Season of the Witch

2 Oct

Most people know Anne Rice best from her famous series of novels The Vampire Chronicles, in particular Interview with the Vampire (possibly because of the awful nineties film starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt). Lesser known, but in my view at least as great an achievement, is her witch saga The Lives of the Mayfair Witches, which begins with Witching Hour. The first novel of the series introduces us to Michael Curry, a man with psychic gifts, who falls in love with the witch Rowan Mayfair and is drawn into the exotic and dangerous world of her family, who have been gifted (or cursed) with demon-inspired powers for centuries. It is important to emphasise this history because Witching Hour is simply majestic in the sweep of time and space that it covers – from 17th century Scotland to the present day and from the Old World to the New. Basically the idea behind the saga of the Mayfair Witches is that their powers did not develop naturally but were the gift of the insidious and enigmatic figure known as Lasher, whose precise origin is never entirely explained – he may be a spirit, demon, fallen angel or demi-god. How the witches got their powers and how Michael and Rowan fit into the whole thing is a LONG story (about 1200 pages long in this book alone!).

One of the major selling-points of Witching Hour is the quality of Rice’s writing. Newcomers to her work will find themselves enthralled and absorbed in equal measure by Rice’s deliciously dark prose, the pleasure of which I can best describe as akin to drinking a sultry red wine on a steamy Louisiana night in high summer. The story simply flows along as you are introduced to a vast, almost Dickensian, cast of characters but it really comes into its own in the middle third of the book when we are shown ‘The File on the Mayfair Witches’. This is a long document which has been kept by the Talamasca, a secret society dedicated to watching and recording the history of vampires and witches, who also appear in The Vampire Chronicles. The role of the Talamasca and their motto (‘We watch and we are always here’) may make them sound familiar to Buffy and Highlander fans but it is Rice’s creation that is older, having originated with the first of her vampire novels back in the 1970s. Going back to the story, it is the Talamasca’s file which in my view most demonstrates Rice’s skill as a writer, which for me is exemplified by the startling contrast between the scholarly, detached tone of this segment and the thrilling, often sexually charged passages which make up the rest of the novel. There is a reason why Anne Rice ranks second only to Stephen King as the modern-day best-selling horror writer.

For me, Rice’s Vampire Chronicles have made almost as much of a contribution as Bram Stoker’s Dracula to the modern conception of the vampire, something for which she has rightly been critically and commercially acclaimed. It therefore never ceases to amaze me that this author has not received the credit she deserves for the popular image of the witch in modern media. Almost every series involving witches that has been on television since Witching Hour was published – from Buffy to Charmed and from True Blood to the brand-new Secret Circle – owes a direct debt to Rice’s ideas. This is hardly surprising given how iconic many of her ideas are, such as the crumbling, gothic New Orleans mansion which is home to an ancient magical bloodline and the fiend that has for centuries been both the source of their power and their greatest enemy. Rice does not shy away from depicting the cost of all the power that is in the hands of the Mayfairs, who are as flawed and conflicted as any other powerful family and are guilty of greed, envy, lust and even incest. But for all this the Mayfair Witches remain archetypes rather than stereotypes and though their look, actions and powers have been oft-imitated their saga  has never been bettered. This is Rice at her formidable best.

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3 Responses to “Season of the Witch”

  1. Cellar Doors October 2, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    The Witching Hour is one of my top 5 favorite books. I was completely enthralled when I first read it. I couldn’t agree with your feedback more.

  2. anilbalan October 2, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    Thanks!

  3. The Paranormalist October 5, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    I must agree with you. Though I loved the vampire chronicles, it is the Mayfair witch clan that I go back to whenever I want to revel in Ms. Rice’s lush prose.

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