FFB: The Devil’s Mistress

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The Devil’s Mistress
J. W. Brodie-Innes
The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult
Sphere 1974 (original novel 1915)

I taught a course on witchcraft and the witch hunts in the fall semester. Don’t ask me what took so long to get around to it. As usual with new courses I stuffed far too much into it, so I’m going to have to rethink before I teach it again.

Among the fun things was getting a little obsessed with Isobel Goudie, the Scottish witch whose confession is responsible for a lot of modern views on witches. There have been novels written on her (this is one, I’ve got another to come, both picked up for pennies here) but also a symphonic work and a pop song.

As Wheatley points out in his introduction, one of the first things to intrigue is Brodie-Innes’ dedication in the volume: ‘To the memory of my dear friend the author of Dracula to whose help and encouragement I owe more than I am at present at liberty to say.’ He also mentions the continuing history of which Brodie-Innes writes. In his own introduction the author reiterates the historicity of the narrative: ‘All the leading characters in the story are actual historical persons, and the incidents told of them vouched by contemporary writings.’ In fact, many from his own family’s history like Patrick Innes.

This reliance on historical record makes the opening pages a little dry, rather like Harker’s diary entries at the start of Dracula but soon we are in the mind of Isobel and things pick up. The old story of beauty married to age (as well as a sour and miserly disposition) gets the added complication of a woman with ambitions for art and knowledge.

So yes, Isobel sells her soul to the Dark Master, who promises her that ‘Knowledge is power’ but with a loophole: he cannot affect her Catholic baptism, only her false Reformed one. This loophole is important and she holds onto the gold cross hidden within a simple shift for it works a magic equal to if different from that of her dark lover. It also provides an important theme in the clash of the Cromwellian reformers with the royalists — a lot of the trials of ‘heretics’ and ‘witches’ had a deeper political cause.

Then there’s the world of faerie, which delights Isobel even more than the wild hunts and tasty revenge that her dark lover gives her. From their realm only does she see the whole of creation and realise what power the devil has — and has not. She’s torn between that land’s delights, her loyalty to friends and the perilous struggle for her eternal soul.

All of which makes for a fun read. Lots of folklore and old rhymes, too. There are rituals, Hecate, fae fun, wild hunts and even a Hand of Glory. Some snippets:

‘Nay, she would not be chattel; she refused to be bought. She belonged to herself. No human being can be bought thus in free Scotland.’

‘Horse and hattock! Mount and go! Horse and hattock! Oh, ho ho!’

‘The Lord rade fair and free
Ower the hills til Galilee;
He pat the blood to the blood till all upstood,
The lith till the lith till all took with.
Owr Ladie charmed her dearlie son, with her tooth and with her townge
And her ten fingaris.
Be ye then hail and well,
In the name of the Father, Son, and Halie Ghaist.’

I suspect I will be digging more into Goudie’s confessions as I explore some more. You can explore more overlooked books at Patti’s blog. Todd’s blog this week.

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  1. realthog says:

    Golly, I remember reading this during my misspent youth!

    1. katelaity says:

      [sings] MEMORIES![/sings]

  2. Todd Mason says:

    I think there’s been perhaps one FFB review of this one and definitely one of THE DEVIL RIDES OUT,, and not any other of Wheatley’s, over the years…I’m hosting this week, btw…

    1. J F Norris says:

      Not true. I wrote about To the Devil — a Daughter specifically for FFB in October 2013. I’ve also mentioned him in comparison to similar writers like John Blackburn who during the 1970s seemed to have inherited Wheatley’s mantle as the top occult thriller writer.

      1. Todd Mason says:

        I suspe t, John, I was confusing DAUGHTER and your review of it for this book…

  3. Todd Mason says:

    Ha! Can you tell that I’m looking (and typing) too quickly, in IDing this as written by the imprint namesake?

  4. Todd Mason says:

    (Though clearly Sphere hoped the casual browser would mistake it for a Wheatley novel, too…) I need to look at the whole run of the Wheatley series…the UK’s correspondent to Carter’s Adult Fantasy series for Ballantine, in a sense, perhaps…

    1. realthog says:

      the UK’s correspondent to Carter’s Adult Fantasy series for Ballantine, in a sense, perhaps

      I wouldn’t draw the parallel too far, Todd. As I recall, the books were all definitely “occult” rather than fantasy in the Dunsany/Tolkien/Carter mold. The series was an odd exercise, really, because even by 1974 Wheatley’s star had declined pretty far.

  5. Todd Mason says:

    Yes, more congruent, I was thinking, than identical…unless the majority of the Sphere books weren’t fiction, then it would be rather a different kettle. (And the Adult Fantasy series clearly wasn’t a smashing commercial success, or else the Del Reys wouldn’t’ve erased it so thoroughly when they came in and began offering up new mediocrities, on balance, instead of the mix of old ones with a few gems betwixt that Carter brought out.) I see Ramble House has put this book back on paper: http://www.amazon.com/The-Devils-Mistress-J-Brodie-Innes/dp/1605430293

    1. realthog says:

      Apparently the Ballantine series was highly successful initially, then petered out a bit: there’s a little info here here.

  6. Todd Mason says:

    Too little Peter Beagle and Evangeline Walton and Dunsany in the late offers…too much PHANTASTES and William Morris. Though, of course, K. Kurtz…despite Leiber’s almost unwilling but unstinting takedown in FANTASTIC (not that that reached much of her core audience)…was one of the few discoveries to receive sustained support from the Del Reys…Lester kept trying to get some JB Cabell commercial traction, even as he also did unsuccessfully with Thorne Smith, but I suspect Dover did more business with their edition of JURGEN than Ballantine ever did…

  7. Todd Mason says:

    Actually, as detailed by ISFDB, the Carter and Wheatley series are not too terribly different in their hit and miss mixes of the good and mediocre or worse, their limited-appeal and rather commercially viable offers:
    http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pubseries.cgi?105 for the Sphere

  8. Todd Mason says:

    http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pubseries.cgi?26 for the Ballantine
    (as the blog here doesn’t trust two URLs in a comment…)

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