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Literature / The Witches of Eastwick

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The Witches of Eastwick is a 1984 fantasy novel by John Updike.

Sukie, Jane, and Alexandra — three bored, middle-aged, single women living in the Rhode Island town of Eastwick — have the ability to manifest whatever they desire by thinking about it in concert. One night, while having a get-together, the three discuss their ideas of the perfect man.

The next day, a mysterious stranger named Daryl Van Horne moves into the town's historic Lennox mansion. One by one, he manages to seduce each of the three women, and helps them to realize the full extent of their powers. The four indulge in a hedonistic sexual relationship, as the town busybodies gossip about the immorality of it all. But after the pillar of the community, Felicia Alden, is suddenly and mysteriously murdered by her Henpecked Husband Clyde, the witches begin to realize that the new man in town may be up to no good...

Adapted into a 1987 film (directed by George Miller and starring Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer), as well as a 2000 stage musical. It also inspired the television series Eastwick and a sequel novel, The Widows of Eastwick.

Not to be confused with Witches of East End.

The film contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: This isn't the first movie where Jack Nicholson played piano.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the novel only Sukie is beautiful, while Alexandra and Jane are average-looking middle-aged women.
  • Adaptational Heroism: The witches were far more amoral in the novel where, for example, they are largely indifferent to the murder of Felicia at the hands of her husband, Jane even claiming she brought it on herself with her self righteous hectoring.
  • Ambiguous Situation: While it’s heavily implied in the film, particularly through mise-en-scene editing, that the witches talking angrily about Felicia causes her to vomit up cherry pits, it’s never really explained why or how, other than that they had semi-consciously hexed her with their magic. In the novel and stage musical, it’s shown that the witches deliberately “prank” Felicia by baptizing an old cookie jar in her name and filling it with insects and bits of debris, which end up randomly popping out of her mouth.
  • Anti Anti Christ: What Alex, Sukie and Jane are hoping to raise their three sons to be. As the three baby boys are descended from a father who's possibly the Devil (or a Devil) and their mothers are witches.
  • Babies Ever After: At the end of the film, Alex, Sukie, and Jane each have a baby boy whose hair color matches their mothers.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Discussed. As Alexandra is a single mother to one teenage daughter, Jane can't have any children and Sukie is outnumbered by six children (the three youngest are triplets), at one point the three talk over whether or not the idea of having kids could come true for either of them.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Discussed when the three witches are summoning Van Horne. Only he knows what the side effects were, but their indecision may have contributed to his temperament.
    Sukie: Huge.
    Jane: No. Small. Really, I prefer small. Aesthetically. And huge can be a problem. Sam was huge and there were days I just couldn't face it.
    Alex: I'm sort of in the middle. But honestly, what's the difference, as long as it works...
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The eponymous witches, played by Michelle Pfeiffer as Sukie (blonde), Cher as Alexandra (brunette) and Susan Sarandon as Jane (redhead). The novel also used this trope except that Alexandra was the blonde, Jane the brunette, and Sukie the redhead.
  • The Cassandra: Felicia Alden was the only hostile to Van Horne. Everyone thought she was going crazy.
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: Everybody, even her husband, thinks that Felicia Alden is crazy, but she is right about Van Horne: he is some sort of demonic creature.
  • Devil in Disguise: Whether Van Horne's the Devil or a lesser devil is ambiguous, but either way, he's definitely far more infernal than his appearance would have one believe.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: At one point Daryl is whistling the film's theme. That's actually composer John Williams doing the whistling.
  • Faux Affably Evil: He may seem charming at first, but Daryl doesn't hesitate to start cursing the girls at the first sign of defiance, almost killing Sukie from the atrocious pain he puts her through. While he displays some shades of this trope's more genuine counterpart, his clear Lack of Empathy and self-centered attitude make him lean more towards the "faux" direction. Not to mention that when Alexandra confronts him, he strongly implies that he is simply using the three of them to bear his heirs into the world and may not actually care about them at all.
  • God Is Inept: Daryl Van Horne's rant:
    Daryl: Do you think God knew what He was doing when He created woman? Huh? No shit. I really wanna know. Or do you think it was another one of His minor mistakes like tidal waves, earthquakes, floods? You think women are like that? S'matter? You don't think God makes mistakes? Of course He does. We all make mistakes. Of course, when we make mistakes they call it evil. When God makes mistakes, they call it "nature". So whaddya think? Women... a mistake, or did he do it to us on purpose?
