‘The Witch’ by Shirley Jackson

I have a very strange and uncomfortable relationship with Jackson, mainly because I think she’s excellent, but I do not want to deal with what she is revealing about human nature. I like ‘The Witch’ so much because it is, on the surface, a very funny story, but of course it reveals something more about human nature and our childlike glee for horror and our fascination with gore and ghost stories, and our capability for great cruelty. In it a little boy meets a man on the train who tells him a horrible story, to the little boy’s delight, and his distracted mother’s annoyance. It is very short, and Jackson writes with such a deft touch you do not notice that the dark has crept in.

First published in 1948 and collected in The Lottery and Other Stories, Penguin 1967. Also available as a Penguin Modern Classic for Kindle, 2014

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