Review +quot;Witch Hill+quot; By Marion Zimmer Bradley (reviewed by Paul Suliin) One would

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Review "Witch Hill" By Marion Zimmer Bradley (reviewed by Paul Suliin) One would like to believe that Bradley wrote and sold this book in her callow youth, to an unscrupulous publisher who is now finally releasing it in order to capitalize on Bradley's name recognition. Unfortunately, "Witch Hill" is copyrighted 1990 to Bradley herself, and is published by Tor Books. There really isn't too much a reviewer can say about "Witch Hill" that can truly do the book justice, but sadly, that is not because it is good. I have decided therefore to simply present a plot summary and a few representative quotes, and let my readers decide for themselves. Because I realize that many of Bradley's fans may find this hard to believe, I am also providing page numbers for important passages, so that the doubtful reader may check the book in the store without having to shell out good money. * * * Sara Latimer is a young artist who suffers the loss of her entire family in a tragic series of accidents. Shortly before her father dies, he tells her the story of the original Sara Latimer, hanged as a witch in 17th century New England. In the three hundred years since, there has always been a Sara Latimer in the family, and they have one and all come to violent ends. After her father's death Sara learns of the family's ancestral home, owned by the last Sara Latimer (our heroine's great aunt) until her death seven years before. The house is in the tiny Massachusetts town of Witch Hill, near Arkham and Innsmouth (the fictional towns created by H.P. Lovecraft). Having nowhere else to go, Sara decides to move into the old family house, at least until she can get her life back in order. From the moment of her arrival in Witch Hill, odd things begin to happen. It appears that Sara is the living (if much younger) image of the last Sara Latimer, dead these seven years, and that the townsfolk have some very strange expectations of her. Everyone seems to think that that Sara is her great aunt back from the dead, and it quickly becomes apparent that the last Sara Latimer was a witch. Sara soon takes up with Brian Standish, a handsome young doctor. Thanks to a curious jar of aphrodisiac ointment in "Aunt Sara's" old bedroom, Sara and Brian wind up in bed together soon after they meet, and the two fall in love as only gothic romance lovers can. The next day, Sara gets a visit from Matthew Hay, pastor of the nearby Church of the Antique Rite. Hay explains to Sara that he is the High Priest of the local coven of witches, and that Sara's great aunt was the High Priestess until her death. He seems to feel that Sara is indeed her great aunt returned, and he expects her to resume her former role in the coven. Much to her surprise, Sara finds that Hays' church is strangely familiar, and she knows things about the altar setting (a standard Wiccan layout) that she should not know. When Hays realizes this, he "seduces" Sara violently before the altar, and Sara finds herself strangely excited by Matt Hays' brutal way of lovemaking (she is left bruised and bleeding). Hays takes this as the final proof of Sara's "true" identity, because, as he explains, "All witches are promiscuous, and take their pleasure where they please." (p.84) Sara is shocked by her own strange behavior, and she begins to suspect that she is being somehow influenced by the spirit of her great aunt. She soon meets Tabitha, another member of the coven, and in her talk with Tabitha it is made very clear that these "witches" are followers of the Old Religion and the Old Gods. It seems that Sara's great aunt was much-feared by the rest of the coven, and that in fact the entire coven is controlled by force and threat of force. Enter Colin MacLaran. Long-time Bradley fans will recognize MacLaran from "The Inheritor". It seems that he and Sara are old friends, and that he is teaching a summer course at Miskatonic University in nearby Arkham. MacLaran is a friendly face when Sara badly needs one, but it seems he may be too late to help her. A full moon Esbat is fast approaching, and Matthew Hay, the rest of the coven, and most of the town seem to expect Sara to take up her great aunt's position as High Priestess. Sara wants nothing to do with any of this, and tries to leave Witch Hill, only to be stopped by Tabitha's manipulative magic. (p.157) When Sara still refuses to attend the Esbat, she is drugged with belladonna and taken there by force (pp.165-167). At the Full Moon rite, Hertha, Cernunnos, Astarte, and Ishtar are invoked in the Circle, along with Azathoth, the insane creator from Lovecraft's Cthulu stories. The Rite becomes an orgy, and Sara is then "welcomed" as the coven's High Priestess by being ritually raped on the altar by Matthew Hay wearing the mask of the Horned God (pp.172-173). This is followed by a gang rape from the rest of the men in the coven. The trauma of this experience appears to bring the spirit of Sara's great aunt into full control of her body. "Aunt Sara" tricks Claire Moffat, Colin's assistant, into thinking that she is still the younger Sara, and sets about reestablishing her power base within the coven and the community of Witch Hill. This includes using magic to strike a young boy with asthma, apparently just because he irritates her (p.216). The Lammas rite is coming up, and there Sara will be formally installed as the coven's High Priestess. Matthew Hay and Tabitha are trying to persuade Sara to get rid of Brian Standish, because he could threaten her power as a witch. The book explains that this is because-- "A witch cannot love, and keep the tremendous power to manipulate peoples' minds and lives....A person in love is thinking of someone other than herself. The power of a witch comes -- at least in part -- from a tremendous concentration upon her own will and her own desires....The slightest thought about the well-being of another and the total self-concentration is broken and destroyed." (pp.226-227) For a brief time Sara toys with the idea of bringing Brian into the Old Religion. After all, a doctor could provide the coven with ready access to drugs and convenient death certificates when they are needed. But she finally realizes that he could never put his own welfare ahead of a person in need, and so could never be a witch. She therefore agrees to drive Brian away by allowing him to discover her having sex with Matthew Hay and Tabitha. A human sacrifice to the Horned God is planned for the Lammas Rite, to mark Sara's return to the coven. Sara recalls that it has always been this way: "The black-handled knife on the altar was the memento of this; the only human sacrifice made to the Horned One, at the installment of a returned witch into her place. With it, she would kill, upon the ritual altar, and for that one Sabbat, the living nude body of a woman on the altar was replaced by a corpse. This meant that she could never leave or betray the coven -- at the price of being accused and convicted of murder by all twelve witnesses. After, the dead body would be abused by all present, then secretly buried in a place known only to the coven." (pp.234-235) At the Lammas Rite, Sara learns that Colin MacLaran and Claire have somehow gotten themselves invited. For some reason, however, they do nothing but watch as the final scene unfolds. The sacrifice turns out to be Brian Standish, and seeing him, Sara throws off the controlling spirit of her great aunt. She frees Brian, who then takes on the rest of the coven. Brian kills Matthew Hay, and Tabitha winds up in a mental hospital. The two young lovers then live happily ever after. * * * I must emphasize that it is made abundantly clear in the story that the coven in Witch Hill follows our ancient Gods, using human sacrifice and brutal ritual sex as their offerings. The witches in the book are vicious, self- centered, and manipulative. Nowhere in the book is any counter-example offered, nor is it ever suggested that these are not authentic witches. It is doubly tragic that this book was written by the author of "The Mists of Avalon." Marion Zimmer Bradley cannot plead ignorance or inexperience. For myself, I will no longer purchase any book written or co-written by Marion Zimmer Bradley, nor will I recommend them to others. I hope that my readers will examine "Witch Hill" for themselves and make their own decisions.


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