Sunday, April 24, 2005

Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber

This is the first book I'll be reviewing from the 31 Battboy and I managed to obtain through ebay recently. I chose it for two simple reasons. It was on the top of the pile and it seemed relatively short.

Hands up all those who believed that Darren Stephens was a male chauvinist for not allowing his wife to use witchcraft? I did. I hated Darren. As far as I could tell, Samantha had a gift and should have been able to use it as she saw fit. Darren married Sam knowing she was a witch and should have accepted her as such.

When I read Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber I quickly came to the same conclusion.

Here's the basic story line. Norman Saylor, professor at a small American college, finds out his wife is a witch. He, a logical male, can't believe his normally level-headed wife has been taken in by such superstitious nonsense. Rather than letting it go as a harmless hobby, he is appalled by this discovery and forbids her from practicing it again. He then orders her to bring him her various bits and pieces and then destroys them.

And she thanks him for it!

Life, naturally, starts to darken for our 'hero' as the forces of magic begin to attack. At first these attacks take on the forms of rumour and innuendo, aimed directly at Norman, but then they turn sinister in their intent. I'm not going to tell you what happens from there, but be assured, it's creepy.

As I closed the final page tonight, I mentally flicked back through the story and looked at its strengths and shortfalls. It's a good, strong story, it can't be denied, and a good story always dates well. Yes, the attitudes are rather old fashioned (it's set in the first half of the 20th Century) but the story itself still carries fresh ideas.
The editor in me riled against the 'dreaded ly' words and the over-use of adjectives, but I was able to overlook them because I found the plot so engaging.
Norman's habit of ignoring his wife's own intellectual capabilities annoyed me. I might have looked past them as being of the era, if it wasn't for the fact that he (and the author) kept extolling the virtues of free-love (remembering this is pre-60's). It was a liberal mind that accepted pre-marital sex in that age, and yet, Norman's world view did not encompass his wife. Every time he ran into trouble, he decided against telling his wife because he didn't want to bother her. I wanted to slap him for this attitude.

On the whole though, I enjoyed this story. It was well told and the fear factor came, not from gore or special effects, but by clever use of suspense and the unknown. I would encourage everyone to go back and read some of the older stuff, to see how stories were crafted before CGI became so commonplace. The author had to rely upon reaching into and tapping the fears of the audience in order to scare them. When it comes to horror, that's all you need.


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