Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Review: Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber

One of these days I will have to sit down and figure out how many books I have chosen to read because of movies I've seen, and how many authors I have finally understood and enjoyed because I saw a movie made from the book first. Conjure Wife is one of the former since I didn't know that there was a book upon which the movie Burn, Witch Burn, which I first saw many moons ago, was based. 

Earlier this week when I read that Conjure Wife was indeed what the movie was based on, I had to read the book. Fritz Leiber was not one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy writers, but I am always game to take a chance. A visit to Amazon and a download later and I was in the midst of the academic world of a small college and into the mind of the professor teaching about the roots of magic and sociology of the primitive and modern minds.

Considering Conjure Wife was Fritz Leiber's debut effort, I was not disappointed. Leiber goes deep into the mind of a modern man who is determined to see the use of magic and spells as an aberration of his wife's intelligence and experience in various sociological forays into primitive societies. How could his rational wife be serious about such medieval notions and actually practice and believe that spells could effect any change in the way things were done?

Leiber erodes Norman Saylor's resistance like a relentless tide eating away at the sand beneath his conventional beliefs. From the first hint of trouble when he burns his wife's last packet of magical protection in his watch casing, Norman is forced to see the truth of his rise and favor in his academic world. Norman is assailed by a psychotic student who has failed exams and been summarily cast out of yet another university, a female student's crush and claims of sexual misconduct, and losing the department chair to a less worthy colleague.

Norman attempts to find some order among the superstitious chaos that surrounds him and seeks help from one of his friends, a mathematics professor, in quantifying the ingredients of a spell that will restore his wife's soul to her body. Conjure Wife is a wondrous concoction of superstition, science, and psychology that brings the war of the sexes into a very real and fascinating journey to the heart of what makes men and women different and the same.

One thing I realized as I read Conjure Wife is that I had seen a frothy and light-hearted version of this story before. Fritz Leiber's book has been made into three movies since it was published in 1933: Weird Woman n 1944, Burn, Witch Burn (aka Night of the Eagle) in 1960, and Witches' Brew in 1980 starring Teri Garr and Richard Benjamin, which is the light-hearted version.

Fritz Leiber mastered the war between the sexes and the way that men and women see and deal with the world in Conjure Wife. Leiber's language is brilliant and clear and his obvious wonder at the secret world of women is priceless, so much so that a fourth remake of the book is now in the works. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and Leiber's writing and may now have to remedy the dearth of Leiber's sword and sorcery and science fiction in my library.

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