Witches’ Sabbath

witches_sabbath

Witches’ Sabbath | Charity Blackstock | Paperback Library | 1967 | 174 pages

Tamar Brown arrives in the small English village of Meadway Bois to write a book on the local legend, Abigail Parkes, a young girl who was burned as a witch three-hundred years previously. Tamar feels a strange affinity with Abigail reaching back across the years, perhaps from their similarly brilliant red hair, long lashes and piercing blue eyes. The desolation of Tamar’s new surroundings brings back painful memories of her holiday in the Scottish Highland, where she suffered a harsh breakup from her beau, young doctor William Menzies.

Tamar’s expectations for a quiet solitude, filled with work, are soon shattered. After a night of boozing at the village pub (aptly named The Burning Witch), the town drunk stumbles upon Tamar in the street and reflexively gives her a two-fingered gesture—understood in the country as the sign of “The Evil Eye”. The superstitious townspeople, already noting Tamar’s uncanny resemblance to Abigail Parkes, seize upon this evidence as validation of their fears of the witches’ return. Although she rebuffs the advances of ne’er-do-well and self-proclaimed artist Humphrey Sloane, the town gossips further brand her a “wanton woman.”

Much to her surprise, Tamar discovers that the village doctor, Dr. William Randall, is her William, practicing medicine under an assumed name. After their separation, William impulsively entered into an unhappy marriage with another girl, whose suspicious suicide with sleeping pills led to murder charges being filed against him. Only the testimony of his possessive older sister Ruth at the trial cast doubt upon the evidence, and led to the dismissal of charges. Although William is now a broken man, Tamar cannot help but feel the rekindling of her emotions towards him, as if the last few years of separation had dissipated.

A case of measles breaks out in the village, afflicting the children of Tamar’s neighbor, Mrs. Leigh, whose ancestor lost a child and accused Abigail Parkes of witchcraft. After Mrs. Leigh’s child dies and Abigail’s grave is discovered unearthed, Tamar fears that everyone in town believes her to be responsible for all their maladies, and that history will repeat itself in Meadway Bois in the form of a funeral pyre. It seems only William can stand between the town and its thirst for vengeance, but can he succeed while wrestling with his own personal demons?

Perhaps if Tamar behaved less like a crybaby, her gradual entrapment into the web of malice created by the superstition and ignorance in the village would be more compelling. The snot-nosed neighbor boy makes a rude remark, she cries; Humphrey behaves in a loutish manner, she cries; William repeats his abusive ways; she cries. Her histrionics—coupled with her gullibility as she falls into the obvious traps laid by her enemies, mimicking the Abigail Parkes story and making it all the easier for the townspeople to believe the witch has been reborn—define Tamar as a less-than-sympathetic heroine. And for all the protest about the abuses Mrs. Belling suffers at the hands of her drunken husband, no notice is taken when William behaves in equally offensive ways, slapping and name-calling his way into a renewal of his relationship with Tamar.

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