The Witch World and its sequels is one of Andre Norton's most famous creations. Although the novel itself never won any major awards (it was, however, a Hugo nominee in the best novel category), it proved very popular with the readers. Indeed, so popular that Web of the Witch World and subsequent sequels were written.
Since that time many fans expressed their interest in the history behind the novel's creation and Ms. Norton was happy to answer their questions. Below you will find two articles in which the authoress reveals some of the mystery that shrouds the origins.
Creation of the Witch World
Reginald, R. Science fiction and fantasy literature (1979), p. 1018
The Witch World books grew of themselves - I never intended to make a series in the beginning. Part of Witch World was taken from separate scenes I had done years ago for a novel on the Crusaders who had settled in Outremer. And the background of most of the books is based on Celtic and early English legends and folklore. Warlock of the Witch World is a retelling of Childe Roland, and Year of the Unicorn of Beauty and the Beast.
The division of the books is according to continents on that world. Estcarp corresponds roughly to Europe and High Hallack to America. The Estcarpian stories largely have the same family as characters - the High Hallack do not. The Atlas of Fantasy has a map of Witch World; however, since that was drawn quite a few more towns and important sites have been added.
As I mentioned, the Verlaine segment in Witch World was developed from a fragment I did about one of the knights of Outremer - those who settled in the Near East during the Crusades, and built up petty kingdoms there. I never wrote the historical tale, but used it as a part of fantasy. I switched to High Hallack with Year of the Unicorn, and then wrote several short stories and novelettes laid in the dales - which are founded on the Yorkshire dales of England, with their wild Viking-invader backgrounds. I then did the two novels, The Crystal Gryphon and the Jargoon Pard, taking up various dates before, during, and after the invasion.
As for what I write - well, I write the kind of tales I like to read myself. There is a great deal of research which goes into each book - I use archaeology, ancient history, history of the middle ages, folklore, legends, natural history, and occult for my backgrounds. When I use such a definite occult matter as psychometry, the tarot, etc., in a book, I have a definite demonstration by an expert in order to get a material correct.
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The Origins of the Witch World
The Norton Newsletter
Issue #1, march 1979**
Witch World really grew from another idea altogether. Years ago, before I entered the sf-fantasy field of writing (no one was interested in buying ms. that were book length then), I had an idea dealing with the Norman holdings in Outremer during the Crusading period - those small baronies (ect) which were carved out and held by landless knights who did not wish to return to Europe after their long travel to the Middle East.
The section in the first book which deals with Verlaine and its heiress was an incident I had imagined for such a book. The book was never written except as scraps at the time. Then, much later, I came across the legend that the mysterious seat at the Round Table which came to be Galahads - The Siege Perilous - in reality dropped into another time and place those rash enough to try it who were not fitted to be seated there. That gave me an opening for an adventure tale.
Witch World was never meant to be a series - it just grew. And many of the books are based on authentic folk tales long in our knowledge. Warlock of the Witch World, for example, is really a retelling of the old Saxon story of Childe Roland. Year of the Unicorn is a version of Beauty and the Beast - and so on.
I research heavily for each book or tale - not only in the field of legend and folk story, but also in history of the middle ages and early English and British material. Over the years I have acquired an extensive personal library of folklore, history and witchcraft material to which I go for reference.
I have to ration myself now with Witch World books as I do not want to start repeating myself - which is easy to do with a too familiar background. So I do not write one as often as I wish, and I do try to get an unfamiliar background as much as I can. My most recent work is one laid in the mysterious south from which the Falconers first came and gives a clue to the reason for their warped life style - it is a shorter work entitled Falcon Blood and has a Sulcar girl for a heroine.
But one does have to deal with a great many small details and I now have a special Witch World book with backgrounds for the already printed stories, ect. so that I won't make any glaring mistakes.
The editor would like to express his deepest gratitude to Irene Harrison for supplying the Norton Newsletter article.
* If you wish to learn more about the author, click on the name.
** The Norton Newsletter, Issue #1, march 1979, p. 2. Printed by Sonic Princess Press for the Witch World Club. If you have contact with any of the editors, especially Michele Rosenberg, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org