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Which Witch?

Which Witch?

4.3 43
by Eva Ibbotson, Annabel Large (Illustrator)

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When Arriman the Awful, the handsome wizard of the North, announces a contest to choose his bride, every witch in town is a flutter. The meanest, most powerful witch will wed the wizard. But little Belladonna is dismayed, because as hard as she tries, her spells conjure up begonias and baby birds, and not a single viper or bloodshot eyeball. She just has to do


When Arriman the Awful, the handsome wizard of the North, announces a contest to choose his bride, every witch in town is a flutter. The meanest, most powerful witch will wed the wizard. But little Belladonna is dismayed, because as hard as she tries, her spells conjure up begonias and baby birds, and not a single viper or bloodshot eyeball. She just has to do something seriously sinister in time for the contest....

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Christopher Moning
Arriman Canker, also known as Arriman the Awful, Wizard of the North, Loather of Light, is a famous and powerful dark wizard. He can conjure up pestilence and blight, frighten the stoutest heart with his freakish collection of animals--he can even make lightning go before thunder. But there's one thing Arriman has trouble with, and that's meeting the right kind of woman for a suitable wife. With the aid of his faithful secretary Mr. Leadbetter, and his intelligent one-eyed ogre, Lester, Arriman determines to hold a contest to find out which witch has powers black enough to warrant being Mrs. Canker. The seven witches of Todcaster gather for the contest, and never before has black magic been so much fun. Between the bickering twins, the witch who resembles her pig, the old hag who keeps accidentally changing herself into a coffee table, and the wicked enchantress, Olympia, Arriman is beginning to long for permanent bachelorhood. Belladonna, the most beautiful witch, is upset with herself--try as she might she can only seem to make white magic. Readers will laugh aloud at the antics of these zany characters, right up to the happy ending. Related in a clever, humorous style, reminiscent of Roald Dahl, kids of all ages will enjoy this book. 1999 (orig.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-Arriman the Awful is weary of championing blackness and trying to raise the wife-murdering ghost of Darkington Hall, Sir Simon. When the predicted new wizard does not arrive, Arriman, who is tall, dark, and handsome, with just a bit of a foolish streak, reluctantly agrees to marry to insure an heir to the throne of darkness. The witches from the coven of Todcaster are invited to a contest to win his hand by performing the blackest trick possible. These witches are a sorry lot, especially beautiful Belladonna, who is good in spite of herself. Just when the dark horse, Madame Olympia, appears to have no equal, Belladonna's black magic is improved by an orphan, Terence Mugg. The contest is a splendor of blackness and evil and is not for the fainthearted, with everything from bottomless pits and krakens to cannibalistic mice. Ibbotson describes perfectly the hierarchy of this fantasy world; every spirit, witch, and ogre is true to form. The threads of the story are woven tightly and tied up neatly at the end. Terence, of course, is the new wizard. Belladonna and Arriman can retire to a cottage where he will write a book, and Madame Olympia and Sir Simon are joined in unholy matrimony. A zestful adventure, perfect for fans of "Harry Potter" (Scholastic) and Ibbotson's The Secret of Platform 13 (Dutton, 1998).-Marlene Gawron, Orange County Library, Orlando, FL Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Imagination and humor run rampant as Arriman the Awful, the Wizard of the North, tries to find a bride in this hilarious romp from Ibbotson (The Secret of Platform 13, 1998). Arriman is tired of wizardry and yearns for retirement. He's dismayed when a prophesied new wizard doesn't arrive, and decides he'll have to marry a witch and have an heir to continue the line. Enter the eccentric local witches who will compete to produce the most terrifying black magic they can muster. One is a beautiful young witch with a problem: Belladonna simply cannot do black magic. Although she knows that handicap will disqualify her, she enters the competition anyway when she meets Terence, a neglected orphan boy with a pet worm named Rover who seems to be a witch's familiar. Belladonna finally succeeds in conjuring up vipers instead of flowers and bunnies, and eventually learns that Terence has more power than anyone suspected. Ibbotson includes monsters, ghouls, and murderous ghosts; through tongue-in-cheek humor she provides an endlessly amusing book to delight readers. (b&w illustrations) (Fiction. 9-12)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.13(w) x 8.88(h) x 0.63(d)
940L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt




Ghosts and hags, wizards and banshees, mermaids and mistmakers—allare part of the magical worlds that Eva Ibbotson creates in her fantasy books for children. Even her more realistic stories are set in exotic places like the Amazon River in South America, where the natural world creates a mystical sense of wonder. Ibbotson introduces us to an array of fascinating characters and creatures: some from real life, some from folklore and mythology, and some completely original. What readers discover in her books is a love for the natural world in all its forms, plus fast-moving plots that emphasize the importance of showing kindness to others and never being quick to judge those who are different from ourselves. Humor plays an important role in her stories, for they are meant to be entertaining above all. Yet long after the last page is turned, the deeper meanings that emerge from these rollicking adventures linger in the reader's mind.

