onsidered a modern horror story for it's time, Conjure Wife reinvents the 'witch' as well educated women far removed from the green-skinned, hag of our collective imagination and allows her story to unfold on a modern university campus. The action begins fairly early in the book when Norman Saylor, a professor of ethnology, discovers his wife Tansy has put his research into "Negro Conjure Magic" into practice for the sake of protecting him from other spell casting faculty wives who wish to further their own husbands careers and with that their own social standing.
Being a rational man of science Norman has only an academic interest in the subject of magic and superstition and he forces Tansy to cease all her workings and to burn all her charms which mostly take the form of mojo bags (called hands in the book)--with the exception of her diary which contains her formulas for How to Make Wishes Work, How To Get and Guard, to Spell and to Hex. No sooner does Norman burn the last charm hidden in his pocket watch, which Tansy either purposely or accidentally forgot was there, do things start to fall apart. A former student accuses Norman of railroading him into failing out of school and threatens him with a gun, his student-secretary accuses him of having seduced her, and he is passed over for a promotion that had seemed guaranteed.
Norman then begins to have more than his fair share of small accidents such as cutting himself while shaving, stepping on carpet tacks, cutting his hand with a letter opener, etc... and he begins to imagine that he senses a dark presence which exploits his fear of trucks. A bad situation becomes even worse when Tansy takes his curse upon herself and he is forced to put aside his disbelief and use witchcraft to save not only his wife's soul, but her body as well in an delightfully unexpected twist reminiscent of The Skeleton Key (2005).
Although Conjure Wife is a horror novel, it's subject matter is treated seriously. The witches are portrayed as 'normal' women with clearly understandable motivations. The witchcraft portrayed in the novel is derived from Southern Folk Magic (Hoodoo). Very early in the book Norman discovers Tansy's boxes of silver dimes, lodestones, and several bottles of graveyard dirt, and squares of flannel for making her 'hands'. The practices portrayed in this work are authentic, however the author did little to describe the actual use of these items within the story, save for a few workings. Most of the action is internal as Norman attempts to convince himself that the events occurring around him are coincidental as slowly begins to believe that magic is real and all women are witches!
The book has spawned three movie adaptations Burn, Witch Burn (1962); Weird Woman (1944); and Witch's Brew(1980). Although each movie is based on this novel, each one has changed it's portrayal how witchcraft (not Wicca) is practiced. None of the movies portrays witchcraft as it is actually practiced, however neither does all the practices in Conjure Wife reflect actual practices.