Excerpt from The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Last Witchfinder

A Novel

by James Morrow

The Last Witchfinder
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2006, 544 pages
    Mar 2007, 560 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

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 Dickens’s other novels, Little Dorrit was in fact written by The Færie Queene. It is fortunate that Jane Austen’s 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 Pilgrim’s Progress cranking out Atlas Shrugged, to Les Misérables composing The Jungle, to The Memoirs of Casanova penning Portnoy’s 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 Nixon’s 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 couldn’t resist creating all the others. After Waiting for Godot acquired a taste for writing Windows software documentation, there was no stopping it.

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 book’s 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 you—madly, deeply, eternally—despite 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 you’d 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 goat’s gall, the hemlock root, the wolf’s tooth, the lizard’s leg, and so many other wonderfully horrid things. Near the end came the Tartar’s lips, the tiger’s 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 bubble.”

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

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Opposite of Everyone
by Joshilyn Jackson

"Quirky and appealing characters, an engaging story, and honest dialogue make this a great book!"
- BookBrowse

About the book
Join the discussion!

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: All We Have Left
    All We Have Left
    by Wendy Mills
    September 11, 2001 is a date that few Americans will ever forget. It was on this day that our ...
  • Book Jacket: A Great Reckoning
    A Great Reckoning
    by Louise Penny
    Canadian author Louise Penny is back with her twelfth entry in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache ...
  • Book Jacket: Homegoing
    by Yaa Gyasi
    It's all very well to challenge people to be the masters of their own destiny, but when you&#...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    by Daisy Goodwin

    Daisy Goodwin breathes new life into Victoria's story, and does so with sensitivity, verve, and wit." - Amanda Foreman

    Read Member Reviews

Who Said...

Beware the man of one book

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

The Big Holiday Wordplay:
$400+ in Prizes

Enter Now

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.