Monday, December 16, 2002

"In the Devil's Snare; The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692," by Mary Beth Norton

Starting off... The first book I wanted to comment on is "In the Devil's Snare; The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692," by Mary Beth Norton. I picked up an interest in reading it the same way I do for most of the books I read these days: a combination of interviews/commentary on NPR, and the New York Times book review. When I spotted it on the shelf at the local library, I snapped it up. The book is a *detailed* and thoroughly endnoted/referenced account of the events, accusations, counter-accusations, and consequences of the infamous Salem witch trials. It would be an absolute bumper source for anyone wanting to use the actual events as a basis for a fictional story. As a read, I confess I found it largely boring (who said what about whom on what date), but her final conclusions were, IMO, fascinating. She notes a tendency to ascribe epidemic illness (i.e. smallpox) to "malefic activity." But even more importantly, she points out that events of the first and second Indian Wars had left the colonists terrorized (several of the individuals involved in the trials were refugees from the frontier)--and ripe for superstition and the seeking of scapegoats. Many of the judges involved had also been responsible for some of the disastrous decision-making that had exacerbated the anger of the tribes, and led to the outbreak of violence between native and colonial populations. Susceptibility to supernatural explanations meets politicians looking for the heat to go...elsewhere. Are there too many parallels here for comfort?

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