Witch World (1963)
Spine Front Cover Book Details
Andre Norton
Publication Date 1998
Format Leather-bound (230 x 150 mm)
Publisher The Easton Press
Genre Fantasy
Product Details
Series Masterpieces of Fantasy
No. of Pages 193
Paper Type Acid-neutral paper
First Edition No
Personal Details
URL This book on Amazon.com
Frontispiece/Illustrator Walter Velez
Original Details
Original Publication Year 1963
Witch World is the first novel in the Witch World series. Once Simon Tregarth had been a Colonel in the US Army in Occupied Europe, but had been unknowingly caught up in a black market deal and, on the basis of perjuried testimony, courtmartialed, stripped of rank, and imprisoned. When released, he had become that of which he was falsely accused, a dealer in illegal merchandise. Then his path crossed that of Hansen and now the Organization is after him. He has been on the run for some time and has left a few dead pursuers on his back trail, but is tired and sleepy. Now he faces Sammy, who is more dangerous than the others.

Tregarth stops in a restaurant to eat a pleasant last meal and is accosted therein by Doctor Jorge Petronius, who is well know in some circles as the man who can make you disappear. Petronius offers his services in exchange for whatever remains of the $20,000 brought from San Pedro.

Tregarth accompanies Petronius to an ancient little house and is told the legend of the Siege Perilous. "One takes his seat upon the Siege and before him opens that existence in which his spirit, his mind -- his soul uf you wish to call it that -- is at home." At dawn, Tregarth sits on the stone and disappears from this world.

Tregarth is spilled out to sprawl face down of the thick wiry turf of a gray-green moor. Behind him are two rough pillars of reddish rock. He walks directly away from them across the soggy turf. As the sun rises, he hears a horn calling and cautiously moves in that direction. He sees a woman pursued by thin, white hounds and then the masters riding on horses. The animals and men corner the woman and one of the men takes a weapon from a holster on his belt and raises it toward the woman. Tregarth shoots him out of the saddle.

Thus Simon Tregarth meets the Lady Jaelithe, although he was not to learn her name for some time yet, and is introduced to the Witches of Estcarp. He soon meets Koris, Captain of Estcarp's fighting men and Prince of lost Gorm. Together, these three battle an invasion of evil from another worldline: the Kolder.

Although the Witch World series is now considered fantasy, this first novel does not differ significantly from much of the author's science fiction. The "magic" powers of the Estcarp witches may just as well be psionic talents such as in the Warlock, Janus, and Forerunner series. Moreover, the "magic" exists side-by-side with technology, both native to Estcarp and imported from Earth and wherever the Kolder come from. It is difficult to find anything in this first novel that isn't just as much SF as the Pern series.

Later, the series begin to acquire characteristics of fantasy, such as shapechangers and Words of Power. Maybe the fantasy ambiance was just more exceptable than the author's soft SF environment, for this series became wildly popular within the SF/Fantasy community and then with other readers. The author had been popular with younger readers, including myself, for some time, but now started attracting wider attention among college students and older adults. She had never really published much in the magazines and thus didn't garner Hugo and Nebula nominations, but now her novels began to impress the readership enough that a special Hugo was awarded for her lifetime achievement as a Master of SF and Fantasy.

This story was first published in 1963. As such, it was written to a different standard than contemporary authors such as Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind. It is very linear, without the stylistic gimmicks of flashbacks and multiple storyline. However, it tells a story that can still enthrall a reader who is willing to put aside all expectations and just go with the flow.

This novel started Andre Norton's rise to fame. It is a must read for any Norton fan and recommended to anyone else who might enjoy a well-crafted tale of courage, special talents, and romance.

Some writers of fantasy are science-fiction writers bringing their SF mindsets to the service of fantasy situations. That was the case with Robert A. Heinlein, whose fantasy stories, mostly published in the 1939-1943 Unknown, were in the "rationalized" tradition popularized by that magazine. Heinlein's major fantasy novel, Glory Road (1963), also had its naturalistic explanations. Jack Williamson, although initially attracted to the field by A. Merritt's science-fantasy, was another SF writer whose fantasy stories were reconciled with the demands of the real world, particularly in his classic Darker Than You Think, a 1940 Unknown novella expanded into a 1948 novel.

As if to balance the equation, some science-fiction writers are really fantasy writers whose scientific explanations are scarcely more than magical incantations. A. E. van Vogt, whose Slan (1940/1946) and The World of Null-A (1945/1948) are SF classics, was basically dealing with science as fairy tale. But the clearest example of a fantasy writer working in the SF field is Andre Norton.

Today's writers often intertwine SF and fantasy, like Michael Swanwick in Stations of the Tide (1991) and The Iron-Dragons Daughter (1993), but in the early 1950s, when Andre Norton was trying to enter the adult fiction field, the two genres were thought to be incompatible. Of the two, fantasy was considered to be difficult, if not impossible, to publish successfully. The few fantasy magazines that were created lasted only a few years or even a few issues, while the SF magazines, it seemed, went on forever. Some of them, such as Astounding (now known as Analog), have been published continuously since 1930, and the oldest magazine of all, Amazing Stories, has recently been revived after being given up for dead. Even among book publishers, fantasy was considered a losing proposition.

It was Donald A. Wollheim who took a chance at DAW Books when he published Norton's Witch World in 1963 and gave the world one of its leading fantasy writers. The novel launched a series of phenomenal duration and extent. It preceded and anticipated the fantasy boom of the mid to late 1960s that was stimulated by the success of J.R.R. Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings (1965-1966), Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby (1967), Ursula K. Le Gum's A Wizard of Earthsea and Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn (both 1968), the re-editing of Robert E. Howard's Conan novels, and the publication of Fritz Leiber's collected "Faffird and the Gray Mouser" sword-and-sorcery tales.

