October seems to do nothing but lead up to Halloween, so let’s look at two books about witches. Beyond the Burning Time is painful reading. It is historic fiction about the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. This book is by Kathryn Lasky and is written for fifth or sixth grade readers, in the Children’s Department of the Pine Bush Area Public Library. It is about neighbor turning against neighbor, and a bunch of rotten kids turning in their elders, as witches. There was no defense in Salem, Massachusetts. If some bratty teenager said that she saw the specter of a witch hurting her, then the person she accused was doomed. There was no way to disprove “spectral evidence.” The grownups believed it and 19 people were hanged, some died while imprisoned, and one man was pressed to death. The fiction part of this book is that Mary and Caleb are able to save their mother as she is being carted to the gallows, and they all get away. A happy ending.
For the lighter side of the witch trials, try a fiction book from Adult Services, upstairs. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is by Katherine Howe. She sets some of her book in 1681, and then up to the troubles in 1692, and on to 1760 when someone has the gall to sell “mother’s book” for money—getting rid of an old almanack, or a recipe book, or is it a book of spells?
In 1991, Connie Goodwin wants to write her dissertation at Harvard University. Her advisor, Manning Chilton, wants her to write about witchcraft, and then he sends her on a quest to find (somewhere, somehow) a primary source. In other words, he wants a spell book. Why?
This is a book about witches, but it is not desperately sad. This is a book about Connie, a woman who does not believe in witches, but who has a mother who is a former hippy who has never quite given up. Grace likes to “clean up” people’s auras—the halos of colors around them which only she can see. She sends Connie to clean up her grandmother’s house in Marblehead, Massachusetts. You might find anything in that old house.
In this story, there is a boyfriend who is kind and happy and decent, and there is a little dog that seems to appear and disappear. And there are secrets and a book of spells. It is a nice change from the weight of history that I find when I look seriously at the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. The author, Katherine Howe, is not being irreverent. She is coming from a serious place—she is “a descendant of Elizabeth Proctor, who survived the Salem witch trials, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not.” This is a readable book with humor and kindness in it.
So, here you find two fiction books that look at a very hard time in American history, when families were divided, and people feared for their lives. People wanted a return to normalcy, and the end of insanity. Time moved on and 1692 passed into history. Somehow, time moves on.