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Friday, October 28, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Day 28--Witches

A person who practices occult arts may go by many names, but the most common is simply, “witch." Across cultures and over the course of recorded human history, there have always been people who claim to be able to harness magic both to help their community and sometimes to hinder it.  There are black-robed, stoop–shouldered hags coexisting with New Age Herbalists, Celtic druids and fairy-tale Disney depictions of both good and bad sorcerers.  Shakespeare’s tempestuous witch sisters mesh with our memories of The Crucible and The Blair Witch Project, and even the British wizard-in-training, Harry Potter.  More often than not, the witch and his or her powers have been associated with negative images.  They use charms, potions, and curses. Some are mischievous and bring ill fortune to others, and they belong to covens that hold services under cover of darkness to discuss their magic and pay homage to their master, the Devil.  Despite this diversity, the one uniform distinction of all witches is the element of magic.  All have some sort of magical or mystical ability to manipulate the forces of nature.

The witch story is still a big part of the horror genre today.  It is one with which I am less familiar however.  For the new book, I did a lot of research into why readers crave these specific stories.  Since I am not a big fan myself, this was one of the more rewarding experiences I had while working on the book.

Recently, I also received a communication from my alma matter about a course being offered this semester entitled, "Witches: Myth and Reality."  The interest in witches is high among the general public.

So as not to ignore this popular subgenre of horror stories during this celebration of 31 Days of Horror, I would like to offer a few of my new found favorite witch tales:

Campbell, Ramsey. The Darkest Part of the Woods.

In this moody story of a haunted English wood, a family is torn apart by its connection to the forest. The history of the wood is linked to an alchemist who lived in the forest and tried to summon an evil spirit. With a nod to The Blair Witch Project, a new generation of the family tries not to go mad discovering the wood’s secrets. This is a modern story of inescapable horror grounded in classical roots.

Everson, John. Sacrifice.
Ariana is a witch who is devoted to conjuring a race of evil spirits known as the Curbine. A group of reluctant heroes is in a race to stop Ariana from destroying the world. This is a sexy, violent, and terrifying novel with frenetic pacing that stands as a solid example of the best of today’s horror. You could also try Covenant (2004) and Siren (2010) for more witch inspired horror.
Kenyon, Nate. Bloodstone.
Ex-con Billy and the prostitute he kidnapped are plagued by evil dreams as they pull into White Falls, Maine. Within the town, a young boy Jed is entranced by a 300 year-old, magical amulet. Thrown together by the influence of the cursed necklace, the characters engage in an epic showdown between good and evil. This is a character driven novel, obviously influenced by Stephen King, with a consciously building pace and a surprising twist. Bloodstone was the debut novel by one of today’s best horror voices.

Laymon, Richard. Dark Mountain.
Two families go on a camping trip to a mountainous forest. What should be a peaceful and restful vacation turns horrifying as they encounter a witch who places a curse on the families. After returning home, the families find the curse is all too real, and a few of them must return to try to overturn it. In pure Laymon form, this is a terrifying and bloody story of a frighteningly realistic witch bent on destruction. Think twice before reading this novel before your next camping trip.
Piccirilli, Tom. A Choir of Ill Children.
Thomas is a descendant of his backwoods, swamp town’s founders. He is also the guardian of his conjoined triplet brothers, who share a brain and act as an oracle. When an outsider comes to town, dark secrets are revealed, a coven of witches are upset, and an odd preacher begins speaking in tongues. Thomas must take control and find out the truth. This is a creepy novel, filled with rich and macabre characters, written in a conscious Southern Gothic style.

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