Saturday 11 October 2014

Witch World by Andre Norton

I was aware of Andre Norton when devouring SFF at a high rate in the 1960s and 1970s, but for
some reason read hardly any of her work except for the two Janus stories.  In particular, I was
familiar with the Witch World title so when this 1963 novel was suggested as one of the
monthly reads of the Classic SF discussion forum I decided it was time to catch up.

Simon Tregarth, an ex-soldier living on the fringes of the underworld and with a price on his
head, is offered a chance to escape through a gate connecting this world with another better
suited to him – which turns out to be the Witch World. This world has a fundamentally medieval
society (what is it about medieval societies which makes them so common on other worlds?)
with a few additions of strangely advanced technology. There is also socery, wielded by women
in just one place, the land of Estcarp. Tregarth finds himself involved with Estcarp – and one of
the witches in particular – in their struggle for survival against an inhuman enemy.

There is of course a long tradition of "lone man from the present day finds himself magically
transported to a strange world" stories in fantasy. Burroughs' Barsoom series is an early example
and there are countless others (probably dozens on my bookshelves alone). One of the best-
known of recent decades is Zelazny's Amber series (with the added twist that the hero wasn't
really a stranger, he had just forgotten that he was a prince in that realm – as one does), another
classic favourite being the comic take on this sub-genre in L Sprague de Camp's Enchanter
series. Why is this theme so popular? Possibly because it is ideally suited to escapist wish-fulfilment fantasies; how many people would not gladly leave behind their present lives to start
afresh in a new world, one in which they have some unique talents or high status?

So how does Witch World compare with the rest of the sub-genre? Rather well, actually,
especially since it was a relatively early example. I read the 220-page book in three sessions on
consecutive evenings, and after the first I found myself really looking forward to picking up the
book again to continue the story – a feeling I rarely get these days. Tregarth is an admirable
character despite his dark history, and I liked the fact that he isn't the usual skilled fighter in such
stories; while an excellent shot, he is hopeless with a sword – which is what you would expect
from someone who's never used one before.

I definitely want to read more of these stories and will be hunting down the next few novels in
the series. I was however somewhat daunted to discover that the itch orld series is huge, with
novels published over four decades (some of the later ones with other writers involved). I think
I'll just stick to the ones with the original characters to start with!


Bill Garthright said...

This is a book I missed, too, Tony, when I was reading so much years ago. I did read other books in the Witch World series, but after so many years, I don't remember anything about them.

Anyway, I'm glad to hear that you liked this, because I bought it, myself. (It just arrived in the mail yesterday, so I haven't started it yet.)

Anthony G Williams said...

Happy reading! I'll be interested to hear what you think of it.

Fred said...

I remember reading the Witch World Series many years ago. I was lucky in that I discovered them very shortly after they started coming out, so I was able to keep up with them.

I really enjoyed the Enchanter series because I learned about other mythologies besides the Greek/Roman set. It fostered a lifelong interest in Norse mythology.

I think van Vogt had several that featured a contemporary human who was either a god or an alien who had forgotten who he was.

Anthony G Williams said...

I've read a lot of Van Vogt and still have quite a lot of his books, but I don't recall any with that theme, Fred.

Anyone know any titles?

Fred said...

One is, I think, The Book of Ptath.

"The god Ptath is flung into the far future by a deadly rival and given the mind of a 20th century man. Stranded in this alien world, he must fight to regain his powers before the rival goddess sends the world spinning into chaos and darkness. "Van Vogt's work has a raw power that has never been equalled in science fiction". --Damon Knight.

Fred said...

I think A. E. van Vogt's The Universe Maker would be another one.

"Morton Cargill, Korean War soldier, accidentally kills a girl named Marie while driving drunk. He runs from the scene. A year later, he gets a letter from the girl asking to meet him. But this is not Marie, but a remote descendant from the future, who is suffering an inherited form of neurosis which time travelers, called 'The Shadows', have traced back to his negligent crime. The only therapy to cure her is if she witnesses him being murdered. He then wakes 400 years into the future, to the Shadow City to be executed."

Anthony G Williams said...

Ah, right Fred. It is so long since I read that one I have forgotten everything about it. I think that my ancient copy must be lurking somewhere...

Anthony G Williams said...

To clarify - my comment above was about The Book of Ptath. I don't recall the other one at all.

Fred said...


I don't remember anything about Ptath either, except that it was one of the first novels that featured, however slightly, the Egyptian deities and not the usual GrecoRoman ones that were the usual fare back then.

I think there's also another one in which an alien supermind inhabits a human with only a small portion of its intellect, and the human therefore can get close to some alien criminals because he doesn't know who he really is until the moment of confrontation.

I think that's another van Vogt, but I wouldn't bet too much on it being right.

Anthony G Williams said...

Now that last one I do recall, since I read it again last year. See Supermind in the review list on the left!

Fred said...

OK, will do.