Chris's Reviews > Conjure Wife

Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber
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's review
Mar 29, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: horror, 2012-reads
Read from March 25 to 27, 2012

** spoiler alert ** I choose to describe Conjure Wife as a cautionary tale and parable about how closed mindedness, sexism and arrogance (in this case in 1950's academia) can damage those that we love. Norman, a sociology professor at a small, second tier university, is quite full of himself. He describes his wife as "his most prized possession" and, for reasons that are unclear, has chosen to snoop on her and look through her closet and private possessions. As a result, he discovers that his wife is in actuality a practicing witch, and a good one at that. Being the modern scientist and responsible for his wife's well-being (as he sees it) he immediately must sit her down and didactically enlighten his wife, who he clearly considers to be child-like and in need of his guidance. The extended scene in which he describes his patient attempts to help her make the logical steps to "realize" that witchcraft is just a delusion of less advanced societies is nauseating in its paternalism and condescension. She finally agrees to throw it all away. He is finally convinced that he has helped his wife Tansy mature and that this dabbling in primitive customs is behind them. The problem is that the witchcraft is very real and so is the danger created by the sudden removal of all the spells that were protecting him for years. He is about to learn that there are more witches out there and that some can be pretty nasty.

I think that the use of the first person narrative voice was brilliant, even necessary for this novel to have the proper effect. We are able to hear Norman tell the story from his point of view and in his own words and roll our eyes wondering if this pig-headed snob is EVER going to open his eyes to what is happening around him. Ultimately, just as he would accuse primitive societies of being trapped by their ignorance, he is likewise trapped by his own self-imposed rigid mindset. In his world view, men are cognitively and emotionally superior to women and all "reality" is merely a reflection of science and mathematics. Anything not "scientific" or at least scientific in is definition, is not reality. It is amusing and sometimes horrifying to watch him rationalize the supernatural events occurring around him.

Finally, with his wife's help (who actually would have been MUCH better off without his meddling in the first place) he is able to right what was wrong and get everything back the way it was before he intervened. You can't help but smirk when you read how he slants the action so that it always looks like he is the hero that saves the day. The real brilliance of the novel is that Norman's narration is transparent. Even while he tells you about his application of scientific principles and logical solutions to the horror confronting them, you can see the terrified Norman cowering behind it all. This Norman knows that he has left himself and Tansy naked to an evil onslaught and that he is completely out of his depth. He retreats into depression and alcohol and lashes out in frustration at those around him. It is pathetic to watch him, even though he believes in the reality of the magic, attempt to sell himself on the idea that everything that is going on is explainable by scientific, psychological, or medical causes.

Well, good triumphs over evil and at the end Tansy asks him if he has changed his mindset or if he is already rationalizing the whole chain of events into a scientific explanation. We don't get the answer, but clearly we hope that Norman has learned a bit from his wife, who has shown a tremendous amount of patience with her stubborn and close-minded husband.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Charlene Thanks for coming to the defense of women everywhere! I guess you really disliked Norman.

Chris I felt sorry for him. He is missing the whole point of, well, everything.

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