  • Gossipy Hens: They do a lot of clucking about all the cavorting that goes on at Daryl's mansion.
  • The Hedonist: Daryl's goal in a nutshell seems to be for him and the witches to have as much fun together as they can. He's willing to use his powers to torment people if they seem like they're going to get in his way or try to leave him, but as long as nobody's stopping him having fun with the witches he doesn't go out of his way to make people miserable.
  • Heartbreak And Icecream: A saddened Alex is eating out of a carton of ice cream when she breaks up with Daryl.
  • Hot Witch: The eponymous witches, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Cher and Susan Sarandon.
  • I Ate WHAT?!:
    • Sukie's kids are disappointed to learn the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches their mother made for their school lunches are really peanut butter and zucchini jelly.
    • Felicia's horrified reaction when she starts coughing up cherry stems and begins projectile vomiting cherries all over the place. Her husband's reaction is also this.
    Mr. Harden: Oh, honey. What did you eat?!
  • Insult Backfire: After Alexandra's speech about what a repulsive, sexist pig he is, Daryl simply asks her if she would rather be on the top or bottom when they have sex.
  • Kavorka Man: Played with: Daryl is not particularly physically attractive (and Alex tells him at some length exactly how unattractive he is), yet he ends up seducing three absolutely gorgeous women with little apparent effort. However, even ignoring the fact that he might have used his supernatural powers to assist him, it is clear even before we actually meet him that he's not using his looks; the old woman in a shop describes him "as not handsome exactly, but - riveting. Yes, that's the word, I was riveted" and Jack Nicholson is charismatic enough to make it work.
  • Lack of Empathy: For all of Daryl’s charm and apparently sincere affection for the witches, his genuine lack of comprehension when Alex tries to tell him why he's wrong to magically torment them and nearly kill Sukie when they try to leave him shows he has a major case of this. He is, however, apparently sincere when Alex points this out and he says "I can learn", so unlike most examples of this trope, he seems willing to try and change. However, the witches have realised by this point how dangerous and unpredictable he is, and decide to banish him.
  • Large Ham: What else would you expect out of Jack Nicholson playing basically the Devil?
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Jane was dumped by her husband because she could never have children. So she is surprised when she discovers she is pregnant from Daryl Van Horne despite her infertility. Sukie was dumped by her husband because she had too many kids.
  • Louis Cypher: Daryl Van Horne. It's not clear whether he is actually Satan (while he has a distinct Lack of Empathy, for the most part his actions make him seem more like an extreme supernatural hedonist rather than someone who's actively malevolent), but he's clearly some sort of demonic creature. Especially once the witches accidentally break his voodoo doll, effectively ending his human existence and revealing his One-Winged Angel form.
  • Meaningful Name: "Daryl" sounds somewhat phonetically similar to "devil", and of course "van Horne" alludes to old Scratch's stereotypical horns.
  • Mythology Gag: When Alex and Sukie arrive at the mansion for tennis, Jane calls Alex out for being underdressed, asking her if she had "come to fix the plumbing." In the original novel, Alex's lover, Joe Marino, was a plumber who Daryl hired to install a hot tub.
  • Ominous Multiple Screens: Daryl Van Horne has a bank of TV screens, apparently just for the hell of it. He tries to use them at the end of the movie to reach out to his three sons.
  • One-Winged Angel: Daryl Van Horn's Giant form at the end of the film.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Alexandra gets a beauty:
    Alexandra: I think—no, I am positive—that you are the most unattractive man I have ever met in my entire life. You know, in the short time we've been together, you have demonstrated EVERY loathsome characteristic of the male personality and even discovered a few new ones. You are physically repulsive, intellectually retarded, you're morally reprehensible, vulgar, insensitive, selfish, stupid, you have no taste, a lousy sense of humor and you smell. You're not even interesting enough to make me sick.
  • Rock Me, Asmodeus!: Jack Nicholson's Devil and Susan Sarandon's repressed music teacher play a literally explosive duet for piano and cello. After this (and after a bout of wild sex), the music teacher finds herself in possession of supernatural musical talent.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Alex really should have taken it more seriously.
    Alexandra: Who are you?
    Daryl: Just your average horny little devil.
  • Sexual Extortion: Walter Neff, the principal of the school, offers Jane a permanent position on the condition that she sleeps with him.
