Saturday Webcomic: Hemlock is the tale of a woodland witch and the monstrous husband she must routinely poison

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When Tristan was a little boy, he saw a witch in the woods, an ancient, wild thing who lives in the shell of a giant snail an casts powerful spells from spit and blood. He forgets about the encounter until one day, as a grown man, he falls from his horse, cracking open his skull and awakening to a life very different from the one he left behind. Now he is forever tied to Lumi, a witch who bears a terrible curse: she is the unwilling bride of Baba Yaga's terrible firstborn, and it falls to her to keep his evil from the Earth.


Josceline Fenton draws from Slavic and Scandinavian folklore for her webcomic Hemlock, creating a magical world that seems to exist in parallel with the real past. When Lumi wakes from her years-long slumber, she seeks out a new body for Suul, her deceased familiar. But the frog's body that Suul selects was actually meant for another: the formerly human Tristan. Tristan is initial shocked by his new amphibian state, but he quickly settles into life with Lumi and Richmond, the giant snail who serves as both her transportation and her home. But it quickly becomes clear that Lumi's life is more than that of a mere forest witch, trading potions for spell components at the human markets. Thanks to an incident in her youth, Lumi is forever bound to Sindri, the nighttime son of Baba Yaga (in Fenton's version, the Black, White, and Red knights of the famed witch are actually her sons), who was deposed by the other witches for his wickedness.

For centuries, Lumi has kept Sindri trapped in his home and comatose with regular doses of hemlock, but in recent years, Sindri has developed a tolerance to the poison and spends more and more time awake. And so, Lumi must journey to her husband's home to put him to bed once again.

Although Tristan and Lumi engage in fairly modern dialogue with one another and with the rest of the world, Fenton wisely keeps the tone of the series quite folkloric. Lumi is a very earthy witch; Suul communicates her by forcing her to vomit up feathers, and her magic involves mixing fertility and hair thickening potions with the occasional side of blood magic. Her magic comes with rules, and she can't conjure items outside her particular school of witchcraft. Similarly, her fate with Sindri and the court of witches has a fairytale quality divorced from any notion that Lumi deserves her situation. There is no question of fairness or sacrifice; Sindri is simply Lumi's burden to bear. But Fenton expanded on that notion, imagining what centuries of marriage has been like for this strange pairing and adding an emotional realism that surprises Tristan when he finally in Sindri's presence.

In just a handful of chapters, Fenton has managed to create a complex profile of Lumi: someone who is charming and confident in her element, strong but intimidated in the face of those more powerful than she, and soft-hearted in the privacy of her home. Like Tristan, we are just starting to get to know Lumi, and it's clear she has plenty more surprises in store, and just as Sindri has outgrown his doses of hemlock, so too might their relationship grow beyond monstrous husband and poisoner wife.



Zachary Bos

Sounds great! And the Slavic folklore is definitely in the air these days. I heartily recommend Orson Scott Card's novel "Enchantment" — in which story, Baba Yaga is forever having to be recasting the spells that keep her husband, the bear-god embodiment of the Rus people, in thrall to her.