About the Books


Miss Pringle and Mrs. Mannering run an agency that matches ghosts who need a home with people who want their dwellings haunted. And they do a very good job of it... until an error by their hapless office boy mixes up two assignments. This mistake is disconcerting to the nuns who requested a family of quiet ghosts for their old country abbey and end up with the Shriekers, a couple who scream constantly and terrorize the livestock. But it's a very fortunate error for Oliver, a small boy whose scheming cousins hoped the Shriekers would frighten him to death so that they could take over his inheritance, a huge manor house. When the gentle Wilkinson family arrives at Helton Hall instead, they immediately befriend the boy, and he is delighted to have such kindly ghost company. They decide to help Oliver escape the clutches of his evil cousins, Fulton and Frieda Snodde-Brittle. But Fulton has more wicked plans of his own. Dial-a-Ghost is a fast-moving romp through a plot with more twists and turns than you can count and a cast of characters who are loving and heartless, comfortable and cruel, charming and chilling, whether they are made of flesh or ectoplasm.

Island of the Aunts

Etta, Coral, and Myrtle tend to the needs of a number of remarkable creatures on the Island, a place forgotten by most people—and they are very happy to keep it that way. But the three sisters are getting on in years and need help caring for their assortment of seals, fish, mermaids, birds, and other sea creatures. So they decide to kidnap some children to be their assistants. Each poses as a hired "aunt" from a London agency, and soon they return to the Island with their stolen charges. Minette and Fabio, confused at first, grow to love the Island and its many unusual creatures. They keep putting off their escape back to their troubled homes. But Lambert, the boy Myrtle kidnapped, is a pampered brat who refuses to believe any of the Island's inhabitants actually exist. When Lambert uses his cell phone to call his father, the whole Island way of life is threatened by Mr. Sprott's scheme to turn the place into an amusement park. He doesn't reckon, however, on the power—and anger—of the most magical creature of all, a larger-than-life spirit of the sea, the kraken.

Journey to the River Sea

Maia feels at home in the boarding school where she lives in London, in 1910. It is the only home she has known since her parents died two years earlier. When distant cousins are discovered 4,000 miles away, Maia must travel to the exotic Amazon River town of Manaus to live with them. She is accompanied on her journey by a governess, the imposing Miss Minton, who has her own secret reasons for accepting a post so far from home. They arrive in South America and soon discover that the Carters, Maia's cousins, are selfish and greedy people who isolate themselves from the wild beauty of the countryside around them. With the help of her clever governess, Maia finds moments of brief escape from their stifling home and makes friends with a strange Indian boy named Finn and a homesick child actor called Clovis. Soon she is swept up in the human intrigues and natural wonders of the world around her. As she helps her new friends to follow their dreams and desires, Maia learns what is most important to her and where her own future will lie.

The Secret of Platform 13

Hidden under Platform 13 in King's Cross Station is a gump, a secret entrance to another world. This doorway opens only for nine days every nine years. During those nine days, beings are free to come and go between our world and a magical Island, where fantastic creatures and humans live together sensibly and peacefully, shrouded from view by the hazy clouds created by lovable animals known as mistmakers. When the infant prince of the Island is kidnapped to our world by the unpleasant Mrs. Trottle, a strange band of rescuers is assembled nine years later to bring him back, and a fast-paced tale of magic, mayhem, and mistaken identity ensues. At first the rescuers are delighted to meet Ben, a sweet boy who could be the prince in spite of his lowly status in the Trottle house. But it soon becomes apparent that the real prince must be Raymond, the Trottles' rather obnoxious, spoiled son. Raymond, however, has no interest in leaving his pampered life for a mystical island. One of the rescuers, a young hag named Odge Gribble, is a tough, no-nonsense type who is determined on success. What she doesn't expect is that, in the end, she'll care much more about being a friend than a hero.

Which Witch?

