Fans of Charmed* will be familiar with the show’s premise – three sisters find out they have magical powers and that they have a magical destiny to fight the forces of evil. But there is one witch missing from the fabled power of three and I don’t mean Paige – Prue’s replacement when Shannen Doherty left at the end of Series 3. I’m also not referring to the blatant attempt at attracting a new audience with the implausible introduction to the programme of two new sisters totally unrelated to the Halliwells**. I’m talking about the only other character featured in every episode; the Book of Shadows.
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Who is the uncredited sister in the TV series Charmed?
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If it walks like a duck and talks like a…
Yes, it has undeniable book-like qualities. It looks like a book, it doesn’t walk or talk or have limbs or even so much as a smile on its dial. The Book of Shadows also does book-like things such as providing information. It’s not a bestselling thriller but it is a much needed (and much sought after) compendium of spells, potions, demon facts and all kinds of information on all things magical that the Halliwell sisters use to fight evil. However, in addition to its book abilities it also has some distinctly personable traits.
The book has its own magic. I realise this is not unusual for a legendary artefact so my thesis doesn’t hinge on it. However, it does need to be mentioned as it’s part of a bigger point I’ll be making later. Not only does it contain magic, it has its own powers to protect itself from harm. Demons attempting to grab it find it shocks them back; Cole (a demi-demon who is meant to assassinate the sisters but who ends up marrying Phoebe, you know, as you do), Zankou (arguably the worst demon they ever face because he actually takes the time to research the sisters as people, not just witches. He is so powerful that the source of all evil has him imprisoned to stop him challenging for leadership) and even the reformed demon Drake (another of Phoebe's demonically-inclined boyfriends) all find this out to their cost. In fact, anyone evil cannot touch the book. The book also helps the sisters of its own accord, although in most episodes this is explained as either Gram’s or Mom’s influence; in the episode The Seven Year Witch, when the book helpfully falls open to Leo’s entry for his and Piper’s insanely magical sons so that Drake knows how to heal Piper.
Sense and Sensitivity
Along with being able to detect evil, the book is also extraordinarily sensitive to insults; in Power Outage the book splits the triquetra on its cover, signalling the voiding of the sisters’ powers. Why? Because the sisters have fought with each other and the book decided to take all their toys away until they learned to play nice with each other, possibly trying to be the parents they never had. Similarly in the last two episodes of season 7 the book seals itself off from the sisters because they have low self-esteem. It goes into a massive huff because they don’t trust themselves and by extension no longer trust it.
Not the smartest tool in the box
Despite being a cornucopia of knowledge, it can be fooled by simple disguises such as the identity theft spell in The Power of 3 Blondes. You can sort of forgive the rest of the world for being conned but you’d think the book would know better - it’s been in their family for generations after all. But, as the sisters have themselves often been duped by demons masquerading as another sister, maybe it’s only following suit.
The book exhibits other qualities the sisters have. Much like Prue, it’s a powerful know-it-all; like Piper it has trust issues and is prone to zapping evil; like Paige it’s stubbornly one of a kind; and like Phoebe it is often the centre of attention with whole episodes featuring it prominently while the rest of the characters circle it playing supporting roles. It’s not just a tool of reference or a family history - it is one of the sisters or at one with the sisters. Without the book the Halliwells cannot function; it’s as important to their fight as their powers and even each other, sometimes even more so.
Phoebe survives the loss of her active powers in season 6 while she and Piper survive the death of Prue at the start of the 4th season, but when the book is taken away in A Witch in Time despite the sisters optimistically declaring “maybe the book’s been holding us back”, they quite literally become toast within minutes. They only survive the book being taken by Zankou in series 7 by being prepared to blow up the nexus and themselves.
The power of 3 will set us free
Why does Zankou set his very lovely sights on the book? “The sisters and the book of shadows are linked. Always have been.” He understands that their powers are tied to the book and that their emotions are tied to their powers, this is why his confidence- zapping scheme allows him to lay his hands on the book. Without the book not only do they lose all that wisdom but they are weakened magically;, its magic is tightly bound up with their magic.
And lastly, let’s not forget that it is proximity to the book that triggers the witch hood in the original power of three and re-activates the power of three when Paige joins the series (because they all have their powers at this point). It is Phoebe being led to finding it in the attic in Something Wicca This Way Comes that begins their magical destiny and it is Paige joining Piper and Phoebe in both “Charmed Again” and Centennial Charmed that affirms their sisterhood. The saying might go “three times the charm” but in this series it’s more like four.
* For the less than charming people reading this, the television series Charmed follows the adventures of three sisters as they discover they are witches with magic powers and learn how to fight the forces of evil while trying to live their ordinary lives. The original line-up features Phoebe (Alyssa Milano), Piper (Holly Marie Coombs) and Prue, but when Shannen Doherty left the series, Rose McGowan joined the trio as their long lost half-sister Paige. The power of three refers to the special magic they possess as sisters from a lineage of witches who also fulfil a magical prophecy.
** I like Kaley Cuoco despite that weird pouty thing she does, and I even like her evil screen sister's hands-on eating habits, but really, are we supposed to believe that after 7 years of being awesome these two young chits can take the Power of Three?
Ed. - One final note. Why is the opening credits song a terrible cover of The Smiths' How Soon is Now? Please, someone, tell me why.