  • Sexy Man, Instant Harem: Darkly deconstructed as the man in question is a Yandere Satan.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Jane is first presented as a dull, uptight teacher. She wears covering grey clothes and glasses. After a music lesson given by Daryl, she starts wearing revealing clothes, she drops the glasses, and she is suddenly stunningly attractive (she is played by Susan Sarandon).
  • Slimeball: Daryl comes off this way to Alexandra when they first meet. He spouts off crass opinions and vulgar jokes at her over lunch, then invites her to his mansion and propositions her for sex on the spot. She gives him such a dressing down that it would annihilate the soul of any ordinary man. Unfortunately, Daryl is no ordinary man and he's not even fazed; his next question is what sexual position she prefers.
    Alexandra: I think... no, I am positive... that you are the most unattractive man I have ever met in my entire life. You know, in the short time we've been together, you have demonstrated EVERY loathsome characteristic of the male personality and even discovered a few new ones. You are physically repulsive, intellectually retarded, you're morally reprehensible, vulgar, insensitive, selfish, stupid, you have no taste, a lousy sense of humor and you smell. You're not even interesting enough to make me sick.
    Daryl: Uhm, would you like to be on the top or the bottom?
  • Slut-Shaming: Jane receives this while shopping in a supermarket.
    Shopper: Slut.
    Jane: What did you say?
    Store clerk: You heard her.
    Shopper: She's not wearing a bra!
  • Speak of the Devil: A couple of variations on this trope;
    • Nobody can remember the new stranger's name at first (despite remembering the man himself and remembering thinking that he had a strange name that should be fairly memorable), until several people suddenly remember and say it at once, causing an accident to befall the woman who later seems to gain some sort of psychic link to his activities.
    • Daryl is first drawn to Eastwick by the three witches thinking about their ideal man together, and unconsciously using their undiscovered magic to summon him. Please note the Exact Words twist(s).
    Sukie: Somebody nice. Somebody you could like. God, it's like being a virgin all over again.note 
    Alex: Somebody you could talk to. Somebody with a brain.note 
    Jane: Somebody you could be yourself with. That would be a relief.note 
    Sukie: I think it would have to be somebody from out of town.note 
    Jane: Definitely. Especially considering what's in town.note 
    Sukie: A stranger. That would be interesting.
    Jane: Yeah. Romantic. Foreign. A tall dark European, traveling under a curse.note 
    Alex: In Eastwick?
    Jane: Why not? A foreign prince, riding a great black horse.note 
    Alex: Okay. Why not? Let's have it all.note 
    • At the end, after they've banished him, they are careful not to even think about him whenever they're together because it will bring him back. They don't actually say his name, but it's a similar principle — it's how they summoned him in the first place.
  • The Speechless: Fidel.
  • Succubi and Incubi: Daryl Van Horne. He even identifies himself as such, though not by name, in a Sarcastic Confession.
  • Surprise Pregnancy: Each of the witches are genuinely surprised to discover they're pregnant (Jane, considering she could never have children) but nonetheless thrilled.
  • Suspiciously Specific Sermon: As Daryl van Horne is being blown toward the church by a gale-force wind, the sermon being spoken inside is as follows:
    Elijah fled to the Mount of God, and behold, the Lord passed by and the great and strong wind rent the mountains and breaked in pieces the rocks before the Lord.
  • Three-Way Sex: Daryl enters into a foursome with Alex, Sukie and Jane near the film's climax.
  • Too Many Babies: Alexandra points out one of the reasons why their husbands dumped them. In Sukie's case, it's because she has too many kids.
  • Transformation Sequence: Daryl Van Horne, near the end of the film.
  • Vanity License Plate: Daryl's says "DHV-L", which can be pronounced as "devil" - one of the many clues to his true nature.
  • Villainous Breakdown: As the three heroines use their voodoo magic against him, he goes from charismatic to loudly proclaiming a hatred of women in a church to becoming an unintelligent, snarling beast, climaxing with his One-Winged Angel.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Daryl Van Horne inducing vomiting on Felicia via magic ("Have another cherry") and later suffering as the spell is used on him.
  • The Weird Sisters: By their weekly get-togethers, the three protagonists unknowingly form a witches' coven and thus develop the power to make wishes come true when all three of them make the same wish together.
  • Yandere: Daryl's reaction when they get scared and try to leave him is how this trope would normally be played in a woman, with the addition of his supernatural powers.
  • Wacky Cravings: Darryl goes shopping for bagels and ice cream as per Alex, Sukie and Jane's request.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Each of the three witches have a intense fear of something that Daryl uses to get back at them. Alex is afraid of snakes and she is horrified to find them in her bed. Jane is afraid of aging and starts to wrinkle rapidly. And Suki is afraid of pain and is almost killed when Daryl uses a fruit to psychologically harm her.

