In much of the inhabited world (90% of the global population lives in the northern hemisphere) the start of September marks the beginning of meteorological autumn, the season when our thoughts may turn to shorter days, colder temperatures and things sempiternally supernatural.
In just a few fortnights’ time Lizzie Ross and I will be celebrating another Witch Week, an event inaugurated by Lory Hess and inspired by fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones’s novel of the same name.
This year’s theme is Polychromancy, a word concocted via Greek polychromos (‘many-colours’) and manteia (‘divination’) to suggest a focus on fantasy/sci-fi by authors from diverse backgrounds. The idea is to explore the work of SFF authors who identify as Black, Asian, Indigenous, or other colours and ethnicities such as Roma – or indeed who claim a multiethnic ancestry.
So, Witch Week 2021 has come to its end — hopefully with a bang and not a whimper! For the last few days we’ve put Treason and Plot under the spotlight as manifested in fantasy fiction, tales of adventure in settings both classical and modern, and in Shakespearean drama. Hosts and guests alike hope you’ve been mightily entertained, perhaps even shaken and stirred!
Co-hosts Lizzie and Chris are grateful for the help of everyone who participated:
Jean of Howling Frog Books, for introducing us to an almost forgotten children’s adventure series written by John Verney;
Ola and Piotrek, of Re-Enchantment of the World, whose enthusiasm for the late Roger Zelazny’s Amber Chronicles shines through in their post;
I can’t not include Lizzie of Lizzie Ross, Writer herself who has not only shared in preparations and contributed a post but has also edited down our Tempest discussion for posting;
Citizens of the social media world, too numerous to mention, who added comments and questions; who may have tweeted/Facebooked/Instragrammed links to our posts; and who included pingbacks, links, and reviews on their own blogs;
Readers around the globe who’ve viewed posts or even just ‘liked’ them!
And, finally, once again, a special nod of appreciation to Lory, who seven years ago started this annual celebration of Diana Wynne Jones and fantasy fiction. The first wonderful series of Witch Weeks appeared on Lory’s former blog, the Emerald City Book Review, between 2014 and 2017; since she’s moved to her new website they may be available if you search its archive:
Witch Week 2017: Dreams of Arthur Witch Week 2016: Made in America Witch Week 2015: New Tales from Old Witch Week 2014: Diana Wynne Jones
But she was brave enough to let Lizzie and myself take over, which we’ve now done for *checks records* the last four years. Here are links to our previous posts:
Thanks again to all of you for sharing this event with us, and we hope you’ll rejoin us here next year, when our theme will be … Polychromancy.
We can imagine the look of puzzlement on your faces! What’s Polychromancy?! To get an inkling of the basic premise of this theme do have a look at this review of Maria Sachiko Cecire’s Re-Enchanted which investigates the disproportionate dominance of white writers in fantasy; as for what to expect next year, watch this space!
Did you manage to read anything related to our theme during this Witch Week? Feel free to share in the comments below if you did! 🙂
Jean, our final guest for this year’s Witch Week, draws our attention to a neglected children’s novel where treason and plot are the main drivers of the narrative, a great instalment for Bonfire Night
John Verney’s Friday’s Tunnel by Jean Ping
John Verney’s stories are more like Tintin adventures than anything else I have ever read, short of actual Tintin adventures. I have read four, all centered on the Callendar family of Sussex, and they are all stuffed with fantastical schemes, suspicious characters, and strange coincidences. Friday’s Tunnel is the first, published in 1959.
February Callendar, aged 13, is the second of the many Callendar children, and she is the narrator. Summer holidays have only barely begun — Friday, the oldest, can’t wait to continue his ongoing project of digging a tunnel in the hill at the back of the garden, and February cares only for riding her Shetland pony — but their father spoils the fun by announcing that he has to go off to the Mediterranean right away.
He’s a newspaper journalist and an authority on the tiny island of Capria, and the news says that there’s a coup underway; but he’s sure that there isn’t, and that he’s needed to save the situation before the Americans and the Russians each swoop in to grab the newly-discovered, and very valuable and mysterious, mineral — caprium. There is quite a lot of treason and plot going on, but on the part of whom?
Witch Week co-host Lizzie considers two fantasies in which treason and plot figure as a main trigger for the action.
