Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Scholastic Fest: #11, Nine Witch Tales

  • Title: Nine Witch Tales
  • Editor: Abby Kedabra
  • Illustrator: John Fernie
  • Publisher: Scholastic Book Services
  • Year: First printing, September 1968
  • Excerpt from "The Hungry Old Witch":
    "She was a witch, she was very old, and she was always hungry, and she lived long ago near a forest, just in the corner where Brazil and Argentina touch. Those were the days when mighty beasts moved in the marshes, and when strange creatures with wings like bats flew in the air. There were also great worms then, so strong that they bored through mountains and rocks as an ordinary worm makes its way through clay."
  • Notes: Let's start this time with the artist who did this marvelous cover. His name was John A. Fernie and he lived from 1919 to 2001. He was born in Scotland and, according to Ask Art, he was "an illustrator for major magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post [and] also designed Broadway theater posters and painted landscape and genre scenes in Vermont and Maine." Prashant C. Trikannad wrote a short blog post about Fernie in 2012, and you can see galleries of Fernie's varied work on Facebook and Flickr. This great Scholastic cover was one of his few forays into horror and chills. He should have done more! ... Meanwhile, the editor of this late 1960s anthology is listed as Abby Kedabra, which is obviously a joke. I could not determine, however, who the actual editor was. ... The book opens with an excerpt from The Witches' Chant (from Shakespeare's Scottish play) and then, as advertised, presents nine witch tales from around the world. Here's the full list:
    Palmer (1912–2005) and Lloyd (1924-1998), who were responsible for three of the tales, were an amazing pair. They were loving partners for more than 50 years and were involved in acting, writing and bookselling in England throughout their lives. An excerpt from Lloyd's obituary in The Independent states: "The only divergence was when Palmer took up teaching and Lloyd didn't. Tasks such as book-hunting for stock, say, or the writing of ghost stories took place in the evenings and at weekends, until Palmer retired."2 ... I half wonder if Palmer and Lloyd, who seem like the playful type, were the actual Abby Kedabra. ... This book, while a bit on the wonderfully dark side for a children's title, is remembered fondly by some. One Amazon reviewer wrote in 2008: "I've had this book for since I was just a little kid and I have always loved it. I still read it once or twice every few years. It's a very magical book with very, very, unique witch stories." And, earlier this year, another reviewer wrote: "This is one of the first books ... that I remember reading. My sister had bought it at a school book sale when she was in 3rd grade and I was in 1st. It's probably not on the recommended reading list these days for that age set, as it paints some rather scary scenarios, but I remember enjoying it at the time."

1. According to Wikipedia, the epitaph on Finger's Arkansas gravestone states: "This voyage done, set sail and steer once more To further landfall on some nobler shore."
2. I also love this separate passage from the obituary for Lloyd that Jack Adrian penned in 1998 for The Independent:
"As a bookseller in 1970s Islington, so close to that seething and incestuous haunt of back-stabbing book-runners, Camden Passage, Noel Lloyd often benefited from the track-down skills (genius would be no exaggeration) of the legendary Martin Stone, rock guitarist extraordinaire and the finest literary truffle-hunter this side of the Millennium. Lloyd's own talents as a scourer of north and south London street barrows and book barns, however, not to mention the dubious bazaars around Praed Street, should not be overlooked. The Compton Bookshop invariably had stock you seldom found elsewhere."


  1. I had this book! I loved picking out books from Scholastic.

  2. I checked this book out from my school library when I was in 6th grade. I loved it! Excellent Halloween read. I never forgot it.