There is a house in New Orleans…


Greetings from a Waffle House in the Garden District of New Orleans. It’s the only one I’ve been to where they have bourbon on the menu and offer breakfast with Southern Comfort. Things are dull because I’m the only customer here. Speaking of dull things, on television over the counter is a marathon of the AMC series Mayfair Witches.

The series is nominally adapted from the first of a trilogy of books by Anne Rice about witches. But it could be hard to tell that from this series because it is an adaptation in name only. I’m going to discuss the book and the series. Be aware this will come with a heaping plate of spoilers. 

The Witching Hour 

I think of Rice’s stories as poisoned pastries. You know there is some arsenic involved. But those beignets are so lovely and buttery and dripping with honey. Reading her fiction is like eating those beignets. It isn’t safe. But it isn’t meant to be safe.  

Rice followed her initial vampire books with a trilogy about witches. The Witching Hour is the first in this series and saw publication in 1990. Lasher followed in 1993, and Taltos in 1994. These chronicle the historical and modern Mayfair family. They are a dynasty of witches living in New Orleans who grapple with a legacy of supernatural powers and dangerous deals. The books are described as horror. But they are more disturbing than frightening. They also appeared 20 or more years before trigger warnings were a known social concept. Where I am going with this is every copy of Witching Hour needs a label reading “Trigger Warning – Everything.”

Witching Hour, at 976 pages long (50 hours in the audio version), might be the longest book by Rice. Interview with the Vampire is 368 pages long (14 hours in the audio version) by comparison. A large portion of Witching Hour is a false document – letters, reports, and so on – about the history of the Mayfair family. The Mayfairs are on par with William Faulkner’s Sutpen and Compson families. Magic keeps the Mayfair family from imploding like the Sutpens or rotting like the Compsons. But every generation of the Mayfair pays a bitter price to maintain the family and status; a price paid with grooming, abuse, incest, pain, insanity, suicide, murder, destroying people they love outside the family, and similar grotesqueries. 
To describe Witching Hour broadly….

Rowan Mayfair is a talented surgeon living in San Francisco. Her adoptive parents have recently died. So she has few emotional connections to the city. She rescues a drowning man named Michael Curry. He emerges from his near-death experience with a belief he was given a mission while mostly dead – but he cannot remember the mission. Fate leads them to New Orleans. Rowan discovers a wealthy and powerful extended family she never knew. Curry learns the history of the Mayfair family, their sordid genealogy, and assorted supernatural miseries that plague the family. Because the spirit of a malignant narcissist bound to the family 13 generations ago has dire plans for Rowan and Curry. 

At the heart of the power and tragedy of the Mayfair witches are their connection to the spirit Lasher. This creature serves them as spirits do in traditional folklore about witches. Lasher has been a manipulative, controlling, isolating, grooming, abusive, gaslighting lover and disaster-monger to Mayfair women for 300 years. He did bring them wealth in the early generations. But the Mayfairs come with their own powers that are not dependent on Lasher. He holds them back and is indirectly responsible for the deaths of several witches, including two of them being burned by witch hunters. Lasher serves as a disembodied embodiment of a kind of toxic masculinity. 
Rowan of the book is self-controlled. She is assured to almost an alarming degree and generally operates like an apex predator. Rowan is also a tragic character. To speak broadly, the gods preordained disaster in Greek tragedy and nothing could deny this force. But the disaster is due to a character’s nature in a Shakespearian tragedy. Lasher has plagued and benefited the Mayfair family for centuries and is powerful. But he does not dictate Rowan’s fate. It is her hubris which leads to disaster. Rice’s feminism supported strong female characters but not infallible ones. 

Curry is a working-class man who achieves success – he is nouveau riche. Rice also became nouveau riche. As did Rice, Curry comes from a blue-collar Irish Catholic family from New Orleans. Curry struggles with alcoholism, as did Rice. She identified with Curry more than the other characters in the Mayfair series. She also describes Curry as an attractive and masculine man. But his role in the narrative is essentially that of the woman-in-distress. He ends the first book physically and emotionally abused, trying to justify his own abuse and pining for the return of his abuser. 

The book has flaws because of course it does. It was written by a human. The pacing is off, it takes too long to build narrative energy, the ending feels abrupt, and stronger editing could have cut 100 pages without compromising the narrative. But the strengths outweigh the flaws. It has beautiful prose, great character descriptions, and an epic sweep. 

Rice explores the ideas of magical power, what it would mean, and what it would cost. She respects the reader enough not to soft-peddle any questions or ideas. This is why I describe the books as disturbing. And this is why I said the book needs to bear a sticker reading “Trigger Warning – Everything.” This novel is not safe or comfortable. 

AMC acquired the rights to the Rice books. The adaptation of Witching Hour went into production shortly after Interview. And I wish it hadn’t. 

The Mayfair Witches

The Mayfair Witches is an American supernatural thriller drama television series created by Esta Spalding and Michelle Ashford. The series stars Alexandra Daddario as Rowan Fielding, Tongayi Chirisa as Ciprien Grieve, and Jack Huston as Lasher. It premiered on AMC in January and was the second television series in the Immortal Universe following Interview. AMC has renewed the series for a second season.

