Demonic Possession on Trial by William W. Coventry was written based on the author’s thesis to earn his Master of Arts in History from the University of Vermont. The book’s purpose is to examine and explore certain witch-craft cases that took place before the Salem witch trials occurred in order to identify the behaviors and ideas that shaped them. It was unclear from reading the book what the author’s views of the cases were; although, he seemed to show sympathy towards the supposed witch’s persecution. His writing was unbiased and covered all aspects of the trials and gave possible reasons for why the women and men seemed to be possessed by “demons”. He discussed the possibility of medical concerns, jealousy, and revenge as reasons why these people seemed to be possessed. He covered each possibility with equal representation. Coventry discussed how “superstitious and frightened townspeople turned against one another” (Coventry 67) and also discussed how ‘power hungry clergy promoted fear to maintain their fading power” (Coventry 69). I believe that he succeeded in his purpose to connect the trials that occurred in England to those that happened in Salem, Massachusetts. Although, he seemed to make this connection it was hard to follow. I had to re-read certain parts over a few times. Maybe it was because the subject covered wasn’t to my interest or because of the wording, but it was hard for me to read this book and enjoy it.
This book did not relate to any past American history courses I took but instead was a lesson in itself. I knew very little about the witch trials of the 1500’s and 1600’s. I found it surprising that the author went into little depth about the reasons for why the witch trials took place and how witch craft impacted history.
Coventry only stated that religion, politics, and socio-economics led to the superstition of possession of the people of England and Salem. Coventry’s book expanded my understanding of the American experience in Salem by including excerpts from journals of those who were involved in the witch trials. The subject of the book was covered well, but as I stated before, it was difficult for me to follow. The author described each case thoroughly including all aspects of the cases and including journal entries to help prove his points. The book was organized well; beginning with the seven trials that took place in England and connecting them to the Salem trials in the last chapter. He included an introduction and also a conclusion, which made the book seem more like an essay than a book, but it was organized well.
I found this book to be very interesting; although, sometimes hard to follow because there was a lot of technical terms having to do with possession and also medical terms I was not familiar with. I chose this book because I wanted to learn more about the trials and the people involved in them, but I was sorry to find that the book had more to do with politics and religion rather than stories. I would not recommend this book to another student unless they were very interested in the witch trials of this time. It is not a book that I would consider reading for fun. It took some time to understand exactly what the author was talking about and it wasn’t a very enthralling book.
William W. Coventry is not only an author but a song writer as well. He has written and recorded over 100 songs and also has published a book of his lyrics called Myth of Desire. He received his BA in history from Gettysburg College and his MA in history from the University of Vermont.