The Witching Hour is a really long book by Anne Rice, and it has a lot of her trademark existentialist\horror\erotica themes included.

The book opens telling the story of Michael Curry, a man raised in poverty in New Orleans, who later grows wealthy restoring Victorian mansions in San Francisco. One day, while walking along Ocean Beach, he falls in the water, and drowns. When he is revived, he has clairvoyant powers that are driving him insane.

Enter Rowan Mayfair, Medical Doctor, researcher, seaboat captain and beautiful young telekinetic woman. It is she who pulls Michael out of the water and revives him. Michael tries to track her down so he can find out what may have happened in a strange vision while he was dead. Rowan has problems of her own, though, since her mother, who she has never met, has just died. She had been raised by her adoptive parents in the the city of San Francisco with specific instructions never to let Rowan return to New Orleans.

When Rowan and Michael meet, they fall in love and fly off to New Orleans.

This is just the first few hundred pages of a thousand + page book, and despite what it sounds like, it is all told very well. Part of the reason why this book drew me in when I first read it, is it never described any of the weirdness as being taken for granted by the characters. They come across as normal people who just happen to be having a few weird experiences.

Back to our narrative, Michael meets with a mysterious English man named Aaron Lightner, and they have a little discussion about the Knights Templar, after which Aaron gives Michael a thick file describing the last two or three hundred years of Mayfair family history, which is rather disturbing, being filled with murder, incest, madness, and intervention by a Spirit called Lasher. The entire history file takes the middle part of the book, and is told as an extended flashback.

The third part of the book tells of the love story between Rowan and Michael, their plans for marriage, and the unfolding of the plot of ghost like entity Lasher to control everything.

Oh yeah, and there is lots and lots of sex, most of which is, for Anne Rice at least, pretty vanilla.

As far as conspiracy theory, mindfuck books go, this one is way up there. Lasher is a genuinly creepy entity, especially since we don't know the depth of his nature (Anne Rice spoils this in later books by explicating exactly what he is, see Wharfingers Rule). And in contrast to this, the main pair of characters seem like real people. This book has what everyone genre novel should have: characters who could hold themselves up in a non-genre novel.

The witching hour was once a fairly specific idea, back in the days of Yore when people could be openly superstitious without incurring the ridicule of the public, but, in these modern days, it has become more and more nondescript. The witching hour was once thought to be merely midnight, every night, the time of day in which all supernatural beings are at the height of their power. The term has now degraded where it can currently be used for almost any late hour of the night. In the 2005 movie The Excorcism of Emily Rose, they describe the witching hour to be 3:00 AM, simply as a perversion of 3:00 PM, the time in which Christ was believed to be crucified, and a way to mock the Holy Trinity. In neopaganism, it is only known as the hour of midnight which occurs during a full moon.

But almost everyone knows that - or they can pretty easily assume. What most people do not know is that the exact phrase first appeared written in 1835 by Washington Irving, a popular short story writer from the early 1800s, most known for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. One of the last lines of a less well-known story was:

"Two pairs of eyes are watching me now, from the couch and the ledge by the window. Faerieland shines in those eyes. And I must leave you, for it's the witching hour and a full moon is rising. . . ."

But, just because that was the first appearance of the the actual phrase, the idea was popular long before that. In Hamlet, probably the most famous play in the english language, Shakespeare makes a reference to 'the witching hour' in one of Prince Hamlet's many monologues. It as written in the early 1600s, long before Washington Irving's father was a glint in his father's eye:

"Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on. Soft! now to my mother.
O heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom:
Let me be cruel, not unnatural:
I will speak daggers to her, but use none;
My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites;
How in my words soever she be shent,
To give them seals never, my soul, consent!"

I suggest you memorize that little soliloquy poste-haste, not just because it's an amazing piece of literature, but because it's a nifty party trick to be able to shout something about contagion and drinking hot blood in the midst of a conversation. Anyhow...

Lastly, but certainly not leastly, the witching hour happens to be mentioned in one of my favorite poems. John Keats, one of those you-must-be-illiterate-if-you-don't-know-him poets, mentioned the witching hour in a poem that he included in a letter to his brother:

"'Tis the witching time of night
Orbed is the Moon and bright
And the Stars they glisten, glisten
Seeming with bright eyes to listen
For what listen they?
For a song and for a charm

" The poem continues on for some time, but the witching hour is not mentioned again. I would not be surprised if the witching hour is mentioned several more times in the romantic era, in a method similar to Keats - it seems to be a very popular turn of phrase - but if it is, it is done rather obscurely.

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