A Fond Look Back at Andre Norton’s Witch World

001The last few weeks have been a bit up and down for me and so I wanted to lose myself in some other author’s well realized, complex world. I decided Andre Norton’s Witch World was just the thing I needed. I’ve mentioned before that Year of the Unicorn is my absolute favorite novel in the series and I’ve reread that many a time. I haven’t revisited the other books in decades so I dug ALL of them out of the bookcase and sat down to start at the beginning, with Simon Tregarth’s  journey in Witch World.

Right off the bat I realized I had remembered some things not quite right and some things exactly, and forgotten a ton! (There might be spoilers in this post if you haven’t read all the books.)

006After a brief setup in our own world as to why Simon was willing to risk the Siege Perilous and travel through a Gate, he was plunged into the action, with the Witch Jaelithe. Simon is an interesting guy, archetypal member of the GI Generation, fought in World War II, then in the early Cold War…I realized he was the perfect choice to fall into Witch World, which at this point in the series is at war with the Hounds of Alizon and the alien Kolder. His military skills were immediately transferable and he found his footing. It helps that the Witches of Estcarp are familiar with people arriving on their world through Gates. And of course he has Power, which they believe their own males don’t and can’t.

There was more on the page between Simon and Jaelithe than I had realized, including one scene when she’s in disguise and casting a love potion for someone where Simon (locked in a cupboard!) gets hot and bothered, listening in. I’m sure that part of the scene went right over my head when I read it as a much younger person. Of course a lot of the relationship between them is inferred with glances and oblique remarks, given the time Ms. Norton wrote this. Web of the Witch World concludes the direct story of Simon and Jaelithe.

005I was puzzled though, because it ends without the dramatic “turning of the mountains” wherein the Witches seal off Estcarp, seal out Alizon and lose a lot of their own number. So I continued on through the trilogy centered on the children of Simon and Jaelithe – Three Against the Witch World, Warlock of the Witch World and Sorceress of the Witch World. Ah ha, the Turning is in the first of these books and necessary as a plot device on the individual level to allow two of the triplets to rescue the third from the Witches. I remember as a younger reader not liking the way Simon was said to have been as a parent, but now, thinking of him as a member of the GI Generation, I get it. Yup.

These three books still weren’t my favorites, and I feel the sister Kaththea really got cheated when it comes to her romance – nothing but a single warm embrace at the very end of the book. A lot of instalove going on, which I can certainly handle but I’m used to the fantasy romances we write and read nowadays, you know? I also got very overwhelmed with the East being home to virtually ALL the creatures of myth that the former residents of Estcarp had ever heard of.  Every time I turned a page, there was another  new one…..and another Gate and more Kolder-like aliens (on their own world this time)…

So now I decided to return to Herrel and Gillan from Year of the Unicorn and see where else they were mentioned, besides their own book. I always want more of them! I knew they appeared a few other places.  Bloodspell, a short story by A. C. Crispin, which can be found in Tales of the Witch World, explains what the Wereriders did that was so awful they got exiled from Arvon for all those long years, and how the Pack really owes Herrel a debt that things didn’t turn out worse for them. I loved this glimpse of the backstory. Also, Neevor and Ibycus appear, as well as others. I love when the threads of Witch World pull together in the various tales.

A short aside, this volume also contains one of my favorite Wererider stories, Were-Hunter by Mercedes Lackey, about Glenda of our world, who goes through a Gate and eventually meets Harwin, son of Harl and Kildas, who was one of the Brides from Year of the Unicorn. Harwin was on his way to find Herrel and Gillan, so even though they don’t actually appear in the story, it’s fun.

Gillan and Herrel do play a supporting role in the novel Jargoon Pard…

Thinking that was it, I backtracked and started reading the Gryphon trilogy, set in the Dales right before and during the invasion by Alizon. I found it fascinating to read of the time before the war began and then how the dire times changed everyone’s life forever. I had virtually no memory of reading these books before, other than the fact that Kerovan, the hero, had cloven feet. The POV alternates between him and Joisan, his Lady, in all three novels. There were more glimpses of supporting characters we’d met before, especially at Norstead Abbey (where Gillan was at the start of the Year of the Unicorn). MUCH more lore of the Witch World and the Waste and the Old Ones…and I realized with excitement in the second book, Gryphon in Glory, that Kerovan was the person first sent by Lord Imgry to entreat the Wereriders to help the Dalesmen against Alizon. And he had an extended encounter with Herrel!


I also enjoyed seeing Elys and Jervon in Gryphon in Glory because I’ve always been fond of them, and to my knowledge before, they only appeared in two short stories. She was the daughter of a Witch, who saves her ungrateful twin and then rides on with Jervon, a Dales warrior. All too soon though in the Gryphon novel, the Power decrees they must leave Joisan and Kerovan to follow their own road (literally), and we never see them again. But they certainly did serve as good, “married equals” role models for  the main characters while they were on the page.

Gryphon’s Eyrie, the third book, concludes with an actual declaration of love from Kerovan to Joisan! In so many words! And along the way a hint of a sweet sex scene or two. EEP! Although it was co-authored by Ms. Norton and A. C. Crispin, and published in 1984. (Versus 1963 for Witch World.)

I know there are super dedicated fans who have compiled timelines and exhaustive lists regarding all the Witch World books, but I kind of enjoyed finding all these intertwining threads and appearances on my own. Along the way I read or reread all the books of short stories by Ms. Norton I could find, as well as the anthologies where she invited other authors like Ms. Lackey to ‘play’ in her Witch World. MUCH good reading. If you haven’t treated yourself to the fairly recent  Tales From High Hallack anthologies in three volumes, you really should – they gathered up all of her short stories and it’s a fun mix of Arthurian, Witch World, SF space stories and more. Some I’d read before, in the original anthologies where they first appeared, but many were only printed in magazines and very hard to find.  I really enjoyed The Way Wind  Witch World short story in the second volume, which was completely new to me.

What if I’d ever been invited to ‘play’ in Witch World? What would I have written? Probably something with Wereriders….and a Gate….how about you?