Arriman is a very dark wizard, proud of his skills, but feeling bored and weary. Consulting a fortune-teller, he learns that a replacement wizard will arrive to relieve him of his duties, but he grows impatient waiting and decides that he must marry to produce an heir. The problem is finding a wife. The only wife for a wizard must be a witch, of course, but which witch? How to decide? The only way seems to be to hold a contest for the local witches. One glimpse of Arriman convinces Belladonna that she must win. But what chance does a white witch have of doing the dark magic worthy of a wizard's heart? Belladonna finds unlikely but effective allies in a foundling named Terence and his pet earthworm, Rover. Rover seems to be a powerful witch's familiar, an animal capable of inspiring very black magic. Belladonna might win. But then Madame Olympia, a skilled sorceress, arrives from London to compete, and the magical earthworm mysteriously disappears. Belladonna's chances become slim at best until events take a surprising turn that even Madame Olympia could not have predicted.



Eva Ibbotson was born in Vienna, Austria, in the years before World War II. Her mother was a playwright and her father a scientist, but the marriage was unhappy and they soon went their separate ways. Eva's early childhood was spent shuttling back and forth in trains across Europe, from one parent to the other. When Hitler rose to power, Eva's father went to Great Britain, and her mother, after remarriage to a Russian philosopher, soon followed him. Eva switched languages and spent the rest of her childhood in a progressive boarding school, striving to become British. After taking a degree in Physiology at London University, she went on to do research at the University of Cambridge, but she found the experiments she had to perform on living animals very distressing. The results of her experiments were "peculiar," she relates, so when a fellow student, Alan Ibbotson, suggested she could do less harm to science by leaving it and marrying him, she accepted without hesitation. The couple moved to Newcastle, in the north of England, where they raised four children and Eva began writing short stories. When the youngest son started school, she wrote her first full-length novel for children and continued to write for children and adults alternately, much to the delight of her many readers.

The National Trust
The National Trust is an organization dedicated to the preservation of the countryside, coastline, and important buildings and gardens in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This site lists interesting places to visit.

National Geographic
Site of the National Geographic Society. Look up maps of London and the Amazon River. Search the sea around the British Isles for places where the Island might be found.

Ghost Watch UK
An English organization that specializes in paranormal investigations. Their site includes stories and anecdotes of people's encounters with ghosts and ghostly phenomena.



Magical beings are central to many of your books. Have you always been interested in the supernatural?

No, curiously I was never particularly interested in the supernatural—quite the contrary. Ghost stories frightened me badly as a child, although I didn't really believe that ghosts existed. I think I began to write about ghosts and witches and magic generally to make children less afraid; to turn these beings into creatures much like us but of course able to do more interesting things. My ghosts and witches are more like underdogs, people on the fringes who need sympathy and help. And the witches in Which Witch? are based on my relatives—the nice witches anyway!

Your main characters all seem to come up against people who are more interested in money and power than in feelings and compassion. Is this a theme you consciously set out to explore in every book?

I think of my books as entertainments, a kind of present I give the reader, and any serious themes that come up are a by-product. But of course when I am creating "baddies" for the purposes of the plot, I find myself choosing people with the characteristics I dislike most—and there is nothing I despise more than financial greed and a lust for power.

Humor is an important element in most of your stories. What do you think is the role that humor plays in shaping our lives and our personalities?

I don't really know how to define humor or how to describe it; it is something you have to show. But I do know that both in my personal life and in my work I would be completely lost without humor...without the ability to turn things upside down, to extract something ridiculous out of the most solemn moment. Incidentally, when I'm writing I find humor—jokes that aren't forced or silly—by far the hardest thing to pull off.

In Journey to the River Sea you have written a more realistic story with a strong theme about the importance of nature to the human spirit. What was your inspiration for this story?

I wrote Journey to the River Sea not long after my husband died. He was a committed naturalist, someone who combined a deep knowledge of animals and plants with a spiritual outlook that had been strengthened by his war service in India and Burma. I think I felt at that time that I needed a rest from my usual fantasy stories—though goodness knows the Amazon landscape is fantastical enough in its own right! I wanted to write a story that was simple and old-fashioned and direct. But I have to say that the reasons one gives for writing anything tend to be made up afterwards. At the time you just find yourself doing it!



  1. The world of nature plays an important role in Eva Ibbotson's books. Often her characters' personalities are shown through their relationship to the natural world and the way they interact with creatures in the wild. Compare the different reactions to nature of these characters: Ben and Raymond; Oliver and Fulton; Minette, Fabio, and Lambert; The Aunts (Etta, Coral, and Myrtle) and Mr. Sprott; Maia and Gwendolyn/Beatrice; Mrs. Carter and Miss Minton; Mr. Carter and Bernard Taverner.

