Perhaps it has been viewed again, perhaps it has not, but some time ago I wrote a post about an Andre Norton book called Storms of Victory. Set in the author’s famous Witch World, I spent a long time describing her fantasy universe, mostly because I love it and the story so much. Doubtless, the length of that praise wearied many an eye; the post has not been one of my most popular pieces.
Despite that, I am once again returning to Andre Norton’s Witch World. But this time I start at the beginning, with the books that began it all.
Witch World is the first venture Andre Norton took into that universe. Simon Tregarth, a former American soldier who served with distinction during World War II, is on the run. Accused of a crime and hunted by an Organization he at least has some knowledge of (if not association with), Simon stumbles into a meeting with Dr. Jorge Petronius, a man who can make hunted men ‘disappear’ to places beyond the Organization’s reach.
Simon is, by now, desperate enough to listen to Petronius. A man named Sammy (by the sounds of it, he is a hit man) has been sent after Simon. Those who tangle with Sammy do not live to tell the tale, and though Simon is a good fighter, even he doubts his ability to stand against this hunter for very long. The thought of beating him is one Simon does not entertain; no one has been able to defeat Sammy yet. And if someone does vanquish him, then odds are that that person will be Sammy’s replacement.
Petronius takes Simon to his home and, after being paid, sends the World War II veteran to another world via a stone seat in his back garden. There, Simon meets a woman who can channel strange forces. This woman is on the run from men who have weird, nasty hounds at their beck and call. The two have to work hard to get away, but they do and eventually run into a patrol of the alien woman’s people.
Leading this band of warriors is Koris of Gorm. But when he asks his female compatriot’s name, Simon finds he has erred. The woman frowns, as does Koris who reaches for his weapon. Simon raises both hands and says, “Sorry.” Only later does he learn that no one may be told the name of a Witch of Estcarp.
With nowhere else to go, Simon joins the warriors’ band and returns with them to their capital: Es City. There he learns more of the people’s language, finds the buildings have plumbing, and that there are strange lighting mechanisms in the guards’ barracks. Lastly, he is brought before a head Witch; the Witch whom he rescued is standing beside her. They ask Simon if he is willing to stay in Estcarp, and he says he is. He then becomes a member of the Guard of Es City, a soldier under the command of Koris of Gorm.
Estcarp has, by the time Simon enters it, been at war with a strange alien race called the Kolder. The Kolder have many futuristic weapons, such as tanks and laser guns, while the warriors of Estcarp have only swords and “dart guns.” (I am still not sure what those are.)
But Estcarp also has something else: the Witches. Women of the Old Race who are born with “the Power,” these Witches can manipulate all the elements, earth and water especially. They also have telepathy and the power to make illusions. A woman with the Power who becomes a Witch swears off all contact with her family when she joins the Sisterhood. She leaves behind everything, even her very name, and becomes known only as a Witch.
The mark of the office of all Witches is the jewel they wear to focus their power for casting spells or blasting something – or someone! Witches also cannot marry, and they cannot have any relations with a man. Doing so means their Power is reft from them; they must not have ANY intimate contact with a man. The enemies of Estcarp know this, and they have taken advantage of this weakness in the Witches’ defenses when they have caught a live Witch.
All girls born to couples of the Old Race are tested at age six to see if they have the Power. Since most of Estcarp’s population consists of the Old Race, the Race which brought forth the Witches, a lot of girls posses the Power. With most of their women becoming Witches, the constant drains on their manpower in the never-ending battles on their borders and, now, the threat of the alien Kolder, the Old Race and the Witches of Estcarp seem doomed to extinction.
Also, as a side note, it is believed by the Witches that no man may wield Power. If a man does wield Power then he is thought to be of “the Dark” or “the Shadow,” and must therefore be destroyed.
So Simon throws a real wrench into Estcarp’s established balance when it is learned that he has some measure of the Power but is not of the Dark or the Shadow. At the end of his first adventure in Estcarp, Simon helps to deal the Kolder a damaging blow. He also learns the name of the Witch he first met on Estcarp’s northern border: Jaelithe.
Web of the Witch World is the second book in the series, and at its beginning we find that Simon and Jaelithe have married. Naturally, in Web, things get tougher for our heroes. The Kolder, though dealt a hard defeat in the previous book, step up their attacks. They revenge themselves on Estcarp for their earlier defeat by kidnapping Koris’ betrothed, Loyse of Verlaine. Simon, loyal to his friend and commander, ends up behind enemy lines trying to find Loyse.
In the midst of this, Jaelithe discovers that she still possesses her Power. As I said above, it is widely believed in Estcarp that when a Witch lays aside her jewel and marries – or has relations with – a man, she loses her Power. Only those Witches who have never been with a man can wield the Power.
But Jaelithe has married and she still wields Power! What is more, she learns that she and Simon can combine their Power and so can become more than either of them were alone!
Despite this, when Jaelithe hurries back to the Witches’ Council (the ruling body of Estcarp), to ask for her jewel to be returned to her, the Witches refuse to hand it over! They deny the fact that Jaelithe still has Power – though even a blind Witch could see that she does indeed retain her Power – and say that, since she left the Sisterhood, she cannot come back. And she definitely cannot have her jewel back!
Jaelithe is rightly furious. Not only has the Council refused to give her back her jewel, they have refused to believe the truth: that a lawfully, happily wed Witch and wife can still wield Power. Jaelithe has discovered something that has the potential to bring Estcarp back from the brink of a demographic twilight, but her former sisters will not admit that.
Why will they not return her jewel and admit to this? I guess, in the end, it all comes down to power. Not the Power, but power over the affairs of Estcarp. The Witches’ Council has ruled the country for centuries. They are in charge; everyone comes to them for answers, protection, and justice. They hardly want to share all of that with men!
What is more, since men in Estcarp do not traditionally wield Power, the Witches have come to hold them in complete contempt. Men wield swords, fight on the battlefield, and hack each other to pieces. They are brutes, whereas the Witches are more refined, more cultured. They are smarter than men, and can wield forces men cannot even dream of touching. What is a man compared to a Witch?
Even if they will not see, however, Jaelithe does. When Simon is captured by the Kolder and held alongside Loyse, Jaelithe goes after them both. It takes some work, but between the two of them, Simon and Jaelithe manage to get them both back to Estcarp. Jaelithe often joins or uses her Power with Simon’s in order to accomplish this.
Once Loyse and Simon are safely back in Estcarp, Jaelithe and her husband both turn their attention to the “Kolder nest” – the base that guards the gate by which the aliens came to the Witch World.
This is a pretty rough diagram of the first two Witch World novels, readers. Suffice it to say that I think these first two novels of the Witch World are great. And although you can enter the Witch World through any one of the novels Andre Norton wrote, you may want to begin reading the series with Witch World and Web of the Witch World. It is always best to enter a story by the front “gate” after all! And believe me, it saves you a lot of confusion in this series if you read these first!
The Mithril Guardian