Excerpt of The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow
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The precise metaphysical procedures
by which a book goes about writing another book need not concern us here.
Suffice it to say that our human scribes remain entirely ignorant of their
possession by bibliographic forces; the agent in question never doubts that his
authorship is authentic. A bit of literary history may clarify matters. Unlike
Charles Dickenss other novels, Little Dorrit was in fact written by The
Færie Queene. It is fortunate that Jane Austens reputation does not rest
on Northanger Abbey, for the author of that admirable satire was Paradise
Regained in a frivolous mood. The twentieth century offers abundant
examples, from The Pilgrims Progress cranking out Atlas Shrugged,
to Les Misérables composing The Jungle, to The Memoirs of
Casanova penning Portnoys Complaint.
Occasionally, of course, the
alchemy proves so potent that the appropriated author never produces a single
original word. Some compelling facts have accrued to this phenomenon. Every
desert romance novel bearing the name E. M. Hull was actually written by Madame
Bovary on a lark; Mein Kampf can claim credit for most of the
Hallmark greeting cards printed between 1958 and 1967; Richard Nixons entire
oeuvre traces to a collective effort by the science-fiction slush pile at Ace
Books. Now, as you might imagine, upon finding a large readership through
one particular work, the average book aspires to repeat its success. Once The
Wasteland and Other Poems generated its first Republican Party platform, it
couldnt resist creating all the others. After Waiting for Godot
acquired a taste for writing Windows software documentation, there was no
In my own case, I started out
small, producing a Provençal cookbook in 1947 and an income-tax preparation
guide in 1983. But now I turn my attention to a more ambitious project,
attempting a tome that is at once an autobiography, an historical epic, and an
exercise in Newtonian apologetics. Though occasionally I shall wax defensive,
this is largely because so many of your species ills, from rampant
materialism to spiritual alienation, have been laid upon my rationalistic head.
Face it, people, there is more to your malaise than celestial mechanics. If you
want to know why you feel so bad, you must look beyond universal gravitation.
The ability to appropriate mortal minds accounts not only for a books
literary output but for its romantic life as well, physical and emotional.
We copulate by proxy, and we like
it. But prior to any carnal consummation, we fall in love with youmadly,
deeply, eternallydespite the yawning gulf separating our kingdoms, that chasm
between the vegetable and the animal. The protagonist of my tale is a mortal
woman, Jennet Stearne, and I must declare at the outset that I adored her past
all telling and worshipped her beyond the bounds of reason. Even now, centuries
after her death, I cannot write her name without causing my host to tremble.
When I say that my passion for Jennet began in her eleventh year, I hope you
will not think me a pederast or worse. Believe me, my obsession occasioned no
priapic action until my goddess was well into womanhood. And yet the fire was
there from the first. If youd known her, you would understand.
She was a nimble-witted girl, and
high-spirited too, zesty, kinetic, eager to take hold of life with every faculty
at her disposal, heart and loins, soul and intellect. I need but tweak my memory
molecules and instantly I can bring to mind her azure eyes, her cascading auburn
hair, her dimpled cheeks, her exquisite upturned Nose of Turk, Jennet Stearne
remembered from The Tragedie of Macbeth, was amongst the last ingredients
to enter a witches brew, hard behind the goats gall, the hemlock root, the
wolfs tooth, the lizards leg, and so many other wonderfully horrid things.
Near the end came the Tartars lips, the tigers guts, and the finger of a
strangled babe. Finally you cooled the concoction with baboon blood, all the
while chanting, Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron
The foregoing is excerpted from The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022