Burn, Witch, Burn! Critical Essays

A. Merritt


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

A plot summary can suggest something of the excitement of the sequence of events, but it cannot suggest the novel’s finest feature: the excellence of its style. A fine example of pure gothic fantasy that uses the device of the superbeing as its chief interest, Burn, Witch, Burn! was written toward the end of A. Merritt’s career. A successful journalist, Merritt wrote fantasies of various types for relaxation in his hours away from his job. He was also a master of lost-civilization stories, such as The Face in the Abyss (1931) and The Dwellers in the Mirage (1932), following a style adopted by the much-better-known H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, authors who were his near contemporaries. In early stories, such as The Moon Pool (1919) and The Metal Monster (1946; serial form, 1920), and in his last novel, Creep, Shadow! (1934), Merritt produced some of the best macabre fantasies by an American writer of any period. Only Edgar Allan Poe is his superior in this genre.

Burn, Witch, Burn! appeared at the end of his career; only Creep, Shadow!, a horror story intended as a sequel, and a few other short pieces would be written in the remaining nine years of his life. This is to be regretted, because the story demonstrates Merritt’s mastery of the various conventions of gothic fantasy—the gloomy and fear-inducing atmosphere and the ageless and malignant superbeing or monster...

(The entire section is 463 words.)