Heavy Lies the Crown Lizzie Ross
I’m convinced that plotting is a common, often unconscious, human behavior against those in charge. Events akin to Antonio’s coup and Prospero’s later revenge happen to or are witnessed by anyone who has ever worked within a group – business, school, hospital, co-op board – although perhaps with fewer magical aides. Gossip during the office coffee break is but a form of plotting against the powerful, whether it be the CEO or the person with the key to the copy machine. After-work grumbles at the bar with a few colleagues slides easily into treasonous murmurs that could result in someone being deposed. Perhaps this is why we so enjoy tales of mutiny, rebellion, betrayal, treason.
Add royalty, and you’ve got yourself a story that could fly. Rulers live under the constant threat of their own violent death. Surrounded by secrets and lies, a ruler can’t help but wonder what a courtier, advisor, ambassador, minor aristocrat, bored guard, or miffed servant might be planning. Prospero, busy with his books, was spared this concern, but he’s a rarity, and he was lucky to have survived his own downfall.
Which brings me to today’s set of fantasy books, two novels about seditious plots to murder rulers and gain ultimate power.
Bloggers Ola and Piotrek have a conversation about a major fantasy series they deem to be worth a second look
Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber: the Subtle Architecture of Treason Piotrek and Ola
Piotrek: We chose Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber as our topic for this years Witch Week for two reasons: first, Zelazny’s untimely death in 1996 caused a curious silence around his works, so that he’s no longer a well-known author and his novels have been slowly sliding into oblivion in recent years. He remains an author’s author, mentioned here and there by the new generations as a source of inspiration, but in our opinion he deserves wider recognition. Secondly, The Chronicles of Amber, a series of ten books that can safely be classified as fantasy, though discussions can be had whether it’s epic or urban, or something else altogether, is a wondrously complex latticework of betrayal, double dealing, plots within plots, lethal mysteries and hard-bitten protagonists somewhere between noir detectives and medieval knights.
Ola: Well, there’s a third reason. Both Piotrek and I love Amber, and needed little excuse to return to this fantastic world 😉. Zelazny’s a great author in general, though uneven at times. But his best works are among the best the genre has to offer, and even his mediocre ones boast of unique imagination, propensity for audacious literary experimentation, and sensitivity to language that’s at once precious and highly uncommon. Incidentally, a novel perfect for a Halloween reading, and also containing a lot of treason, backstabbing, and plots to conquer the world, is his A Night in the Lonesome October.
Piotrek: Amber has always been in my top4 of genre literature, with LotR, Dune and Foundation. Among these, Zelazny’s masterpiece is sadly neglected. No pretty hardcover editions, no adaptations … even Foundation is getting one, and it is something rather difficult to adapt — we’ll see how they managed, there are some early voices it’s not a very faithful one. Amber would be just as hard, but what wouldn’t be hard is getting someone to illustrate it and then publishing a new two-volume edition…
So, I think we’ll start with a few spoiler-free paragraphs to introduce the series, and then proceed to all the treachery and stuff. Avoiding spoilers isn’t easy here, as the first novel starts with the main protagonist waking up with amnesia, and the readers learn everything together with him. From the title (Nine Princes in Amber) you know there’s an Amber, and there are princes, but you find yourself reading about a guy on Earth, in a hospital after some accident.
This year’s host looks at a (so far) two-book series by fantasy author Sarah Monette, here writing as Katherine Addison
Intrigue in the Elflands: Katherine Addison’s Ethuveraz Chris Lovegrove
Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor was a near instant hit when it was published back in 2014, but the reasons of its success weren’t easily discernable at first sight: nothing much seemed to happen, there was a lot about courtly etiquette, a murder mystery was solved — off-camera as it were — and the protagonist initially appeared to have little or no agency.
Seven years later a sort of sequel, The Witness for the Dead, was set in the same world — Ethuveraz, the Elflands — except now in a provincial city with a different though equally diffident protagonist, threaded through with multiple strands and a key murder mystery to solve. As with its predecessor it’s hard at first sight to work out how its low-key approach might hold readers’ attentions and appreciation, but hold them it largely does.
Another prominent aspect to both novels, one that is pertinent to this year’s Witch Week theme, is the incidence of conspiracies, treason and plots: states like Ethuveraz and Barizhan, inhabited respectively by elves and goblins, are no less susceptible to these intrigues than those with humans; these being gaslamp fantasies — fictions set in some fog-shrouded late Victorian metropolis or other — Ethuveraz in particular could just as easily be a country on the fringes of Europe as in another world.
