Book Review: Conjure Wife

by Timothy Lane6/25/17
by Fritz Lieber  •  Available for Kindle  •  Norman and Tansy Saylor are a typical small-town college faculty couple. He’s a sociology professor — and she’s a witch helping to protect her husband and his career. Norman accidentally discovers this one day when he comes across various supplies he recognizes from his own research in the subject. When she gets home, Norman explains to her why this makes no sense and persuades her to stop, and to destroy all these little protections she had woven about him.

No harm comes to him until he comes across one last charm hidden in a locket. Had she forgotten it, or deliberately left it in for his protection? He destroys it — and immediately receives a phone call from a student who just realized how the professor is victimizing him. This will be followed by s number of other little incidents over the next several days. For example, he accidentally cuts himself with an obsidian knife he keeps in his office at school. For some reason, the wound keeps bleeding.

Finally, one night Tansy confronts him by noting,”What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours.” Norman assents — and then learns that she has taken his curse upon herself. She disappears, but he receives a series of short notes from her explaining, in a disjointed fashion because she never has much time to write, what he must do to save her. This takes him to a seaside hotel where he performs the spell one midnight. He is rewarded when his wife’s living but soulless, body is brought to him and chillingly tells him, “You were too late. You were a minute too late.”

Norman decides that one of her rival faculty wives has stolen her soul. He needs to find out which one, and recover his wife’s soul. But there’s a complication, of course. Tansy is younger and more attractive than the others — whoever stole her soul may plan to replace it herself. This will lead to some very interesting magical moves.

Timothy Lane writes from Louisville, Kentucky and publishes the FOSFAX fanzine.
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29 Responses to Book Review: Conjure Wife

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Sounds like a relative of “Bewitched”, “I Married a Witch” and “Bell, Book and Candle.”

    Perhaps a bit more serious in tone though.

    One imagines Tansy akin to Elizabeth Montgomery, Veronica Lake and Kim Novak and Norman akin to those mortal husbands (love interest in James Stewart’s case) who couldn’t be happy winning the lottery of love.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The idea in this case is thar magic is not a special talent, but a skill passed from mothers to daughters. There’s no inherent reason men can’t do it too, and Norman does so on several occasions.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    It’s interesting to contemplate a society wherein magic is a reality, even if a somewhat hidden one. And although the magic is different, I do think we live in such a society today. We cannot yet materialize objects out of thin air. But we can conjure ideas, political ideas in particular, out of thin air via the media and other forms of propaganda. They can then become very solid indeed with no other provenance in reality than conjuring.

    Don’t you all feel like Darrin Stephens explaining, “Sam!!!” at every bizarre media conjuring event? “Sam!!! Islam is not a religion of peace! Send the Mullah back to his fantasy story book where Tabitha found him!” (And anyone who wants to compare Nancy Pelosi with Endora has my blessing.)

    The problem with our “Sam!!!”-exclaiming cultural watchers is that they are all impostors. They are all Dick Sargents, not Dick Yorks. They don’t mean it. They’re fake. They’re substitutions for the real thing. We see now that the GOP “Sam!!!”-ers are all full of baloney concerning repealing Obamacare or any form of black magic conjured by the Left. And even the serious ones are Dr. Bombay, at best, in their ineptitude. (By the way, Bernard Fox passed away recently at 89 in December of last year.)

    Gladys Kravitz saw what was going on. But who would believe her?

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Gladys made things very interesting. Some of my favorite scenes involve her and her husband. Of course, in the Leiber version she would already know what’s going on.

      Note that Endora’s husband the warlock could order her around. He was also old enough to have influenced Poe in the form of a raven.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Gee, I don’t remember much about Endora’s husband. But as long as we’re doing analogies, I see Bernie Sanders as the equivalent of Uncle Arthur, as played by Paul Lynde. He was a hilarious character. And because I consider Sanders just as ridiculous, they’re a good match.

        Witches, of course, had to keep in hiding because (I suppose) their power was never great enough to subdue the mob who would (rightly, I suppose) fear them and want to throw them on the barby. That’s the implicit shtick with Gladys Kravitz. I don’t know that Larry Tate would have cared one way or another as long as Darrin had the advertising campaign ready to show the client.

        I think one reason the idea of witches has been so long-lasting is because, indeed, woman can be bewitching. They can have such power over us, we forget our part in the transaction. Most of the world has probably always acted on the idea that any impulses in us that another stokes is always the fault of the other and such impulses thus can be given free rein and free blame.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I don’t remember much about Endora’s husband.