  2. In each of these stories, children must find resources inside themselves to face difficult challenges and changes in their lives, many times without the help of adults. The author says of Maia at the beginning of Journey to the River Sea, "She was afraid...afraid in the way of someone who is alone in the world" (p.2). Which of these characters believes that he or she is alone, and how does that affect the way they face their challenges: Maia, Clovis, Finn, Minette, Fabio, Oliver, Ben, Odge Gribble, Arriman, Terence?

  3. Help can often come from unexpected sources in Ibbotson's stories. Look carefully at each of the books to see which characters or creatures are most helpful to the protagonist. Was it obvious to you as the reader that important help would come in this way? How often were you surprised by the power of the helpers? Have you had this experience in your own life, that help came from unexpected sources?

  4. Many of the evil characters in the books share certain personality traits. What do these characters have in common: Mrs. Trottle, Mr. Sprott, Fulton and Frieda Snodde-Brittle, Mr. and Mrs. Carter, Madame Olympia? What do these characters tell you about the personality traits that the author dislikes? Do you know people who exhibit these qualities?

  5. Showing kindness toward others and especially those who appear to be "different" and "strange" is a quality that is shared by many of the main characters. Discuss the ways in which Maia, Miss Minton, Ben, Belladonna, Oliver, and the Aunts demonstrate this important character trait. What is the author telling us, through these characters, about exhibiting this quality in our own lives? How can we translate this theme from exotic and fantastic settings into our everyday world?

  6. At the end of Journey to the River Sea, Miss Minton says to Mr. Murray, "Perhaps I'm mad—and the professor, too—but I think children must lead big lives...if it is in them to do so" (p. 283). What does she mean by this statement, and how do you interpret the phrase "big lives"? Which characters in the other books are capable of leading "big lives," and which of them are not? Discuss the personality traits that make it possible for children—and adults—to "lead big lives."

  7. Ibbotson says of the Carters, "...they were far too selfish to want anybody, but they needed her [Maia]" (p. 37). What is the difference between wanting and needing somebody or something? Discuss this difference between wanting and needing as you see it in the actions and feelings of Arriman, Belladonna, the Wilkinson family, Oliver, Mrs. Trottle, Ben, Nanny Brown, the Aunts, Minette and Fabio, Maia, Miss Minton, Finn, Clovis, the Carters, and other characters of your own choice. How does it affect your feelings about a character when you make this distinction?

  8. When Maia first reads about the Amazon, she encounters these words: "For whether a place is a hell or a heaven rests in yourself, and those who go with courage and an open mind may find themselves in Paradise" (p. 6). Discuss this idea with relation to the setting of each of the books. How does each character's perception of a place affect the way he or she reacts to that place? How does perception of place affect you in your own life?

Meet the Author

Eva Ibbotson, born Maria Charlotte Michelle Wiesner (21 January 1925 – 20 October 2010), was an Austrian-born British novelist, known for her children's books. Some of her novels for adults have been successfully reissued for the young adult market in recent years. For the historical novel Journey to the River Sea (Macmillan, 2001), she won the Smarties Prize in category 9–11 years, garnered unusual commendation as runner up for the Guardian Prize, and made the Carnegie, Whitbread, and Blue Peter shortlists. She was a finalist for the 2010 Guardian Prize at the time of her death. Her last book, The Abominables, was one of eight books on the longlist for the same award in 2012.