Norton was born as Alice Mary Norton in Cleveland in 1912 and received her education at Western Reserve University. She worked as children's librarian for the Cleveland Public Library from 1932- 1950, but started her writing career shortly after taking up her position, publishing such young-adult novels as The Prince Commands (1934) and Ralestone Luck (1938). She adopted her pseudonym because the field of boys' fiction was dominated by male authors; later she changed her name legally to the one by which her readers know her best.

At the time she was writing her juveniles, Norton was trying to place SF stories. She finally succeeded in 1947 with "The People of the Crater" in Fantasy Book, and then in 1952 attracted the beginnings of her substantial SF and fantasy readership with Star Man's Son, 2250 A.D. She followed that with several novels that are classifiable as space opera, with the qualification that they treat technology as a threat to human interaction and to understanding. In 1974 she commented, "Yes, I am anti-machine. The more research I do, the more I am convinced that when western civilizations turned to machines..., they threw away parts of life... [ lack of which] leads to much of our present frustration."

That kind of fantasy writer's approach evidenced itself more obviously in the Witch World alternate universe. Norton followed up the first novel with Web of the Witch World and has continued to expand through a dozen and a half novels, several collections, and four shared-universe anthologies, exploring the lands of Estcarp and Escore, Arvon and High Halleck (a name, incidentally, that she has given to a writers retreat she has announced). In a 1979 fanzine Norton confessed that Witch World had been planned as a stand-alone novel but its popularity led to the many sequels. The novel shaped itself, she wrote, out of research on the Norman holdings in medieval Outremer, a group of small "baronies which were carved out and held by landless knights who did not wish to return to Europe after their long travel to the Middle East."

Norton also used elements of other legends, including the Arthurian cycle that provided the "Siege Perilous," the stone chair by which Colonel Simon Tregarth escapes his pursuers and finds him self in an alternate world. It is a world of sword-and-sorcery, with feats of arms and magic, threats of invasion by forces of evil (the Kolder, with their machines and laboratories and soul-destroying devices), and the witches and their warriors who must restore matters to their rightful order. The sorcery, however, is rationalized as psychic powers enhanced by jewels and exercised by women who must work together and must retain their virginity to keep their powers. Jewels play a significant part in Norton fiction, particularly the fantasy novels. Sometimes they make their appearance as talismans, not only as charms that avert or repel evil but as psychometry, defined by Roger C. Schlobin, in St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, as the pseudo-science that enables a sensitive to detect "the residue of 'memory' retained in an artifact."

Creating a series as extended as Witch World takes research and organization, virtues cultivated by librarians. Norton has filled note books with lists of characters and their traits, time charts, geographies, flora and fauna, plot outlines and interconnections, customs, and beliefs. As Schiobin has written in Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature, "Stories are listed in order and cross-referenced to their times and settings. There is even a glossary of colloquial expressions."

The central position of strong women in the Witch World series gave Norton a reputation as an early feminist; moreover her work solidified a tradition of non-stereotyped female major characters in action- adventure novels that had been pioneered by writers such as C. L. Moore and Leigh Brackett. In both her fantasy and her science fiction, Norton has chosen as protagonists young men and women who must go through some rite of passage to discover that a meaningful under standing of the universe lies in its history and the symbols of that history. The most important aspects of Norton's fiction are humanity and self-realization and their history, as she explained in "On Writing Fantasy"; "The first requirement for writing heroic. . . fantasy must be a deep interest in and a love for history itself. Not the history of dates, of sweeps and empires - but the kind of history which deals with daily life, the beliefs, and the aspirations of people long since dust."

According to Mick Ashley in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, the Witch World series "has... been immensely influential, most evidently in the Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley and the Diadem books by Jo Clayton, and to some extent the Pern stories by Anne McCaffrey." Schlobin summed up the series as "dominated by its carefully constructed settings, its inventive magic, and its human characters. The figures who move through its physical and psycho logical dilemmas elicit reader empathy because of their humanity; they offer pathways to wondrous mysteries that could be shared if only readers could get to the Witch World and its mystical revelations and great challenges. The tension and suspense of their adventures allows any sensitive soul to stand at the focal point of matters both majestically cosmic and deeply intimate."

Norton has been prolific, with more than four columns of books in St. James Guide, a productivity enhanced by a long and active writ ing life. In recent years, particularly in the 1990s, she has collaborated with a number of other writers, most of them women such as Dorothy Madlee, Phyllis Miller, A. C. Crispin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May, Mercedes Lackey, P.M. Griffin, Mary H. Schaub, Sasha Miller, and Lyn McConchie. She has won the Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy award, the Daedelus life achievement award, the Jules Verne award for life achievement in SF, the SFWA Grand Master award, and induction into the Hall of Fame, among others, and was guest-of-honor at the World Science Fiction Convention in 1989.

Ashley summarized her fiction as showing "the virtues of clear construction, a high degree of narrative control, protagonists whose qualities allow easy reader-identification and a Universe fundamen tally responsive to virtue, good will and spunk. ... It has only recently been borne in upon the [SF] world that [Norton's] 100 or more books - most of them in print - are for very many readers central to what the genre has to offer."

Andre Norton, who began her adult life as a librarian and devoted most of her career to filling a library with her books, has her own witch craft to work on a story. Simon Tregarth gets to the Witch World by trusting himself to the Siege Perilous. Readers need only open a book.

James Gunn
Lawrence, Kansas
August 3, 1998