Swamp Witch opens on a father and daughter in mid-argument. The father is readying for a business trip and the daughter desperately argues against being sent off to her aged aunt for the duration.
Predictably Linda, the daughter, wins and instead of being shipped off to her aunt she instead intends to spend the time with her friend Heather and her family.
Almost instantly Linda finds herself besieged by nightmares and hallucinations which grow in intencity even as she grows closer to Heather and her childhood friend Ron. It seems that the families housemaid, Tubelle, has had her heart set on Heather and Ron becomeing more than just friends; and Linda has found herself the victim of a voodoo priestess with more than a little understanding of the dark arts.
Laurie Bridges and Paul Alexander’s Swamp Witch was the sixth book in the mid eighties horror series Dark Forces, which was aimed at a teen audience and though it drastically varied in quality throughout its short run it was a series that had the fourteen year old me hooked.
Swamp Witch was not one I read at the time, so I did my best to chennel the fourteen year old Alan to appeaciate it the best I could and though it didn’t hit the heights of some in the series it was far better than others. Mainly Swamp Witch was a thinly disguised romance that chronicled the growing relationship between Linda and Ron, but this isn’t to day the horror aspects arn’t interesting if somewhat sparce. It’s main issue is that in spite of the voodoo theme none of the halucinations or nightmares seems to link together in any satisfying way; we have a mysterious fetishistic dolls and myserious monsters (who are never seen), spiders, snakes and storms but I couldn’t help but think either Tubelle, or perhaps the authors, lacked the imagination necessary to really drive Linda over sanity’s edge.
I feel I would have done a better job; as least thats what the girlfriend says.
That all said theres some very good characterization to be seen in the book. Its shallow characerization to be sure, but quite well concieved. Tubelle exists within an always condescending atmosphere. Heather and her family see her as a harmless domesticated pet rather than a woman with all the deep complexity that she is capable; perhaps this is symtomatic of a family with deep rooted racism or perhaps the family is truly so shallow they wouldn’t see it in anyone. To make matters worse Tubelle seems unaware of all this and instead of becoming resentful of it she seems rather to hold them all in high esteem.
Theres something extremely sad about this setup, as if the family have stepped out of a story from the old south and I always felt that the family could turn on Tubelle at any moment. Linda on the other hand sees Tubelle as an instantly intimidating character and strangely she seems the only one who truly sees Tubelle as the formidable person she turns out to be.
Ironically of course Tubelle grows to hate the only person who has any real respect for her; but isn’t that often the case?
Instead of presenting us with clearcut good and evil the story unfolds as a series of misunderstandings and as such my sympathies wavered back and forth between the characters. As Tubelle slowly unwinds into clear cut madness its hard not to sympathise with her plight because, after all, everything she does she does out of love of a child she had raised form a baby. In this Swamp Witch becomes something of a tragedy which only – just – manages to squeak into the horror category because of the introduction of voodoo.
Ultimately in spite of the books symplicity and the bait-and-switch of it being more romance than horror I found the book to be a page turner and I really had no idea how the book would eventually end. Yeah, I knew that Linda and Ron would walk off hand-in-hand, and I supected Tubelle would have to be dealt with permenantly; but I always felt the possiblility of redemption was there for her.
Swamp Witch is a book that was both better and worse than I expected it to be and its one that I thought could’ve a lot better if it had been given more space to manuevure around in, but given the 160 pages or so it took up and the obvious limitation of being an 80’d teen novel it couldn’t quite manage it. I really felt some sorrow for this, as odd as this might sound, because the setup is probably the most interestin thing about the book and I could easily have seen it exploring racism and the burdens of slavery that I thought Tubelle laboured under. Theres an undercurrent of this already and I wondered whether this was intentional and whether the authors originally had something grander planned.