Witches of Eastwick, The

Witches of Eastwick, The
   A novel (1984) by John Updike about three women in a small Rhode Island town who become involved with a man who is really the Devil . A 1987 film based on the novel with the same title features Jack Nicholson as the Devil.
   In the plot, Alexandra Spofford, a sculptress; Jane Smart, a cellist; and Sukie Rougemont, a reporter for the local Eastwick newspaper, have all dabbled in the slightly black arts since losing their husbands through death or divorce. A few spells, such as willing shoes to untie, pearl necklaces to break, or storms to appear; or collecting herbs and animal leavings while “skyclad” (naked); or flying late at night, help relieve the tedium of raising unwanted children and going from one unfulfilling lover to another. Each has found a third teat, possibly a wart, on her body, supposedly a witch’s mark or DEVIL’S MARK, and each has a large dog, or FAMILIAR. Just living in New England puts them in the area where American witchcraft beliefs traditionally have been strongest. Drawn to the mischief, a dark, wealthy, mysterious stranger, Darryl Van Horne, moves to Eastwick and occupies a large old estate. No one else lives with him but his servant, Fidel. As in medieval descriptions of the Devil, he is ugly, with a hairy body. He easily seduces Alexandra, Sukie, and Jane into sexual liaisons, both singly and together. Also as in legends of the Devil, his body fluids are cold, and he asks the women to kiss his backside.
   The witchy women add Van Horne to their coven, joining him and Fidel for parties with exotic food, plenty of alcohol, and still more sex. Their SABBATs are like the alleged orgies of earlier Devil worshippers, and the women seem to know when to congregate at Van Horne’s without being invited. They share with him their opinions about the wives of the other men they sleep with, especially Felicia Gabriel, the wife of Sukie’s boss and editor, Clyde. To punish Felicia for her strident, narrow opinions about Sukie and the others, the witches cast a spell on her, causing Felicia to vomit feathers, pennies, thumbtacks, eggshells, and pieces of insects. Their malefi cia, or evildoing, yields more evil: Clyde can tolerate Felicia’s ranting no longer and kills her with a poker before hanging himself.
   The longer the witches are influenced by Van Horne, the easier evil becomes. Alexandra wills a barking dog to death. She no longer feels any sexual desire; nor do some of the witches’ lovers. They appear victims of the aiguillette, or the knot: a device used by witches to draw illicit lovers together, cause impotence in men and barrenness in women, and foment general discontent. Once started in a community, Alexandra notes, witchcraft eventually runs on its own, out of anyone’s control. When Van Horne marries Jenny Gabriel, Felicia and Clyde’s daughter, the women take revenge. Like a medieval sorcerer, Jane flies to the Van Horne mansion, shrinks herself, and collects pieces of Jenny (tissues with lipstick stains, hair, used dental floss, hairs left in the tub after shaving her legs) so that the women can make a charm. The wax figurine is given a female shape, adorned with Jenny’s hair, and stabbed with tacks. Incantations are recited, and the women ask that Jenny die of cancer. The witches are later struck with some guilt and attempt to undo the spell, but Jenny dies, anyway. Van Horne, for all his sexual encounters and rhetoric on the importance of women, takes Jenny’s brother, Chris, as his lover and disappears.
   In the film version of The Witches of Eastwick, directed by George Miller, the women—played by Cher as Alexandra, Susan Sarandon as Jane, and Michelle Pfeiffer as Sukie—are not witches but merely bored women before Darryl Van Horne, played by Jack Nicholson, arrives in Eastwick. He introduces them to magic and orgies, which the women enjoy immensely until their witchy dabbling culminates in Felicia Gabriel’s murder. Before her death, Felicia vomits enormous quantities of cherry seeds, which Van Horne and the women were spitting out of their mouths at a party. The more they eat, the more seeds she excretes.
   Jenny Gabriel is not part of the movie plot at all, and this time the wax figurine is of Van Horne himself as the women try to purge the Devil from their lives. He has impregnated all three, and they wish him gone before the babies are born. They succeed, and he leaves with horrifying special effects.
   One interesting note about the filming of the movie: The producers originally planned to shoot the outdoor scenes in Rhode Island, as in the novel, but local protest by practicing witches and others forced them to move the location to Cohasset, Massachusetts. The protests were led by Laurie Cabot, prominent Salem witch and cochair of the Witches League of Public Awareness. The league objected to the book for portraying what they said were inaccurate stereotypes about witches; modern practitioners of WITCHCRAFT as a religion (Wicca) do not worship the Devil.

Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. . 2009.

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