          I believe his name was Maurice and he was played by a very suave older gentleman. He liked to spend time on the French Riviera and with the swells. Endora had a healthy respect for his powers.

          I don’t know that Larry Tate would have cared one way or another as long as Darrin had the advertising campaign ready to show the client.

          Larry would have killed to have Samantha work her magic on his clients. If he had only known that she was a witch, he would have been on Darrin day-in and day-0ut for Sam to get to work.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            That’s a good point. Tate would have put Samantha to work for him pronto. Or threatened to fire Darrin if Sam didn’t at least help out once in a while.

            Although she was a bit ditzy, Major Nelson was a fool to want to keep Jeannie in a figurative bottle. Would you rather take hard, slow, small steps as an astronaut or have a hot jeannie blond as a consort who could take you to Mars in the blink of an eye? Dr. Bellows played his own humorous version of Gladys Kravitz.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          And don;t forget Aunt Clara. I don’t know who played her. I especially liked the time ther wasa massive electrical black-out. After it was explained away, Samantha asked Darrin which he thought was likelier — some billion-to-one event, or one of Aunt Clara;s goof-u;s> His glum expression indicated that he saw her point.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Aunt Clara, who was last seen on the Seattle City Council, conjuring up a $15.00/hr minimum wage recently. Ben Shapiro describes the conjuring well in But Reality Isn’t Fair:

            Politics used to be the art of educating the public about reality and pushing for change where change is possible. Now politics is the art of convincing the public that you can make reality disappear if it votes for you.

            Kevin Williamson has a more scholarly article about the same conjuring subject: Magical Thinking About Minimum Wages.

            Reasonable people (and there are few of those left) would surmise that the economic effects of raising the minimum age so drastically would be easily predictable, therefore those pushing for such a thing likely have other grievances or motives than “helping the poor.”

            If you had any doubt that most journalists are ideological hacks, even just not very bright, refer to this article by Ed Morrisey where the truly idiotic journalist (and I use that not as name-calling but an accurate description) has this exchange with John McEnroe who is hawking a book:

            Garcia-Navarro: We’re talking about male players but there is of course wonderful female players. Let’s talk about Serena Williams. You say she is the best female player in the world in the book.

            McEnroe: Best female player ever — no question.

            Garcia-Navarro: Some wouldn’t qualify it, some would say she’s the best player in the world. Why qualify it?

            McEnroe: Oh! Uh, she’s not, you mean, the best player in the world, period?

            Garcia-Navarro: Yeah, the best tennis player in the world. You know, why say female player?

            McEnroe: Well because if she was in, if she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world.

            At last report, McEnroe did not apologize for getting in the way of the idiot journalist’s attempt to conjure an unreality. As one commenter noted about this video of the match between Navratilova and Conners, “The two best male players of all times!” In that match, Conners got only one serve and Navratilova could use half of the doubles space. Conners was also five years older. He beat her in straight sets (best two out of three). That’s not to take anything away from Navratilova. She was a fine player. But it’s entirely possible that the idiot journalist, Garcia-Navarro, is so disconnected from reality that she really believes Serena Williams could beat the best men’s player (let alone the #100 ranked man). It could also be that in the fascistic, sexist, feminazi mainstream of Progressivism you just become used to daring not to say anything even slightly uncomplimentary about today’s victim class. So you conjure baloney as a habit.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Why does she think we have male and female tennis, anyway?

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Timothy, I truly suspect that:

                A) Typical with journalism as a profession, most of these people aren’t all that bright.

                B) It becomes a mental habit (if only out of self-preservation) to reflexively praise the victim group even if this wildly goes against reality. And have at least some sympathy for this idiot journalist. Look at how much of Western reality has changed to give legitimacy to all this transgender nonsense which has far less basis in reality than that a woman might beat a man in tennis. To be fair, as you would say, how could an idiot journalist, let alone a reasonably intelligent person, discriminate between what is to be considered hard reality and what is to be considered simply a “social construct”?

                I suspect both aspects are true in about equal measures. Given how one’s career can end in a moment in the fascistic environment of Progressivism for not sufficiently praising a victim group, this idiot journalist simply did the reflexive and safe thing.

                It will be interesting to see what, if anything, McEnroe says further about this. Will he cave or will he continue to defend reality even if it means social ostracism from the Progressive fascists? He’s got a book to sell, so I’m not sure how this will play out. Perhaps reality is so set against these idiot Progressives on this issue that the issue will fade away. We’ll see.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              Politics used to be the art of educating the public about reality and pushing for change where change is possible.

