One minute you’re driving your car down the highway, thinking about the fact that novels about witches and other supernatural creatures sell awfully well and that maybe you ought to try your hand at writing one yourself, and the next minute you’re the proud owner of a borderline children’s book about witches written by – no joke – Erica Jong.
I know, I know – ‘borderline children’s book’ is not a real genre. Let me explain.
This book is oversized – roughly the size, shape, and weight of a high school yearbook. Its hard cover is navy blue and blank except for a symbol that I think I could have identified as being witchcraft-related even if the spine of the book didn’t say Witches on it – and I am not very well informed about witches, not really. On the inside, the book is set up like a children’s book, which is to say that the ratio of text to illustration is quite low. The illustrator is named – again, no joke! – Joseph Smith. The book is organized into chapters, but few chapters are longer than one page, so if you want to know more about, say, ‘Sexual Union with the Devil’ or ‘Famous Witches in History,’ or ‘Flying Ointments: Some Recipes,’ you will have to go elsewhere (and a good place to start is the bibliography in the back of the book, which I already know will be the most useful part of the book for my own purposes.
Oh, and there are also some pictures of naked women. Lots and lots of naked women, one of which has the head of a cat and may well haunt me in my dreams, and not in a good way.
At times this book is academic, referencing Robert Graves and Joseph Campbell and Freud and Shakespeare and Elaine Pagels. At times it lapses into poetry – which, since it is not cited, I assume is Jong’s original work. Elsewhere it’s more of a how-to book, with instructions on the stitching of poppets and on the use of knotted cords to cause impotence. The chapter on poppets is especially alarming. On a page that also includes a poem called “Love Magick,” there is an illustration of a naked man lying with his arms outstretched inside of a circle – à la Vitruvian Man, although I don’t see evidence that this parallel is intentional. His body has been slit and is in the process of being stitched back together with red thread (which, the text explains, must first be consecrated to Venus). The needle and thread are sitting next to him, and his right arm has not yet been sewn. Other pages are given over fully to illustrations, which are sometimes quite good. Others, like the one I included above, are more on the disturbing side. When I described it as a borderline children’s book, what I meant was that it is half D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths and half porn. Oh, and also? It smells funny. I’m just saying.
I haven’t read this book yet. I’ve only skimmed it. As I said, I think the most useful part of this book will be its bibliography. So far, I can’t figure out how seriously I am supposed to take this book. Did Erica Jong take her subject matter seriously – ointment recipes and all? I tend to assume that most mid-century feminists didn’t have much of a sense of humor, but maybe I’m wrong.
Oh, and also: when I ran a Google search on this title, I found this link – to an entry about this book on a website called Awful Library Books. The focus of this entry is exactly what I noticed first about this book – that it looks like a children’s book on the surface and (according to the website) occasionally pops up in children’s libraries. OOPS.
More mockery coming soon, I hope.