With the publication of the first Witch World novel in 1963, we readers knew Andre Norton to be a latter-day, somewhat more literate Edgar Rice Burroughs.
What we didn’t know was that he was a she.
She was Cleveland-born librarian Alice Mary Norton, whose literary cross-dressing was designed to help sell her fantasy novels to a predominantly male audience. Writing more than 100 books, she died in 2005 at the age of 93.
In Witch World, instead of John Carter astral-projecting himself to Barsoom, we had man-on-the-run Simon Tregarth propelled to Estcarp, a continent on the Witch World, through the Arthurian device of a Siege Perilous. He immediately rescues a witch — Jaelithe— who is being hunted by hounds and horsemen, and finds himself on a planet ruled by powerful sorceresses and menaced by mysterious and powerful aliens called the Kolder.
The other nearly 30 novels in the series spotlight the adventures of Simon and Jaelithe’s children, Kyllan, Kemoc and Kaththea, and various other adventurers on the Witch World.
There’s a sedate, often satisfying pace to Norton’s novels, which offer high adventure without blood and thunder. They run to certain themes, among them the presentation of both women and men, of various races, who prove themselves to be capable, level-headed protagonists.
The Witch World novels present a credible kind of delimited magic involving psychic powers, and many of her books show case telepathic bonds between humans and animals. Her 1959 novel, The Beast Master, and its sequels were loosely adapted for the movie and TV series of that name.
“An important role in Norton’s books is often given to animals — both ordinary terrestrial ones, such as cats (with whom she had much personal experience) and exotic fictional ones, whose characteristics are meticulously worked out,” Wikipedia said. “Many of Norton’s animals are highly intelligent without being anthropomorphic, acting as virtually full partners to the human protagonists.”
Her first novels were intended for the juvenile market, but were so well written they crossed over into general circulation.
“Again and again in her works, alienated outsiders undertake a journey through which they realize their full potential; this emphasis on the rite of passage continued her association in many readers’ minds with young adult fiction, although she became a best seller to adults,” Wikipedia noted.