For Day 2 a number of our guests pore over treason and plot — and more — in Shakespeare’s final play.
Discussion of Shakespeare’s The Tempest
“Thought is free.”
Stephano, Act 3, Scene 2
Some of those who wrote guest posts for this year’s Witch Week elected to discuss this play, Shakespeare’s farewell to drama through which the themes of Treason and Plot run and which was first performed just six years after the Gunpowder Plot.
What follows is an edited version of our discussion, shortened by about half. You can read the full version here.
For today, Halloween, and this, the first of our posts for this year’s Witch Week, we have an introduction to a fantasy series set in a classical world.
The Queen’s Thief series: An appreciation Lory Widmer Hess
Once upon a time, a young debut novelist wrote what she thought would be a standalone middle grade novel. She had studied English literature at the University of Chicago, home to the world-famous Center for Children’s Books, and been a book buyer for the children’s department in various bookstores, so she knew the field well. And she was deeply inspired by the authors she admired — Diana Wynne Jones and Rosemary Sutcliff being high up on the list.
Her primary concern was with character, with writing out of a notion that had been brewing in her mind for some time, “the idea of a person traveling in the company of other people who entirely underestimated him and failed to recognize who he was and what he was capable of doing.” But she also wanted to get the setting right, making it somewhat familiar while avoiding the overdone Middle Earth type of world, and it took her quite some time before she settled on a land with more than a passing resemblance to the former city-states of Greece. Given that Ancient Greece is a unit commonly taught in schools, she was “pretty sure that most of [her] audience in this country would be able to imagine this landscape, with just a few important cues – and that it would fire their imaginations.” 
Once that was finally settled, the book took off, and The Thief was duly written and published by Greenwillow in 1996. Narrated by its central character, Gen, it captured readers, educators, and reviewers with its freshly imagined quasi-Mediterranean setting, complete with a new pantheon of Gods headed by the formidable goddess Hephestia, and a surprising, tricksy plot involving not just one but a number of personages and events that are not what they at first appear. And the author, Megan Whalen Turner, was likewise surprised one day to receive an exciting phone call: her book had been selected for a Newbery Honor.
Please to remember the Fifth of November, Gunpowder Treason and Plot, I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.
Welcome, one and all, to this year’s Witch Week which as you can see features the theme Treason and Plot.
Newbies might not know that the origin of this event, now run by Lizzie Ross and myself, stems from Lory Widmer Hess (Entering the Enchanted Castle) being inspired by a Diana Wynne Jones fantasy called Witch Week, the narrative of which ran from 31st October to November 5th—in other words, from Halloween to Bonfire Night.
Bonfire Night in the UK marks the anniversary of when conspirator Guy Fawkes was caught in 1605 ready to blow up Parliament with gunpowder, so it’s apt that we don’t forget conspiracy as a theme for our week as well as our frequent past focus on witchery.
“Remember, remember the Fifth of November”… and also all the dates leading up to it: this post is a reminder that Witch Week 2021 will be have as its focus the theme Treason and Plot for a series of guest posts between Halloween and Bonfire Night, all inspired by momentous events back in November 1605.
Duke Prospero’s conniving brother and his associates appeared in Shakespeare’s The Tempest for the first time on 1st November 1611, in front of King James who, you may remember, was the intended target of the Guy Fawkes and the other Gunpowder Plotters.
The play naturally forms an ideal text to consider as part of our week-long event. In a post entitled ‘Rough Magic’ I have discussed D G James’s collected essays on the play, The Dream of Prospero(1967), which included the conventional belief that Shakespeare himself took the part of Prospero, as a kind of farewell to the stage in this his final play.
But much more is being offered as part of our Treason and Plot theme, so in the meantime here are some bookish suggestions for you to get you in the mood.
Of course it isn’t: you’ve just been told a great big fib! I’m merely alerting you to a season of treason and plot, betrayal and conspiracy, unfriending and dissembling, all of which are looming over the horizon.
… Because it’s less than a month to Witch Week 2021, and our theme for this week-long event takes its cue from the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, when renegade Catholic conspirators planned to blow up King and Parliament at the State Opening in November that year. Luckily our event doesn’t start till the end of this month so October the First is not in fact too late.
I solemnly swear I am up to no good.
Lizzie Ross and I have planned — plotted? — a series of posts on this theme by guest bloggers — conspirators? — in which we examine the theme’s appearance in fiction, whether in high fantasy or tales of espionage, whether at the court of kings or in the setting of an ordinary suburban garden.