The novel contains examples of:

  • The Antichrist: If Daryl Van Horne is really the Devil (its left ambiguous in the novel) then Jenny Gabriel's baby may have been this. If so, then the witches killing Jenny many have unintentionally prevented the end of days.
  • Asshole Victim: Subverted with Felicia; she deserved something, but Clyde regrets it once he's done it. Though the witches firmly believe that Felicia had it coming.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Daryl shows Chris Gabriel his collection of Batman comic books, mentioning how the white face of the Joker would haunt his dreams. Both Van Horne and the Joker were later played by Jack Nicholson.
  • Does Not Like Men: Sukie is the only one of the trio that doesn't think men are detrimental and is considered immature for it; somewhat justified in that being married means a loss of powers for the witches.
  • Foreshadowing: After hearing about the new man in town, Alex sees a vision, reflected in the glass of her kitchen cabinet, that predicts she is destined to have an affair with the stranger and that “little good would come of it.” Despite being initially put off by him, and despite the ominous warning, she ends up in a polyamorous relationship that inadvertently results in the death of three people.
  • Hollywood New England
  • It's All About Me: The witches all painfully neglect their children post-divorce so they can spend time having affairs, using magic, and having a good time. They talk each other out of feeling like they're being selfish, but it's clear that they barely know their own children. The sequel shows that at least Jane's children suffered because of this, and Alexandra's daughter calls her out on this.
  • Kick the Dog: At one point, Alex's sleep is disturbed by the barking of a neighbor's puppy. Without really considering her actions, she magically wills it dead.
  • Magical Realism
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: At the beginning, the absence of the witches’ former husbands is explained in the narration by each of them being transformed into an object (Alex’s is turned into a jar of chrome dust, Sukie’s is a placemat, and Jane’s is a dried herb.) However, the fact that all three are described as divorcees, the exes’ supposed disappearances are never questioned, and a reference to the women receiving child support checks suggest that said transformations are figurative rather than literal.
  • No Bisexuals: Played with. All three of the title characters are hinted to be at least bi-curious. However, when Daryl runs off with Chris they assume that he was really gay all along and only pretending to be attracted to them. The idea that he liked both sexes is never considered. Possibly justified by the novel being set in the late 60’s.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Jane, the least sympathetic and the most outwardly malicious of the three witches.
  • Widow Witch: In the novel, the women of the village of Eastwick only gain powers after their husbands/significant others either die or divorce them. It is mentioned that for some reason, it does not matter if the woman leaves or is left, she becomes a Malleus Maleficarum style witch (with bonus third nipple) automatically.