The adaptation ignores most of the book’s questions and gives juvenile answers to the questions it doesn’t skip. The depiction of characters is utterly different. Second-rate shows on the CW are more compelling than what has been done with the Witching Hour on AMC. The AMC series is just a version of a generic witch story that uses Anne Rice branding to disguise its own mediocrity. 

The first problem is in the depiction of Rowan. Alexandra Daddario plays Rowan in the series and has been getting criticism in fan circles. This is not fair to her. She is a capable performer but not one who can rise above the material she is given. And the problem here is the material she is given – it should be better. The issues in the series are not her responsibility. Daddario is not a producer, director, cinematographer, or scriptwriter for the series. The book describes Rowan as blonde and Daddario has black hair, but this is a trivial issue. Critical is that the series depicts Rowan as a neurotic mess and a broken bird. Rowan is not a broken bird or a neurotic mess in the Witching Hour. The series Rowan is less interesting than the book version. 

The series eliminated two characters, one being Curry and the other being Aaron Lightner. The latter was an elderly British man who worked for a semi-secret group that tracks supernatural creatures. Lightner also served as a gentle avuncular figure in the narrative. Technically, the series combined Lightner and Curry into a new character – Ciprien Grieve, played by Tongayi Chirisa. The actor is at a disadvantage in the same way as Daddario. The race switch – Chirisa is a black man from Zimbabwe – is not the issue. The issue is how the character is used in the show. And the show needs to do more with him. Curry of the book brought conflict to the narrative in the form of his age difference with Rowan and his status as nouveau riche, and eventual role as a victim. Grieve as a character has none of this, and Chirisa is not permitted these dynamics. Keeping both Lightner and Curry and making them both black would have provided more narrative possibilities and been more enjoyable. That the series cast a black man feels perfunctory. And it is worth noting that the only other early and prominent black character – who only served as a maid – Lasher quickly murders. 

Someone in production apparently told Huston to play Lasher with all the smarmy charm of a used car salesman. He followed his orders because he wanted a paycheck. 

It is worth mentioning the Interview series here as made by Rolin Jones. Both Interview and Witching Hour were written by Rice and have been adapted into a series for AMC. But the differences between the two are stark. The Interview series does a solid job of selling New Orleans in the early 20th century as a place. Mayfair might as well be set in Vancouver for its failure to convey the special je ne sais quoi of the Big Easy. There is more passion, sexual energy, familial ties, and thematic integrity in the first episode of the Interview series than in the Mayfair series.  

On a related note, Interview only adapted about half its 380-page source into a single season. But Spalding and Ashford adapted the 976 pages of Witching Hour into a single season. This seems less ambitious on their part than an act of hubris.
I mention thematic integrity for the Interview series because it makes many changes to characters, time, and setting. But most of the characters remain (roughly) true to their novel versions. Louis is a slave owner in the novel or a man who makes a living by exploiting black bodies. Louis is a pimp in the series or a man who makes a living by exploiting black bodies. The Lestat of the series and the novel is as vain as an evil peacock. In both versions, Louis struggles to be moral, Lestat points and laughs at morality, while Claudia is a totes adorable murder machine. Louis and Claudia eventually get sick of Lestat even if Lestat never gets sick of Lestat. Many of the Interview series changes angered parts of the fan base. But the series is engaging, with lively writing, lovely costumes and sets, and good performances. Mayfair has none of those qualities. Interview is a glorious spectacle. Mayfair is a boring one. 


Here is a minor change that symbolizes the problems of the Witching Hour adaptation. Some of the best people in the book are the Lonigans – this is the mortician family. They attempt what help they can for the living victims of Lasher. And they offer dignity and respect for the dead Mayfairs. But the series turns the mortician into a ghoulish, trophy-taking internet influencer who carves the heart out of a dead Mayfair woman. A question to ask is, why? What purpose does this change serve? How does it help the narrative to change a decent person in the book into a villain-of-the-week character from a cheaply written show? To be clear, the trophy-taking by the mortician in the series is part of its plot about a group of incel modern witch hunters. Which has no origin in the book. Witching Hour addresses sexism, sexuality, and abuse through Lasher and his relationship with the Mayfair women. 

This change symbolizes the entire adaptation because it stripped the narrative of nuance and pathos, making it the lowest common denominator and on par with forgettable broadcast drek. This is true of the series’ story, performances, costumes, editing, etc. 

Calling something an adaption is a promise. Jones and crew behind Interview tried to keep that promise. Spalding and Ashford broke that promise by doing their own thing and using the names from Witching Hour in an act of bad faith. Damning with faint praise, Spalding and Ashford successfully made Witching Hour into safe and comfortable television when they adapted it into The Mayfair Witches. They produced something completely detached in everything but name from the source material. 

Watch the Interview series if you want a Rice adaptation that makes a solid effort. Listen to the audio version of Witching Hour narrated by Kate Reading – she is good – if you want an engaging performance of that book. AMC’s Mayfair Witches is a collection of missed opportunities and a waste of time.

One thought on “There is a house in New Orleans…

  1. Pingback: r/horror – “Mayfair Witches” review (link to the column) – Haunt

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