Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches has landed on AMC, the second TV series based on one of the late author’s supernatural series of novels. While her Mayfair Witches trilogy was not quite as popular as her Vampire Chronicles, they were nevertheless huge bestsellers. And they have retained quite the following in the years since. Ever since the three books were published — 1990’s The Witching Hour, 1993’s Lasher, and 1994’s Taltos — there have been talks of a live-action adaptation.
But what if we told you that the first book, The Witching Hour, already had a TV adaptation? At least in a roundabout, unofficial kind of way. And it was actually on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, back in 1994. Here’s the wild story of how one of TNG’s most cringe-worthy episodes was uncannily similar to Rice’s novel. Although no one involved with the episode has ever come forth and admitted its Anne Rice inspirations publicly. (Spoilers for Rice’s novel and the Star Trek episode from here on out).
The Story of The Witching Hour
Before we get into the Trek of it all, here’s a basic synopsis of the Mayfair Witches saga. Particularly, the first novel, The Witching Hour. The book centered on a young neurosurgeon named Rowan Mayfair, who upon her mother’s death, discovered she was 13th in a long line of women with supernatural gifts. Traveling to her birth family’s hometown of New Orleans, she learns about the family legacy of witchcraft, and how each woman in her family has had an ongoing (and rather sexual) relationship with a male spirit named Lasher. This evil spirit had haunted this family for hundreds of years, going back to 17th-century Scotland. Lasher’s goal was to manipulate the Mayfair bloodline over generations, to produce the best physical vessel for his consciousness. There’s a lot more to it, but that’s the quick and dirty synopsis.
Star Trek as a Gothic Romance
The TNG episode in question, “Sub Rosa,” aired towards the end of the show’s run, in its seventh season. Aside from the fantastic series finale, “All Good Things,” the writers were running out of steam that year. They therefore took chances on wild ideas like this one. However, the gothic romance angle played awkwardly against the harder sci-fi of the show. Today, many people consider it one of TNG’s less-than-stellar episodes. And yet, even back in the day, fans who had read Rice’s novel about New Orleans witches noticed a very strong similarity in plotlines and details from her book, merely transported into a Star Trek framework.
The basic plot of the episode goes like this; Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) inherits an heirloom candle from her grandmother after she dies. She travels to her grandmother’s home planet Caldos IV—a colony of Scottish settlers who have recreated the Highlands on an alien world—for her funeral. The candle contained a male “ghost,” described in sci-fi terms as an “anaphasic alien lifeform,” who had appeared to most of the women in Beverly’s family for hundreds of years.
Ronin and Lasher: Kindred Spirits
This being, named Ronin, functioned as a friend, mentor, and lover to the Howard women (Howard being Beverly’s maiden surname). Beverly found all of this out by reading her late grandmother’s diaries, until Ronin appeared and seduced her too. She began to act completely out of character, willing to throw away her life in Starfleet to be with Ronin. Ultimately, it’s revealed that Ronin had been latching on to the women in her family, manipulating them, in order to become corporeal. With the help of Captain Picard, Beverly escaped Ronin’s thrall. By the episode’s climax, she destroyed the candle and escapes the being’s influence, returning to the Enterprise.
The similarities between The Witching Hour and “Sub Rosa” were way too numerous to appear coincidental. Both stories feature multiple generations of women under the spell of an ancient, malevolent (yet sexy) spirit. Both spirits had one-word names, and were suave and seductive. The women in both families almost all kept the same last name, despite marriage. (Although Beverly obviously changed her surname to Crusher). Both the Mayfairs and Howards respective origins as healers went back to the Scottish highlands. Healers often accused of witchcraft. Lasher and Ronin were both tied to a family heirloom. In the Mayfair’s case, it’s a pendant. With the Howards, it’s a candle. Both Lasher and Ronin can affect the environment and can control the weather.
Then, there’s the simple fact that in both stories, the last female heir to inherit the legacy and bring the spirit’s plan to fruition was a woman of science, and a medical doctor to boot. Even the fact that Ronin “merged” with Beverly was similar to how Lasher merged with Rowan Mayfair at the climax of The Witching Hour. Although in that case, it was her unborn fetus he bonded with, in order to be born fully conscious. But still…it’s a lot of similarities. So much so, that for years, Anne Rice fans considered the episode something of an unofficial adaptation at best, or a blatant ripoff at worst.
Homage, Ripoff, or Huge Coincidence?
The writing credit for “Sub Rosa” went to Jeri Taylor, based on a treatment by Star Trek superfan Jeanna F. Gallo, who submitted her story ideas through Star Trek’s open-door submission policy of that time. Taylor, who went on to produce Star Trek: Voyager, has always maintained that her script was inspired by Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and the film The Innocents, and never read Rice’s book. Of course, Anne Rice cited those gothic stories as inspirations for her as well. But the similarities with Rice’s prose are just too similar when it comes to this episode, and it contained key elements from neither of those other works.
We don’t believe that Gallo, who has this episode as her only IMDB credit, has ever gone on record about her inspirations for “Sub Rosa.” But The Witching Hour came out and was a best seller in 1990, and they filmed the TNG episode in late 1993. So the timeline sure fits. Anne Rice herself never commented publicly about the TNG episode to our knowledge. And that indicates to us that she took the whole thing in stride. Of course, it could all be a stunning coincidence. Certainly, things like this have happened in pop culture before. (Superman and Shazam, for example). So in the end, both Star Trek and Mayfair Witches might wind up as equally valid (and equally divergent) adaptations of the same source material.