women goes, this book like the other graphic novels I’ve written about sticks with the plot of Book 1. There’s nothing wrong with this, it just feels like a cop-out to me a little bit to avoid dealing with the characters growing up and some of the more complex plot points. Beth also doesn’t die, and I’m not going to complain about that. But in Little Witches, Beth’s illness never actually feels particularly pressing.
I wanted to like this graphic novel adaptation because I love the concept, but ultimately it just failed to deliver. However, if you’re a Little Women aficionado, I still think it’s worth checking out and I read it in under an hour, so it’s not a commitment.