              Sounds like my old acquaintance Edmund Barker.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              Some years back, Ann Coulter listed the world records of female athletes’ and then showed that high-school males performed better. Literally, 15 and 16 year-old boys performed better than the world’s best female athletes.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                I read something like that recently as well.

                Hell, no doubt I couldn’t beat Serena Williams if you forced her to play left-handed (assuming she’s right-handed) and I could use a court half-again as big to hit into. The fact is, I likely couldn’t even return her serve.

                So we have this obvious issue that, of course, some women can beat men. But the uncomfortable truth that runs against the “women uber alles” narrative is that, taken as a group, women cannot compete with men in sports requiring endurance and strength. Hell, it’s not at all clear they can compete in chess either.

                Does that mean we have to hate women and think of them as lesser beings? No, of course not. Conservatives have been “celebrating differences” long before the idiot and evil Progressives turned that idea into a sick joke.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Unless you’re a skilled tennis player, of course you couldn’t beat a top female professional like Williams.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                But the uncomfortable truth that runs against the “women uber alles” narrative is that, taken as a group, women cannot compete with men in sports requiring endurance and strength.

                An ex-Marine Captain once told me that, try as they might, women simply could not hold up under the physical stress which the male Marine had to go through. He mentioned, for example, that women could not recover as quickly physically from a 20 mile full-pack "hike" because of testosterone, i.e. men have a lot more of it than woman and it aids the body in rebuilding itself.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                I doubt I could do a 5-mile full pack hike. A weighted Marine pack (from what I’ve gathered) is typically 60 lbs. At most I carry 10 lbs. on my back in addition to often lugging a 32 lb. bike up hills too steep to peddle, so I’m pretty sure a 30 lb. backpack I could do…likely at least 10 miles.

                But lug 60 lbs. for 20 miles? Lucky for me that an Old Dominion University study says that might be overkill. Of course, such a study is likely meant as a justification for dumbing-down the physical requirements so that we can pretend women are equal. Steve would know more about this than I would, but I’m pretty certain half the point of that 60 lb. pack isn’t training, per se, but to weed out the weaker or less motivated trainees such as Private Santiago in “A Few Good Men.”

                To be fair, as Timothy would say, the article concludes by saying:

                Instead, it may be that training infrequently with a load is enough to prepare military personnel for real life situations and training in general otherwise without the weight will lead to a decreased incidence of injury.

                Yep. Especially as you get older, there’s no point in wearing yourself out…too much. As Col. Jessup might say, I just can’t handle the 60 lbs.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                I doubt I could do a 5-mile full pack hike.

                But could you have done it at 19 or 20 years of age? Maybe not at the beginning of basic, but if you then became an officer with the training attached to that, I suppose you would have the 20 miles. My father was a paratrooper and he recalled such hikes with less than found memories.

                One must remember, we are not talking about setting records here, we are talking about endurance and strength training. A healthy young male can do all sorts of physical things at 20 that he can’t do at 60. Hell, I did about 150 real pull ups a day when I was between 17 and 19. It was nothing for me to do 25 at a time. If my life depended on it, I don’t believe I could do one today. Of course extra fat might have something to do with that.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Unless you’re a skilled tennis player, of course you couldn’t beat a top female professional like Williams.

    I was never particularly good at tennis, Timothy. But I had fun playing a bit with friends when I was in high school. I even tried the two-handed backhand that Conners used. I could do it just fine but you loose a bit of reach. Connors was amazing how well he used it.

    And apparently the two-handed forehand is considered an under-used gem by some. Monica Seles, for one, made good use of it.

    I watch almost no tennis anymore. But apparently the one-handed backhand is becoming extinct, at least in the women’s sport, where this article reports that just 3 women in the top 100 use a one-handed backhand. The article goes on to say:

    The two-handed backhand only began to catch on at Wimbledon 40 years ago. In 1974, Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert, then boyfriend and girlfriend, both won the tournament using two-handers. Starting in 1976, Bjorn Borg, reeled off five straight Wimbledon titles with the shot. But back then, it was considered something of an oddity.

    Apparently the power game is relegating the one-handed backhand to the museum. You get more power and ability to handle spin with the two-hander. Here’s a pretty good analysis of the situation:

    Perhaps the greater difficulty is that successfully executing a one-handed backhand requires striking a ball further in front of the body. And the decline of the shot corresponds with another trend: Players are now bigger and stronger than ever, and the lighter, more flexible racket frames make it easier to really hammer the ball. According to the International Tennis Federation, the fastest first serves on the men’s tour are around five miles per hour faster than they were a decade ago. The fastest first serves on the women’s tour are nearly 10 miles per hour faster. Groundstrokes are flying across the net at a quicker clip, too. John Yandell, editor of, an online magazine, clocked Pete Sampras’s forehand in the late 1990s at around 85 miles per hour. Sampras, who retired in 2003, had one of the biggest forehands in the game. These days, it would be pedestrian. “Now, we are routinely seeing 90- , 95- and 100-mile-per-hour forehands,” Yandell says.

