I read this because I am a big fan of Shirley Jackson's fiction, for its psychological insight and dark and sinister world view. This book, however, gives a factual account of the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century. It was written for children and at 130-odd pages of fairly large print can be read in a single sitting. The Salem witch trials constituted a dark and disturbing episode in American history, and as they were quite well documented we can see just how irrational, hysterical and cruel a human community can be, with no apparent provocation. This element of a heartless, vindictive society turning on its weakest members or the outsiders is a constant in Shirley Jackson's fiction as well, and presumably is part of her interest in this occurence. There are a few occasions in the book where the author presumes to reveal the thoughts of those involved, a risky ploy in a work of history, but probably necessary to make sense of the events for young readers and she doesn't take any excessive liberties in doing this. Mostly this is just a factual retelling of these events, strange and gruesome enough to require no embellishment. Though aimed at children, this book is suitable for anyone seeking an overview of the Salem witch trials as unlike some children's authors, Shirley Jackson does not talk down to her readers, moralise excessively, or adopt language particularly suited to children she just gives the facts clearly and simply. For a really detailed look at the events in question, this is not the answer but readers of any age will be spellbound and rather disturbed by this account of man's inhumanity to man and the ease with which mass hysteria can take hold, with devastating consequences.
The excellent horror writer Shirley Jackson wrote this short book before her more famous works, "The Haunting of Hill House" (possibly the best haunted house book ever written) and the underrated "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" as well as authoring the unforgettable short story "The Lottery".
In 1692 in Salem Village, Massachusetts, a group of young girls claimed to have been mistreated by witches and wizards and began accusing members of their colony. The village elders, devoutly religious Puritans, were utterly in thrall to these girls because of the strictness of their beliefs and the real fear at the time of actual witches, and began arresting the women based on the girls' testimony, and started executing them. Eventually the arrests stopped as people became sick of the witch-hunt but the shocking madness that gripped this village is still a fascinating glimpse into early American life and the disturbing behaviour extreme religious views breeds.
This book is non-fiction but is written in the fluid narrative style of a novel making for easy understanding and reading of this strange story. Jackson writes beautifully and retells the events as closely to the facts as possible. It's amazing to read the way these girls were believed and that on the loosest of accusations by these children that an entire community of grown-ups chose to believe their nonsense and act upon it in such a heinous way. Jackson speculates that it was a convenient way for these grown-ups to work out their frustration over others, a kind of class warfare, but ultimately it comes down to the Puritan religion and the scaremongering that suited it's cause.
Jackson would go on to include many aspects of the Salem Witch Trials in her fiction, such as the mob mentality and rural superstition in "The Lottery" or the deviousness of little girls in "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" or the way we can lie to ourselves to believe delusions based on our surroundings in "The Haunting of Hill House".
It is a well written and brief book that will make clear to anyone reading the events and issues surrounding this period of time, but it is by no means a scholarly book and anyone looking for more in-depth explanations into the witch-trials would do better seeking out a more academic history book. The book is aimed at younger readers in their early teens and it's perfectly suited for that. I would recommend anyone looking for further reading to seek out Jackson's later novels as they are masterpieces of fiction and well worth reading to see where she pursued the themes present in this book.
Excellent look into the history of the salem witch trials. Brilliantly written, didn't want to put the book down. If you want to know about the witch trails, what started them and how they effected t h e village and other surrounding areas then this book is a must. Very informative and a good well written read.