You know you have been busy when it has been nearly a month since your last Book Bag post and you only have one book to write about…and you haven’t quite finished it yet!
Just before the house move I started reading ‘Mist Over Pendle’ by Robert Neill. It is a pretty well known book in these parts as it deals with the area’s most notorious and well known segment of history; the Pendle Witches!
Seventeenth century England is a place of superstition and fear.
Deep in the Forest of Pendle, people have been dying in mysterious circumstances. The locals whisper of witchcraft, but Squire Roger Nowell, in charge of investigating the deaths, dismisses the claims as ridiculous. Until a series of hideous desecrations forces Roger and his cousin Margery to look further into the rumours. And what they discover brings them face to face with the horrifying possibility that a coven of witches is assembling, preparing to unleash a campaign of evil and destruction…
Robert Neill’s novel is a classic tale of witchcraft set in a wild inaccessible corner of Lancashire and in a time when the ancient fear of demons and witches was still a part of life… and death.
I have lived in the region of Pendle all my life and love climbing up that big old hill on a Summer’s long evening, but I have never really got my head fully round the stories of the witch trials. I know I have covered them in school and read bits and pieces over the years, but my head can never seem to remember all of the details….not that I expect there to be an official version anyway. Rumour, corruption, gossip and injustice don’t provide a good platform for the truth. One day I may read a history book to get my head around it but for now I am thoroughly enjoying this fictional version on a dark time of history.
The story starts strong with a comically strict puritan family in a quandary over what to do with their young sister Margery after their mother and father have passed away. Margery has a quick wit and a lively temperament that her siblings see as downright sinful. Their solution comes to ship her off to a well-off distant cousin living in far off Lancashire to see if he can’t find her a suitable match or employment somewhere.
The cousin turns out to be Roger Nowell, a rugged justice of the peace with a wry sense of humour and stern authority. Margery tags along as Nowell deals with a series of mysterious deaths and circumstances that haunt Pendle.
There are early echoes of Jane Eyre in the pattern of exchanges between Roger and Margery, although thankfully it seems that their relationship is more Father/Daughter than romantic. Roger is old enough to have grandchildren and it is actually fun to have a male/female relationship developed that isn’t romantic.
As for the witches, it is still debatable in the story as to whether they have any actual supernatural power or not, but what is apparent is that there is evil intent and malice that is unsettling. I have just read a scene where a number of graves and bodies are desecrated and discovered on Sunday morning. It leaves a sinister taste in the mouth. What adds to the disturbance is that even the ‘good’ Christians are at odds with one another. In a time when people could be hung-drawn-and quartered for holding to the wrong Christian practices trust and friendship is perilously exchanged.
I think there is a little bit of a drag in the stories pacing in the middle and I keep losing track of who is who in the witches brood, but the action is certainly picking up now and I am really looking forward to reaching the end now and seeing how it all unravels!