How 'A Discovery Of Witches' By Deborah Harkness Created A Feminist Series – EXCLUSIVE
The idea of witches and vampires roaming the Earth is a tale as old as time. Just when you thought creators had exhausted every option of these supernatural creatures thriving among humans, AMC's A Discovery of Witches has introduced an adult take on an ordinary woman embracing the extraordinary when her magic powers bring her to the center of a political battle within the supernatural world. As a witch, the protagonist represents centuries of powerful yet misunderstood women, and her journey emphasizes how A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness created a feminist TV series.
As an academically inclined story reminiscent of Twilight and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, A Discovery of Witches introduces Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer), a historian researching at Oxford University and avoiding her hereditary powers as a witch due to the nature of her parents' deaths. While in Oxford's Bodleian Library, Diana unintentionally summons a magical text containing secrets that other witches, vampires, and demons have fruitlessly tried to find. Vampire Matthew (The Crown's Matthew Goode) then offers to help her manage the pressure other creatures are placing on her in exchange for the manuscript. Despite the longtime rivalry between the two species, Diana and Matthew form a partnership that gradually turns romantic.
The series, which has already been renewed for Seasons 2 and 3, concluded its first season in the United States on May 26. The finale detailed Diana and Matthew's attempts to escape another vampire's clutches and their decision to hide from their enemies somewhere else in time. Fans have to wait and see how their time traveling fared, but as the series is based on Deborah Harkness' All Souls trilogy, intrigued viewers can find out what may happen next sooner rather than later in this supernatural drama.
"I think there’s always a lot of content both in books and television about the supernatural, so I think it’s a variation of perennial themes that catch people’s imagination," author Harkness tells Elite Daily about the genre's appeal. "For us, we have a notion that these creatures are hiding in plain sight and that what might be making them hide is human prejudice and that there’s a whole sort of politics to this world of supernatural beings."
Harkness, an executive producer of the series and a history professor, has a scholarly explanation for why this portrayal of females in power is particularly relevant. "Historically, a powerful woman has been a very dangerous thing," she says. "I think that’s one of the reasons why it was so easy to imagine that a powerful woman must be somehow in touch with the supernatural, because how else could a sweet, domestic, nurturing creature have that kind of power?"
Throughout the first season, Diana is targeted as the strength of her powers becomes clearer to other creatures. The majority of her fellow witches are also female, presenting a multifaceted take on women with a range of powers and personal qualities. "I think in some ways, the witch has historically been the kind of character that developed because people were anxious about powerful women and needed a way to process that and think about it," Harkness says. "As for today, sadly we still have a lot of anxiety about women in power. There’s still a kind of cultural sense that a powerful woman can make people uneasy, even other women."
At first glance, the facade of a witch falling for a vampire may seem typical, but Harkness has a theory for why the formula has proven successful time after time. "We can project our fears and anxieties onto these characters who have these special abilities and it allows us to kind of play with [themes of] female empowerment, female authority, female history," she says. "Thinking about it in terms of witches and vampires and humans makes it a little easier to figure out what we think about those issues. I think that’s why witches remain so fascinating over so many thousands of years and so many different cultures."
With at least two seasons in store, the character of Diana has time to study her capability and familiarize herself with what Harkness calls "the powers and pitfalls that go with it." She also teases seeing Diana and Matthew learn how to establish a long-lasting love in future episodes.
"I think we’re also going to get to see the journey that happens when two people fall in love," she says. "That’s actually relatively easy — the hard thing is staying in love for long-term. Viewers [will] see how Diana and Matthew cope with the stresses of how to grow a relationship — not just find the one you love, but figure out how in the world you’re gonna get through without strangling the one that you love out of sheer frustration — we don’t have to be witches and vampires to have that feeling."
One also doesn't have to be a witch or vampire to applaud the strength and passion Diana displays throughout her quest to defeat opposing forces. Season 1 of A Discovery of Witches is currently available to stream on AMC.com.