Our readalong, meanwhile, is Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a play in which an ousted duke of Milan schemes to take sweet revenge on his usurping brother. And there are conspiracies, including regicidal intentions. Oh, and there’s magic as well. We hope you’ve located a copy to read! Or maybe you’ve formulated a strategem for watching the play?
Marry, this is miching mallecho; it means mischief.
#WitchWeek2021 runs from 31st October to 6th November, with a key to what will transpire posted on 30th October. At the very end we will be able to declare Mischief managed! — at least until 2022, when further mayhem will be ours to devise!
¹ Title of a 1966 speculative novel by Fred Hoyle. ² Spell to reveal the Marauder’s Map in the Harry Potter novels. ³ Hamlet, Act III Scene V
Forewarned is, well, forewarned: #WitchWeek2021 begins in roughly two months time. This runs from Hallowe’en to Bonfire Night, an event first begun by Lory Hess at The Emerald City Book Review (now of Enter the Enchanted Castle), and is an annual series of guest posts co-hosted by Lizzie of Lizzierosswriter.com and myself.
Inspired by a fantasy by Diana Wynne Jones (called, naturally, Witch Week) this year’s event will feature Treason and Plot as a theme, taking its cue from when conspirators planned in 1603 to blow up Parliament with all who were in it, including King James I.
We’ve lined up a fine selection of bloggers who’ll be contributing guest posts looking at some of the ways the theme is interpreted in speculative fiction. A few of us will also be having a conversation about Shakespeare’s The Tempest (because it’s got magic! treason! plots!). But feel free, as I know some of you are planning, to choose your own reads for the week and to share your thoughts on them before, during and after.
More detail to come, but book bloggers might like to know that when they’re done with Readers Imbibing Peril, which runs through September and October, there’ll still be some more creepy goings-on!
By the way, Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night may be part of a peculiar British tradition but the Guy Fawkes mask is very familiar now across the world as a symbol of anti-authoritarianism, thanks to Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta (reviewed here) and the film based on it; treason and plot are its very key notes.
“I waked one morning [in 1764] from a dream, of which, all I could recover, was, that I had thought myself in an ancient castle (a very natural dream for a head like mine filled with Gothic story), and that on the uppermost banister of a great staircase I saw a gigantic hand in armour. In the evening I sat down, and began to write…”
— Horace Walpole, in a letter
At the heart of early Gothick literature — I use the spelling ‘Gothick’ to differentiate it from historical or architectural meanings of Gothic — broods The Castle.
And when I say ‘Castle’ I mean those edifices, usually ancient abbeys or mansions, with a clutch of qualities which we immediately recognise, namely antique origins, some of which may be ruinous, harbouring histories of romance, the supernatural, even horror, and — at its heart — mysteries in the form of eldritch scandals or objects, accessed via secret passages, tunnels, caves, crumbling staircases and hidden doors.
The attraction of stories that include these edifices is twofold: first, the intellectual satisfaction that comes from following a confusing trail that may or may not lead to answers; and second, the curiosity that has its roots in psychology, dreams, even nightmares, with an inkling that the skull may itself be the castle and that, within it, the brain’s convolutions hide the ultimate mystery. Let’s have a look at these two aspects.
If you’re reading this, you’ve lived to tell the tale of Witch Week 2020. When you do, make sure it’s a tale with dark corners, collapsed towers, and horrifying specters. Not to mention lots and lots of shadows. Chris and Lizzie are grateful for the help of everyone who participated: e-Tinkerbell of eTinkerbell, who, in typical English-teacher […]
And, with this overview of what must surely become an instant classic, we sight journey’s end in this year’s Witch Week event celebrating all things Gothick. But, like all things, it ain’t over till it’s over…
Wrangling the specters today is guest blogger Kristen M, who has been blogging at WeBeReading.com for most of twelve years and is the creator of March Magics (which annually celebrates Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett). She lives in Seattle, loves baking, tolerates yard work, and hates laundry. In this post, Kristen’s review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s 2020 […]
For award-winning, internationally-acclaimed author Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92). By Anthony Lawton: godson, cousin & literary executor. Rosemary Sutcliff wrote historical fiction, children's literature and books, films, TV & radio, including The Eagle of the Ninth, Sword at Sunset, Song for a Dark Queen, The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Dawn Wind, Blue Remembered Hills.