Witch World by Andre Norton

Anthony G Williams

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I was aware of Andre Norton when devouring SFF at a high rate in the 1960s and 1970s, but for some reason read hardly any of her work except for the two Janus stories. In particular, I was familiar with the Witch World title so when this 1963 novel was suggested as one of the
monthly reads of the Classic SF discussion forum I decided it was time to catch up.

Simon Tregarth, an ex-soldier living on the fringes of the underworld and with a price on his
head, is offered a chance to escape through a gate connecting this world with another better
suited to him – which turns out to be the Witch World. This world has a fundamentally medieval society (what is it about medieval societies which makes them so common on other worlds?) with a few additions of strangely advanced technology. There is also sorcery, wielded by women in just one place, the land of Estcarp. Tregarth finds himself involved with Estcarp – and one of the witches in particular – in their struggle for survival against an inhuman enemy.

There is of course a long tradition of "lone man from the present day finds himself magically
transported to a strange world" stories in fantasy. Burroughs' Barsoom series is an early example and there are countless others (probably dozens on my bookshelves alone). One of the best-known of recent decades is Zelazny's Amber series (with the added twist that the hero wasn't really a stranger, he had just forgotten that he was a prince in that realm – as one does), another classic favourite being the comic take on this sub-genre in L Sprague de Camp's Enchanter series. Why is this theme so popular? Possibly because it is ideally suited to escapist wish-fulfilment fantasies; how many people would not gladly leave behind their present lives to start afresh in a new world, one in which they have some unique talents or high status?

So how does Witch World compare with the rest of the sub-genre? Rather well, actually,
especially since it was a relatively early example. I read the 220-page book in three sessions on consecutive evenings, and after the first I found myself really looking forward to picking up the book again to continue the story – a feeling I rarely get these days. Tregarth is an admirable character despite his dark history, and I liked the fact that he isn't the usual skilled fighter in such stories; while an excellent shot, he is hopeless with a sword – which is what you would expect from someone who's never used one before.

I definitely want to read more of these stories and will be hunting down the next few novels in
the series. I was however somewhat daunted to discover that the itch orld series is huge, with
novels published over four decades (some of the later ones with other writers involved). I think
I'll just stick to the ones with the original characters to start with!

(An extract from my SFF blog: http://sciencefictionfantasy.blogspot.co.uk/)
 

j d worthington

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I definitely want to read more of these stories and will be hunting down the next few novels in
the series. I was however somewhat daunted to discover that the itch orld series is huge, with
novels published over four decades (some of the later ones with other writers involved). I think
I'll just stick to the ones with the original characters to start with!
Then you're going to have a rather short run, as Simon and Jaelith only appear as major characters in the second, Web of the Witch World. After that, the series opens out, first with their children, then with others from this created world. However, the first several are indeed very good, and even after that, a fair number in the series remain fairly high in quality... at least, those written by Ms. Norton herself; those with her collaborators vary more widely. The recommendation, incidentally, includes such a collection of shorter works as Spell of the Witch World, which is a good bit into the series.....
 

Ray McCarthy

Sentient Marmite: The Truth may make you fret.
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what is it about medieval societies which makes them so common on other worlds?
Potentially stable. China didn't change so very much between 200BC and 1912.
A very wide range of society from 1500BC Babylon to 500BC Greek / Minoan to 17th C Western Europe might seem at some levels similar to external observers. Lets call it "Iron Age" rather than Mediaevil?
OTH 18C to today is very rapid change.
 

Anthony G Williams

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Web of the Witch World continues the tale a few months later. Simon Tregarth is now established in Estcarp as March Warder of the south, helping to defend the witch land against the purely human enemies which surround it. He is now married to Jaelithe, the former witch who had given up her status for him. A new threat is emerging, an inimical force with the ability to take over the minds of humans, turning them into enemies of their own people. It does not take long to identify the culprits as the alien Kolder, beaten at the end of the first story but now regrouping in their attempt to establish control over the witch world.

What follows is another exciting adventure, a tale of intrigue, battle and romance, during which it becomes clear that the belief of Estcarp's Women of Power – that magical powers could only be exercised by virgin women – proves to be wrong on both counts. Tregarth and Jaelithe, individually capable, become a force to be reckoned with when they fight side-by-side.

I must admit to wondering how the story was going to end as the remaining page count shrank almost to nothing while the battle was still raging, but the heroes finally manage the job in a rather abrupt ending which doesn't really explain exactly what the Kolder were up to. It's a fun ride, though, and well worth reading if you like Witch World. After this, the focus of the series switches to the heroes' children and to other lands within the witch world, but I think I'll bail out at this point – too many other books awaiting my attention!

(An extract from my SFF blog: Science Fiction & Fantasy)
 

Teresa Edgerton

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The first six books in the series (Witch World, Web of the Witch World, Three Against the Witch World, Warlock of the Witch World, Sorceress of the Witch World, The Year of the Unicorn -- which I read in my late teens, during the 1960s -- had a lot to do with developing my taste for fantasy, although some of these might arguably be called science fantasy. I also loved The Crystal Gryphon. The books written from the late 1970's on didn't pull me in in the same way.

I don't think it was a case of growing too old for the books, because I've since reread these early books with pleasure. I feel like there was a spark there that was missing in the later books. As though the later books were written because readers wanted more in that world, rather than because the author felt particularly inspired. A lot of those were collaborations, and I've nothing to say against any of the collaborators, but they couldn't reproduce whatever it was I loved about the original books.

She did write some short stories set in High Hallack that I liked very much, but I think those were written around the same time as the seven books I mention.

Norton was very prolific of course, and I devoured many of her books -- science fiction, science fantasy, and fantasy -- in my late teens and early twenties.
 

DrMclony

SF Author M R Mortimer
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Thank you for reviewing this and giving me a great suggestion for an upcoming read! I have always been fond of Andre Norton's work, but have not read all of the witch world books. Now I have a quest to embark on, purchasing and reading them all! (After I check my library and figure out which ones I already have)
 
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