Witch House by Evangeline Walton is a creepy novel written in 1945.
A doctor travels to a large ominous house on an island separated from town by a lake. This house is inhabited by evil either imprinted there or from ghosts of past family members. The doctor’s task is to confront and cure a small girl who has either been seeing poltergeist activity or causing it. Also residing in the house are the girl’s mother, and her two male cousins. The three adults must live together for the terms of the will if they wish to retain ownership, but when the ghost activity gets physical and people start dying, even the ownership doesn’t seem like that big of a loss if they want to save their lives. Most of the ghostly legends center around Aunt Sarai, a woman who ruled the house with an iron fist and who may still rule from beyond the grave.
The house reminds me of the movie The Woman in Black although it is distinctly American, but the house is also separated from the town by water. The residents of the town could be plucked from one of Stephen King’s novels in that they embody the small New England townsfolk who tell stories about the folks that “live the house.” Yet, this book was written in 1945, long before King’s career.
What drew me to read Witch House was the intriguing cover. I wanted to see the scary witch painting come alive and attack the poor little girl. It never happens that way, but the woman called Aunt Sarai does seem to terrorize the child. Although the book is slow and much of it is about how the doctor tries to convince the girl that the objects and people tormenting her are harmless, there was a spookiness to the tale that I enjoyed. Because it’s slow, the payoffs take a long time to present themselves. Scary corridors with no end, strangely solid ghost figures, and a large black hare all add to the scare in this book. In the end, I felt the scare never was as scary as the build-up. However, passages like…
“Broken through the dark webs of her destiny…”
“The full moon should give that watching figure this semblance of flesh as well as shadow…”
…kept me reading. It’s evident the writing is from another time, but instead of irritating me, the style drew me in. Sure, the ending is not as scary as I would have liked and looking back nothing truly frightening happened that I’ve not read a hundred times before, but her language and description kept me in the world of Witch House and I’m not sad I gave it a try. If I were a child experiencing these things, I would truly be terrified. It’s just not up to our 2016 standards as far as fear. I’ll leave with you one last passage which is my favorite.
“The room was dark now, totally dark, too dark for the dangerous half-light that aids materializations…but at the windows there were touches of moon-silver twilight. Presently they enabled him to distinguish…something darker than the darkness—the skirted silhouette of a woman. He knew the shape and the folds in which the dress fell; he had seen them in Aunt Sarai’s portrait… Each detail appeared gradually now, thickening and blackening into perfection, out of the nebulous darkness…”
Tonight in bed don’t let Aunt Sarai’s silhouette in the window scare you. She’s not real. She’s a figment of your imagination…or is she?