How many of us do the right thing when no one is looking? Function on the superego level all the time? Or are we all calculating ambition, ruled by the id and the ego’s veiled self-interest?
Altruism is out of fashion.
In Half-Witch: a novel” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Half-Witch by John Schoffstall, Lizbet, a young girl, must undertake an epic journey over the Montagnes du Monde to a magical realm in order to retrieve a book for her town’s Margrave, who holds her father captor. Aided by Strix, a poppet-like girl made by a witch, Lizbet encounters myriad, goblins, witches and other monsters, all while occasionally popping communion wafers to give her a direct line to God, who has his hands full with the devils of hell and may just need some help of his own.
Lizbet is the superego incarnate. In all the close calls–of which there are many–she does the right thing, deciding to help a devil confined to the stocks and avoiding hurting her captors, for instance. It pains her to do the wrong thing and as the novel progresses and it becomes clear heaven has been lost, removing the fear of going to hell in the afterlife, she still does the right thing.
But is the right thing enough? We fight fire with fire and the rules of the game have been altered to aid cheaters. Schoffstall contemplates this throughout the novel, literally pulling the vices and virtues out of his characters to display for the reader and all of it gleams with the knowledge that experience changes us. Coming of age makes us the monster we need to be to succeed as adults. At one point in the novel, Strix replaces Lizbet’s frostbitten and gangrenous legs with birch trees–witch’s legs–so that she can complete the journey.
But what profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul? Perhaps, more importantly, will our friends, our loved ones, still recognize our altered forms when we’ve returned from the journey?
This book was a delight. Schoffstall’s writing is dazzlingly clever, funny, and heartfelt. The world he creates is familiar yet unique and, like all the best books, it takes a piece of you and replaces it with something else, something stronger. A scar healed, a bone mended, a pair of birch tree legs that can cover the most treacherous terrain so long as you have a friend like Strix by your side.