There have been several interpretations of the Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. Like every issue that has come up, everyone has their own take on it. Mary Beth Norton chose to lay out her version of the witchcraft trials in her book, In the Devil’s Snare. It is a tremendously ambitious book. Throughout the book, Norton is trying to lay out connections between the experiences of settlers in Maine, the accusations of the afflicted in Salem, and the actions and decisions of the colony leaders.
I’ll admit, I don’t know much about the Salem Witchcraft Trials, if anything at all. I had the choice of reading The Crucible in high school, but I turned it down and chose to read a different book. Therefore, I really had not choice but to believe Norton when she said that her approach to examining the witchcraft crisis was a new one. Instead of looking at events case-by-case, she starts at the very beginning (the first whisper of an accusation) and moves chronologically through the entire episode.
When it was needed, Norton would pause to add background information.
Mary Beth’s point of view of the Salem Witchcraft Crisis is that it all was triggered by from the results of the Indian Wars. She believes that the only way this crisis could be understood, is if you looked at the military conflict between the English settlers and the Native Americans from that region. By the specific attention paid to Tituba, Martha Corey, and Abigail Hobbs, Norton shows how these individuals contributed to the linkage between the witchcraft crisis and the military conflict with the natives. In my opinion, I think Norton’s conclusion should have been put at the start. This is where she explains her thesis, which was that witchcraft crisis of 1692 was in large part a reaction to King Philip’s War and King William’s War, clearly and concisely. Mary Beth does a good job at connecting the participants to the Wars; however I don’t think she’s very convincing when it came to showing how the lack of military and leadership in the war was a driving force to the creation of the Salem Witchcraft Trials.
Mary Beth Norton’s, In The Devil’s Snare, was very well written piece of literature. I commend her on stepping outside of what other authors had written about and creating her own version of the Salem WitchCraft Crisis of 1692. Norton has a substantial amount of supporting material that she’s gotten from other sources. The amount of the research involved to write her 304 page book is quite impressive and is ultimately breathtaking. I can only imagination how time consuming it was to lay out all the researched material and piece it together with her side of things. Just the thought of management needed to piece this book together gives me a headache.
However, all this information did make the book less interesting to me. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a book that had 86 pages of endnotes! It made the book a drag because I had to continuously keep flipping back and forth between the story itself, and the side notes. Sometimes a reader can get away with skipping the end notes; however, I felt it was necessary to going back and forth because if I didn’t, I don’t think I would have understood most of it. Sometimes Norton’s side notes helped clarify what I was reading.
All in all, In The Devil’s Snare was a decent book. I don’t think I ever found it really interesting at any point, nor was there a place that made me want to keep reading and not push the book aside for a little. My recommendation to others would be limited. This isn’t a book I would recommend to those that want something to read in their free time. I feel like all of her background information, and the tedious amount of flipping back and forth would put many people to sleep. I had a hard time reading more than 30 pages at a time! I think the only people I would recommend this book to would be those who take certain interest in this time frame of history. I think this would be a book they’d like, just because it’s given at a different angle.