    Lighter rackets, among other changes, also allow players today to produce 20 to 25 percent more topspin than they did a generation ago. Polyester strings, which are now common, have less friction and, after contact is made, they slide and immediately snap back into place, which helps create tremendous spin. Sampras’s forehand averaged 1,900 revolutions per minute. By contrast, players like Federer and Novak Djokovic routinely get 2,500 to 3,000 revolutions per minute on their forehands. Rafael Nadal has been clocked as high as 4,900.

    Topspin confers two benefits: It allows players to take a bigger cut at the ball, confident that the spin will bring it down inside the lines; and once the ball lands, it springs right back up, which often forces opponents to have to play at shoulder level or higher. Shoulder level or above is for one-handed backhands what the blind side used to be for quarterbacks: a zone of almost total vulnerability. Even the strongest one-handers struggle to consistently send high-bouncing balls back with pace and depth.

    Obviously tennis isn’t the only sport where increased “spin” is becoming the thing. Alas, I really did lose interest in the game when the brat-like McEnroe became king. Why spend time watching spoiled children even if they are good at what they do?

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I tried out for the tennis team once in high school, but didn’t make it.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Tennis is a great sport. But more people are playing racquetball these days…or adding to their tattoos.

        But seriously, tennis is a lot like golf. You’ve got to have some basic level of proficiency before you can have any fun. I had just that but not much more.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          But seriously, tennis is a lot like golf. You’ve got to have some basic level of proficiency before you can have any fun. I had just that but not much more.

          That’s why I took lessons before playing much. Unlike in squash, if you don’t have a fair deal of proficiency, all you do is watch the balls wizz by you on the one hand and speed into the net on the other.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Even with proficiency, I can understand why so many people (when they aren’t doing their tattoos) gravitated toward racquetball. Even a game including reasonably proficient players involves a lot of running around for the balls. But I really didn’t mind because the point was to get outside and get your blood pumping. Tennis can certainly do that. Racquetball (which I’ve played only once) is like tennis on steroids in terms of cardiovascular. And it’s indoors and sort of boring and kind of missing the point of such an activity. But it rains a lot here so I get it.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              I used to play squash in Singapore. Talk about playing in a sauna!

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                A dangerous game in some respects. Many a squash or racquetball player has been walloped by accident. In tennis the main risk is tripping while jumping over the net in victory. Oh, sometimes you can get creamed when you come up to volley.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              I played some squash in college. Also a lot of ping-pong.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    But could you have done it at 19 or 20 years of age? Maybe not at the beginning of basic, but if you then became an officer with the training attached to that, I suppose you would have the 20 miles.

    Mr. Kung, I’m now motivated to see just what I could do with a weighted backpack and vest (which seems to be how they do it). When I think of the backpacking I do, it usually involves a lot of steep hills. But on more or less level ground? I could do five or more with the weight. But that really is a lot of weight to carry. Still, when I weighed a good 35 pounds more than I do now, I certainly carried that weight no problem. And I remember last year repeatedly filling up my pack with about 35 (or more) pounds of apples that I had gathered from a remote orchard. And I both had this on my back while walking my 32 lb. bike up some steep slopes.

    My concern is with the knees and ankles. On flat terrain, the weight would be onerous but not dangerous. On pebble-strewn slopes then you’re asking for trouble. Still, I could do the 60 lbs. The question would be how far I could get the first time out. But I think it it’s distributed about the body, it’s a lot easier. But just 60 lbs. on the back would be a little much.

    But, yeah, at the age of 20 this all would have been a relative piece of cake. You still have to work your way up to it. And I never could do more than seven or eight pull-ups in gym class. That is much tougher than it looks. But then I’m a leg man. I’ve often had my legs developed into horse-legs from all the bike-riding. But I was never much for arm strength. Just a limp-wristed right-winger.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      And I never could do more than seven or eight pull-ups in gym class. That is much tougher than it looks.

      At the time, I had the advantage of being light, something like 145-150lbs. Just no fat. Amazing how an extra 50 lbs and 50 years(almost) will spoil things.

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