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Which Witch 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
Babewithbrains More than 1 year ago
I remember reading this when I was in fifth grade. A must read for kids. It is such an adorable book if your kids are in to magic and fantasy. The characters are lovable, and Belladonna is the cutest heroine. I would defidently recommend this for younger readers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In the book Which Witch by Eva Ibbotson a famous wizard named Arrian of the north needs to marry a woman.So he has a competition between all the women in his hometown of Todaster to see which witch can create the most evil, magic, and mayhem of all.The winner gets to be Arrians new wife.Arrian hates the thought of marrying a witch.He does not want to sit with an ugly pimple faced witch at breakfast everyday eating his cornflakes.But he has no choice,because it is required for a wizard to marry a witch.But, there is one witch belladonna who is not hideous at all.The only problem is, she is a white witch.And white witches are good witches who are known for creating peace and not evil.Belladonna needs to make a special evil spell or she will never be able to marry Arrian the wizard of the north.In conclusion this is what happens in the novel Which Witch by Eva Ibbotson.A couple of positives are the book is not too educational and boring and the book is good for people of all ages.Some negatives are in some parts of the novel it doesn't completely explain things and another negative is there is not a lot of drawings so you have to picture in your mind what happens.The writing style of the author is they rush things and don't explain a lot of things.Some recommendations are for kids who like adventure. I also recommend this book to people who are into witchcraft and fantasy.Some similar novels to this book are "The Secret of Platform 13" and the Harry Potter novels.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The best book ever . Can not wait for more
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome book
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This was one of the best books I ever read! I could NOT put it down, and just had to find out what happened next! It is an excellent read for everyone, even poor readers! I'm 100% sure you will LOVE it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i read this after reading the reviews and i found it as good as the word. it is a story with a smooth running and the end is surprising. the orphan kid, terrence, turns out to be the most-sought-wizard by arriman,and all characters get their right places in the end. i enjoyed reading this book and i recommend this to all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing, let me tell you. This book is suitable for ages eight or older, and everyone should read it. It's a fantasy story of romance, O.o and adventure. I love it all. Everyone, read it! ^^
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book when I was a kid and loved every page of it. It's about a warlock who is born to normal parents but grew up a warlock despite the efforts of his parents. Now that he is getting on in age he decides that he is in need of a wife... so he hold a competition. Among the many witches that enter, including a set of halarious twins, a very insecure witch who is loving and kind ends up in the lead with the help of an ophane. The book has a very lovely and suprising ending for both the with and the orphane, and the funny brooding warlock! Good for kids of all ages.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My son is 8 and my daughter is 6. This was our most recent bedtime read and we just loved it. My children particularly loved the characters, the magic and trying to figure out if Arriman and Belladonna would be together in the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was GREAT i loved it i finished reading it in two hours it was so good i couldnt put it down
Guest More than 1 year ago
Which Witch! This book is REALLY great, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat. I personally liked it very much, but I must say some parts do get a little weird. But it's still a really, REALLY good book, that I think all children at least 8 and older will LOVE this book. I know I did, and I'm 12.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book before my 8 year old, thank goodness! It describes in detail a room full of rats eating each other. Then, when only one rat is left it turns on itself and eats itself! The idea is bad enough, however, the author goes into detail about the scene. It made my stomach turn. There is also one line that states the way to make one spell work is to say the Lord's prayer backward. Writing about ghosts and witches and the supernatural is one thing but to state specifically to say the Lord's backward indicates that there are ulterier motives in mind. I have since read Island of the Aunts, another book by Eva Ibbotson and liked it very much. However, Which Witch is definitely not suitable for children of any age.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought Which Witch was a good book! I had lots of fun reading it. Which Witch is a good book about a wizard called Arriman the Awful and a white (or good) witch named Belladonna. Belladonna is one of seven Todcaster Witches. (A todcaster witch is a wicth from Todcaster, the town which all the witches are from.)Almost all of the Todcasters witches are black. In Darkington, Arriman's home, Arriman decids to marry a witch of Todcaster, but to help him decide which witch to marry, he will have a contest. Belladonna really wants to win. What can she do to win? This is a great book, denfinely good enough to buy! If you get the book I hope you enjoy it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everyone who is looking at this, you MUST read this book. I am dead serious. I love this book because it is magical, suprising, and has a great ending, perfect for ending a book! If you don't have anything to read, pick up this book and let me assure you, this WILL be the best book you have evr read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a really good book! A mix of fantasy and humour make this an awsome read for any age!
Guest More than 1 year ago
My daughter and I throughly enjoyed Aunt Island and Platform 13 (great story, characters and message; nothing more harmful than a few mean folks and pink bottoms). Therefore, I was greatly surprised when I had to stop our team reading of Which Witch. A warning to parents, spells that include the Lord's prayer read backwords and having to explain necromancy caught me off guard and crossed a line for this age group. I returned Dial a Ghost because I lost my trust. I read a great deal of West, Weise and Goodkind myself so my issue is not the topics, but the age appropriateness.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book, Which Witch?, is a very magical book. Arriman the Awful is weary of championing blackness and trying to raise the wife-murdering ghost of Darkington Hall, Sir Simon. Arriman started a contest when he could not raise Simon. The witch performed the most darkest magic would win the competetion and merry Arriman the Awful. All witches wanted to attend this competetion, especially Belledonna. Belladonna could only perform white magic until she met Rover, a magical worm. Now she can perform black magic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book rules the world. I totally recommend it for Harry Potter and witchcraft fans.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book. I didn't get what happened to the Kraken? But i loved reading it. I didn't want to put it down!I loved wondering what was going to happen next. I liked the details of the withches and the humorous characters. It was a very exciting story.