Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.
I didn’t initially plan to write a review of this book because it’s rare that I read non-fiction (for fun). However, whilst I was studying at university, I did a module called Reformation and Revolution: Early Modern Literature and Drama 1588-1688 – a catchy title, I know. As part of this module, I studied 16th century witchcraft in England, and this topic undoubtedly interested me. I read a variety of books on witchcraft, and I wrote my module coursework on the representation of witchcraft in Macbeth and The Witch of Edmonton.
So, when I came across The Witches by Stacy Schiff, I was keen to learn more, switching my focus from English witchcraft to its American equivalent.
In The Witches, Schiff details the mysterious and horrifying 1692 Salem Witch Trials, describing the first accusations, the increasing panic amongst the townspeople, and the subsequent witch trials and executions.
I read through this book in small sections, allowing plenty of time to read it because, as I’ve said, I do tend to struggle more with non-fiction. However, I found I enjoyed working my way steadily through it.
I particularly liked how, in Schiff tells the history of the Salem Witch Trials as a descriptive, chronological narrative. Though I use the word ‘narrative’, this is not a work of fiction – obviously, historical facts, statistics, and extracts from transcripts and diaries were still used. What I simply mean to say is that Schiff’s use of vivid descriptions as well as clear, factual information helped me to stay interested. This meant the book felt easy to read and accessible, which was great! I didn’t feel like I needed a history degree before reading it, I didn’t feel as if I was bogged down in boring statistics or wading through a textbook; I felt I was learning more about American history and enjoying it at the same time.
Admittedly, a few bits did go over my head and there were some parts I found more boring than others. For example, I didn’t really care to read the in-depth backgrounds about every judge who trialled witches.
In contrast, I thought the accounts of the witches’ abilities, their trials, and their executions were absolutely fascinating. It was also quite scary to read about what people swore they saw and experienced – devils, demons, creatures, and the like. I’ll admit, after reading some of the eye-witness accounts, I found it hard to be convinced by Schiff’s concluding remarks that the Salem witches must have been hysterical, attention-seeking, or simply scapegoated by their disgruntled neighbours.
Whether I fully agree with Schiff or not is of no real consequence however, as I still enjoyed reading The Witches. If you are interested in learning more about the infamous Salem Witch Trials, or simply learning more about the legends surrounding witchcraft, I would recommend this book.
Star Rating: 4/5 Stars
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This post was last updated in January 2020