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Publication: The Cat Witch of Laggan

October 23, 2008

Good news: My story The Cat-Witch of Laggan will be published by Bewildering Stories some time next year. The editors have asked me to provide a bio-sketch, and details on how my tale differs from the original version in George Douglas’ Scottish Fairy Tales. Well, that sort of thing is exactly what this blog is for, so here goes…

Douglas’ original version of this tale is found in Scottish Fairy Tales (1901) in two different episodes, MacGillichallum of Razay and The Witch of Laggan. Both are taken from the folklore of Strathdrean and Badenoch. The first part tells of how the Laird of Razay (almost certainly Raasay, near Skye), Bold John Garve MacGillichallum, was the bane of witches in Scotland until such time as twelve of their number decided to drown him by taking the form of giant cats and fouling his rigging just as he was in the middle of returning home to Razay during a storm. In my version, this happens after the episode with MacIan, but is otherwise basically unchanged, except of course that it is written from the witch’s perspective.

The sequel tells of how Donald MacIan, the Hunter of the Hills, is accosted by the lead witch immediately after Razay’s death. She comes upon him in his bothy, wet from the storm and taking the form of a small cat, and pleads to be let in by the fire. Once she has warmed up and expanded to her giant size, she brags of having bested MacGillichallum, and threatens to do likewise to him. MacIan ends up killing her in the way that is described in my version; except that in the original, her death is quite real, whereas in my version, it is merely a ruse to make the two “heroes” think that she is dead, so that she may live among the people for another thirty years.

I have cast the witch as an anti-heroine, a pre-Christian death spirit, a guardian of the sacred yards of Dalarossie, Laggan and Moy (which I think were all sacred sites before Christianity), and a figure of vengeance against those who commit blasphemy or evil in or near those places. I have invented the ‘witch-killing contest’ between the two men as a way of linking the two episodes more effectively, and also changed the ending. In the original, the devil’s road agents do catch the witch on her way to the safety of Dalarossie, whereas in my version, the witch makes it to safety, and leaves the devil’s men empty-handed.

S.J McKenzie

Note: This is not my monthly post….still haven’t got to that yet.

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