The musical contains examples of:

The sequel novel contains examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Chris Gabriel is perfectly willing to sit, chat, and have tea with the women he has threatened to kill.
  • All the Good Men Are Gay: The man Alex meets in Canada.
  • The Atoner: The purpose of the ritual the women hold.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Chris Gabriel decides to spare Sukie's life, temporarily, because she was nice to him in the old days.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Subverted; Marcy brings up how hard it was to have Alexandra as a mother, especially when the latter would have affairs with married fathers of the girls she'd go to school with, but she's brushed off.
  • Continuity Porn: The very last page of the previous book makes mention of an unnamed young harbor master with whom Sukie had an affair. In Widows, said harbor master, Tommy Gorton, not only makes an appearance but becomes a minor plot point.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Jane, who finds the spells and rituals of the ancient Egyptians to be phony and unrealistic. Sukie, for some reason, also starts displaying this attitude during the ritual in the condo.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Jane's dialogue.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: Chris and Sukie, possibly as the result of a spell.
  • Implied Trope: At the end of the vacation in Egypt, and shortly after Jane casually uses lethal magic on a helpless bat (for no other reason than to see if she still could), the two discuss the possibility of Sukie joining them on a future adventure. Alex dismisses it, citing the fact that Sukie still had her husband and probably wouldn't feel comfortable leaving him behind for so long. Jane's response boils down to "we'll see about that." Not long after the trip, Alex receives a letter from Sukie revealing that her husband, despite being in perfect health, has mysteriously dropped dead. She also lets slip that Jane re-entered her life around the same time, "almost as if she saw it coming." Do the math.
  • It's Personal: Chris Gabriel's reason for killing Jane and for trying the same on Alexandra and Sukie is for his sister's death at their hands.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: All of the women at some point, but especially Sukie.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Jane, who hated Jenny the most and pushed for killing her the hardest, is killed off by her brother.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Veronica, the daughter of Alex's former romantic rival Gina Marino, can't get pregnant. By contrast, her father, Gina's husband Joe, would frequently get his wife pregnant with very little effort, and had carried on a relationship with Alex as a contraceptive measure.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The Witches frequently rely on this trope to avoid their guilt over Jenny Gabriel's death, there being no actual proof that her cancer was caused by magic.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: The witches' husbands, as a rule, have to be absent for their magic to work, making them flat characters needing to be killed off.
  • My Beloved Smother: Alexandra to Marcy.
  • No Bisexuals: Carried over from the first book, Alex’s continued presumption that Darryl was gay all along, and only trying to deceive her, is enough for her to reject her friend in Canada after he casually outs himself (and wasn’t hitting on her like she assumed.)
  • Put on a Bus: Daryl, Fidel and Rebecca, since the last book, with no hint as to what became of them.
  • Rich Bitch: Jane.
  • Serial Homewrecker: All three women carry on a large amount of affairs with the married men of Eastwick without really caring for the men and openly deriding their wives for being boring or ugly. Alexandra even had an affair with Sukie's ex-husband, proving that no one's off-limits.
  • Suspiciously Specific Sermon: When Sukie has her first awkward meeting with Tommy Gorton (who has a grotesquely mangled hand resulting from a fishing accident) on Dock Street, a bible in a nearby store window is open to a passage about Jesus healing lepers, not only commenting on Tommy's condition but foreshadowing later events related to it.
  • Tarot Motifs: In universe, the witches use a deck of tarot cards during the atonement ritual, with each woman choosing a card to represent a person or situation they want to fix. Also, when the witches propose a toast with paper chalices, the author’s description of the scene bears a striking resemblance to the three of cups.
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having: On first running into Tommy Gorton after returning to Eastwick, Sukie fully expects him to want to rekindle their relationship, and intends to turn him down. Not only does he not try to hit on her, beyond reminiscing about their past, but even chastises her for thinking that everything would be the same for her on her return. Sukie’s vanity takes enough of a hit that she casts a spell to heal his mangled hand, thus giving him the confidence to ask her out (and giving her the satisfaction of refusing him.)
  • Widow Witch: Taken more literally, as all are elderly and have lost the husbands they conjured for themselves at the end the last book.
  • Windbag Politician: A newspaper editor is giving a long (multipage) speech which is interrupted when the witches inadvertently cause a rainstorm.

(TV turns on) "Coochie coochie coo!" (three babies move towards screen) "That's right, come to Daddy!" (looks up to see Sukie pointing remote) "Aw, come on, ladies..." (click)

Alternative Title(s): The Witches Of Eastwick