It’s a horror classic, so I wanted/needed to read it.
Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife is listed on every “Masterpieces of Classic Horror” list out there, so I was eager to experience it myself for the first time.
But this tale of witchcraft in the world of academia left me with some unsettling questions, like, “What woman in Fritz Leiber’s life damaged him to the point he would write such a weird, misogynistic tale?”
Serialized in 1940 pulp magazines, and released as a novel in 1953, Conjure Wife‘s premise that all women are witches, utilizing their charms to protect home and family (and maybe help hubby get a promotion at work) is as silly as a Dick Two episode of Bewitched.
But Leiber plays it straight, and builds an amazingly detailed study of the occult in the process. A protegé of H. P. Lovecraft, you can see Leiber blending “modern” science and weird fantasy to build his own mythos in Conjure Wife. Indeed, Leiber’s crafted witchcraft undoubtedly influenced hundreds of other witchy projects. Is hard to believe John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick, or Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby could have existed without the literary trail Leiber blazed.
But sometimes the term “genre classic” is code for “dull,” “dated,” and “not very scary.” Sadly, this is the case with Conjure Wife. Toss in “sexist,” too.
Oh well. You have to expect some paranoid racism when you tackle H.P. Lovecraft, and swallow a lot of purple prose and sad, crappy poems when you take on Edgar Allan Poe. I guess Fritz Leiber is entitled to his woman issues.
Leiber’s later work, specifically 1977’s Our Lady of Darkness, expanded his occult mythos and explored the author’s personal demons. (Devastated by the death of his wife, Leiber spent several years in an alcoholic haze.)
It’s a horror classic. I’ll have to read it.