The Witchcraft of Salem Village

The Witchcraft of Salem Village - Shirley Jackson, Lili Béthi

The editors at Landmark Books knew exactly what they were doing.

Shirley Jackson's strengths as a writer were in both the psychology of isolation and small communities, and, in another part of her life, the motivations of the young. The Salem Witch Trials is the perfect pairing for these talents.

Written in the mid-1950s for school children, 'The Witchcraft of Salem Village' is still a refreshing perspective on the trials. Accompanied by intense illustrations, the text is simple, conversational, and frankly states its opinion on what was behind the trials: poor education, and foolish, scared children. The latter is more apparent as one reads the text, but while Jackson remarks that a couple well-placed whippings would have put a stop to the whole shameful tragedy, Ann Putnum and co. were acting within the limits of the system the adults allowed and encouraged. The message of the importance of education untainted by superstition is reinforced again and again through commentary on the interrogation methods of the authorities and the consistent overruling and punishment of reason.

In the bland world of the Eisenhower-era education I can imagine what bright contrast this book offered. From start to finish, over sixty years later, this book is still an excellent overview of the Witch Trials and, unless you have some kind of objection to whipping, appropriate for all ages.