My sister laughs at me to this day because of this book . I loved this book growing up. I checked it out of the library many, many times. It scared the you know what out of me. There is a witch in this story that is of the very evil variety. She looks beautiful at first, but if you see her from the back you see the inner decay of her true nature. The protagonist is a kid who can access this world being terrorized by this witch through his closet door. Now that I am older, I can see shades of Chronicles of Narnia. But it really isn't a knock-off. It was very different and much more scary than Narnia was.
I used to read this book and then be scared for a few days. And the cycle would start all over again. I dearly would like to find a copy of this book for my collection. Maybe someday it will be reprinted. I'm probably the only person on earth still alive who remembers and loves this book.
I remember the image of the woman who is beautiful in front but oozing and ugly in the back for decades after reading this, but I couldn't remember the name of the book until I started looking back at old journals. Apparently I read this in spring 1985.
The Gruesome Green Witch (1969) by Patricia Coffin is one of those children's books that is remembered fondly by many, but almost impossible to find at present. I was curious about it, so I thought I'd keep an eye out for an inexpensive copy--which I finally did find a week or two ago.
Here's the blurb from the dust jacket:
Like Alice’s rabbit hole, a closet in Puffin’s house is the entrance to a magic world. Here two eleven-year-old girls, Puffin and her best friend, Mole, meet a wondrous assortment of mythological and fictional characters---from the Wizard of Oz to Fafnir, the fearsome dragon of the Niebelungenlied. Pervading all is the malevolent influence of the Gruesome Green Witch, a beautiful and evil avocado-colored creature.
The girls are arrested from trying to do homework without working papers, and then meet Merlin the Magician, who teaches them how to concentrate. They go to a “Round Dance” at the bottom of the sea, and King Neptune invites them into the Rock Candy Grotto where eating sweets prevents cavities. Their guide throughout is hand-high “tumpte,” a Swedish kind of elf, who they’ve saved from going up in smoke.
When the Gruesome Green Witch casts a spell of Matt, Puffin’s suspended-from-school older brother, the magic turns to horror. Only Puffin can rescue him, and only she knows what the price will be.
The Tumpte, the trolls, and the Gruesome green Witch are freely adopted from Swedish folklore by Patricia Coffin, and handsomely illustrated by Peter Parnall’s unique drawings.
This is a short book (85 pages) but one that is nicely produced. In keeping with the theme, all the text is printed in dark green, and in each of the very detailed black-and-while illustrations there are a few elements of the design that are highlighted in green ink as well. It's a very wild and imaginative story that would seem likely to appeal to the same kids who enjoy the Ruth Chew books. This book is perhaps written at a very slightly older reading level than Chew's stories about witches, but is certainly aimed at precisely the same audience.
However.... eh, I'm not sure that for an adult there's much here to gain one's attention. I think this is an example of a story that has tremendous sentimental appeal and meaning for those adults who had read it when they were young---but there isn't much of interest to the story for those who come to it later in life. I'm guessing that kids will still enjoy it, however.
As noted above, this is one of those books that is rather difficult to find---at present I only see five copies for sale on-line, and those are listed at ridiculously high prices. So, for me, the fun in the book was not about reading the story itself, but rather the "thrill of the chase"----hunting down a very inexpensive copy that somehow got overlooked by everyone else.
If I had read this as a child, I think I would have loved it -- it's rather stunningly stylized, printed in green ink and charming illustrations in green and black. Coming to it for the first time as an adult, I can't help but find it a bit derivative -- which is not entirely a complaint nor criticism. Rather, it kind of explains how the story must have evolved, bit by bit, integrating pieces suggested by other stories. There's also a certain didactic thread about the virtues of studying and how to attain them which would probably not appeal to a contemporary young reader, but which a certain sort of child (and I was one of them) might find comforting. I really enjoyed and appreciated the cameos by different storybook characters within the book; their connection to the wider world of literature would have certainly pleased and sparked my imagination, had I read this at a young enough age.