Buy F&SF • Read F&SF • Contact F&SF • Advertise In F&SF • Blog • Forum

September 2008
 
Current Issue • Departments • Bibliography

Curiosities

Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, by Sir Walter Scott (1830)

IN ILL health following a stroke, Scott (1771-1832) wrote Letters at the behest of his son-in-law, J. G. Lockhart, who worked for a publishing firm. Scott chose his unusual format (for a demonology) as a series of ten letters written to one John Lockhart. It proved popular and Scott was paid six hundred pounds, which he desperately needed. (Despite his success as a novelist, Scott was almost ruined when the Ballantyne publishing firm, where he was a partner, went bankrupt in 1826.)

Written when educated society believed itself in enlightened times due to advances in modern science and forsaking the superstition of darker ages, Letters reveals that all social classes still held belief in ghosts, witches, warlocks, fairies, elves, diabolism, the occult, and even werewolves (Letter Seven). Sourcing from prior sixteenth- and seventeenth-century treatises on demonology along with contemporary accounts from England, Europe, and North America (Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi, for one), Scott's discourses on the psychological, religious, physical, and preternatural explanations for these beliefs are essential reading for acolytes of the dark and macabre; the letters dealing with witch hunts, trials (Letters Eight and Nine), and torture are morbidly compelling.

Scott was neither fully pro-rational modernity nor totally anti-superstitious past, as his skepticism of one of the "new" sciences (skullology, as he calls it) is made clear in a private letter to a friend. Thus, Letters is also a personal and intellectual examination of conflicting belief systems, when popular science began to challenge superstition in earnest.

—Dave Truesdale

To contact us, send an email to Fantasy & Science Fiction.
If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to sitemaster@fandsf.com.

Copyright © 1998–2014 Fantasy & Science Fiction All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Hosted by:
SF Site spot art