Conjure Wife, Fritz Leiber’s first published novel, appeared originally in the groundbreaking fantasy pulp Unknown Worlds; it is one of the best examples of the style of logical modern fantasy that the magazine pioneered. Writers for Unknown Worlds were renowned for seeing resonances of the supernatural in the most mundane aspects of everyday life. Leiber at this point in his career already had drawn parallels between the witch’s familiar and a gangster’s gun in his tale “The Automatic Pistol” (1940), and he had reinvented the ghost as a viable monster for the contemporary urban landscape in “Smoke Ghost” (1941). Leiber saw in the rituals, taboos, and rigidly defined gender roles of the academic community of his day an environment akin to primitive tribal societies that accept witchcraft as a matter of course. It was not difficult for him to advance a supernatural rationale for how sexual politics shaped the characters of such institutions: Accept that the age-old battle of the sexes is founded on women wielding powers of witchcraft that men do not possess, and it is easy, in Leiber’s words, to “picture most women as glamor-conscious witches, carrying on their savage warfare of deathspell and countercharm, while their reality befuddled husbands went blithely about their business.”
With its suggestion that witchcraft and sorcery can be understood in social and scientific terms, Conjure Wife clearly...
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