Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Minister's Sermon in the Witches of Eastwick

At the Unitarian Church in Eastwick, RI, Brenda, the minister, denounces the witches of Eastwick, sounding to me like Harold Hill in The Music Man saying there is "trouble right here in River City!" There is something satirical about the scene, although the author may not have been parodying Harold Hill specifically.

"There is evil in the world and there is evil in this town," she pronounced ringingly..." (p 269) She continues for several pages along these lines, working herself up from high dudgeon to higher dudgeon, to coin a phrase.
Referring to the town's coven of three witches,
"Their jealouthy hath poithened uth all --" Brenda bent her head, and her mouth gave birth to an especially vivid, furry, foul-tasting monarch butterfly, its orange wings rimmed thickly in black, its flickering casual and indolent beneath the white-painted rafters." (p.272)

Not just vitriol and indignance, but actual bugs fly out of her mouth. Witchcraft at work? Reminiscent of the spell cast upon the sisters in the fairy tale that caused the good sister to utter words adorned with pearl and precious stones and the bad one to spew forth toads and lizards when speaking.

As Margaret Atwood pointed out in her review of the book (NYT, May 13, 1984 - available from the library's NYT database)
"These are not 1980's Womanpower witches. They aren't at all interested in healing the earth, communing with the Great Goddess, or gaining Power-within... These are bad Witches... and go in for sabbats, sticking pins in wax images, Kissing the Devil's backside..." and more activities not suitable for discussing in this family-friendly blog.
Mr. Updike said in an interview with Andrea Stevens about the book ("A Triple Spell" NYT, May 13, 1984)
"I've been criticized for making the women in my books subsidiary to the men. It was true enough. Perhaps my female characters have been too domestic, too adorable and too much what men wished them to be."
This is not a problem in the Witches of Eastwick. These women are not subservient, not adorable or domestic, but did the author have to go to the extreme of describing witches to find more powerful women for his fiction?
The Witches of Eastwick is a tour-de-force of a master wordsmith at work, it's funny, sly, satirical and it gives a weirdly skewed vision of American suburbia in the 1960's. It will be interesting to find out who in the book group liked the book and who did not and why.

PS: In 2009, ABC started a television series, Eastwick, based on this book. For a description of the series, try

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