“Conjure Wife” was the first novel written by Fritz Leiber. Published for the first time in in the April 1943 issue of the magazine “Unknown” it was published in a revised and expanded edition as a book for the first time in 1953.
In “Conjure Wife” Norman Saylor, a happily married university professor of sociology whose career is progressing in a positive way, one day discovers that his wife Tansy is dedicated to witchcraft in order to help him in his career, also protecting him from evil spells cast by other witches wives of other professors.
Norman doesn’t believe in magic and forces his wife to throw away all her amulets and ingredients for her spells worried about her neurotic behavior. Soon after however a series of unfortunate events hits the Saylor family: Norman tries to rationalize what’s happening attributing it to mere coincidence but the increasingly strange behavior of Tansy and even of some colleagues’ wives is increasingly suspecious. Is it possible that magic really exists and that all women are witches?
With “Conjure Wife” Fritz Leiber gives us the first of his classics. The subject of witchcraft is one of the oldest but Leiber departs from the traditional way of treating it not only in putting it into the rational setting of a modern university, but also bringing it back into a natural setting with the protagonist trying to discover the natural laws that govern spells. Not accidentally during the novel Norman Saylor turns to a fellow mathematics professor to try to make some logical sense of spells from a variety of sources to understand what ingredients are most effective.
The concept that women are witches is apparently misogynist but it’s a way for the protagonist to really get to know his wife when he discovers a part of her life that was completely unknown to him and slowly he understands how she has always helped him.
The novel is inevitably dated from the perspective of the situation of the time it was written, where university professors were all men while their wives were acting all behind the scenes. In this sense witchcraft can be seen as a metaphor for the work the professors’ wives do behind the scenes organizing various receptions and ceremonies of the university. The wives who get the most prestigious tasks reinforce their husbands’ positions so even without the magic behind their smiles there are plenty of backstabbing attempts.
“Conjure Wife” has inspired three movies so far: “Weird Woman” in 1944, “Night of the Eagle” (also known as “Burn, Witch, Burn!”) in 1962 and “Witches’ Brew” (also known as “Which Witch is Which?”) in 1980. In 2008 a new effort to adapt the novel for the big screen was announced but for now it seems that it’s not being produced.
The influence of “Conjure Wife” also extends to television: for example it’s logical to think that the series “Bewitched” was partly inspired by this novel and this series has also inspired other television and film productions.
Today the plot of this novel may seem obvious but it’s a classic that has influenced the horror genre so much that it started a contemporary sub-genre in which supernatural is an integral part of everyday life.