“Cry Witch!” was written in 1951, squarely in Leiber’s Jungian period. Its central figure, the eponymous witch, is an anima shadow to the narrator’s ‘friend’. She goes nameless in the tale and it is the mystery of her nature and the questions that surround her that propel the story forward.
“My friend did not know her name or where she lived. He did not ask her. With regard to that he was conscious of an unspoken agreement between them. But she always turned up when he wanted her and she was very artful in her choice of the moment to slip away.”
Leiber starts with the ground he covered in “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes”, where the anima is a psychic vampire that feeds off of the attention and desires of men but goes off in a different direction. In Cry Witch! the anima is all surface, only reflecting the desires and fantasies that men and the ‘friend’ project upon her. She is never allowed to be herself or is perhaps incapable of being anything at all without male attention. In Jungian terms, she is perpetually Eve.
“He walked past their houses late at night, hoping they would be looking out of a darkened window, warm white ghosts in their cotton gowns.”
The friend’s own emotional growth is stunted. He wants to keep the mystery women to himself and possess her. He steals her away from the other village men and takes her to live in a cabin in the hills to be his wife. She goes willingly and even seems to develop a tenderness towards him and they share many fulfilling days. But is it real or is it his own fantasy of a life with a wife that he projects upon her?
As well as exploring old ground in a new way, “Cry Witch!” also seems to predict Conjure Wife which was written a few years later and perhaps gives us a glimpse of the early development of what may have become the young Polish mistress of Our Lady of Darkness.
I reread the story and give it five stars now, not four. I more clearly see what Leiber is about here. There are two levels to the story. Anyone reading it on the literal level would give it three or maybe four stars. Where the story really shines is on its non-literal level. The unnamed woman isn't really an individual person. She is young love or lust itself.
The narrator is surprised to find old Nemecek still checking out some beautiful woman at the bar there meeting in? Isn't this all past him? The dirty old man. The woman recognizes his glance of appreciation at her beauty and graciously accepts it as she continues on her business with her young lover. Young love/lust never ages, but named individuals in the story like Nemecek do.
All young men feel lust. When Nemecek realizes this he grows angry and disgusted. Surely only he can feel this way. It's not for every common man too. He doesn't want to share this noble private feeling with others, but lust of course belongs to everyone.
Where is lust traditionally more suppressed but in the church? It is no accident then that the climax then takes place there. The Old Man in black, a Satan figure, trying to keep his disciple on the wrong path.
It takes an old man like Nemecek has become by the end of the story to gain the self-mastery over lust, yet know his present company, the narrator, being young, isn't there yet. Masterfully told story works on both levels but best of course on the figurative.
Well spotted! After re-reading my write up on the story, it looks like I was halfway there but fell short. I'll have to read it again. Thanks, Charles
This story follows “Conjure Wife” (1943) by eight years. I don't see much similarity between the stories. Leiber said in an interview in the last year of his life that he liked to write about witches because both he and his audience enjoyed the possibilities of the topic.
I see a more direct link between this story and Isaac Bashevis Singer's “Gimpel the Fool,” except Leiber's story precedes Singer's by two years. It's fascinating that both located their unfaithful women and her cuckolds among the Czech peasantry. What is it I don't know here?