Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Greenwitch by Susan Cooper

The third book of Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising sequence brings together the Drew children from Over Sea, Under Stone and Will Stanton from The Dark Is Rising. The grail, which the Drews unearthed after so much difficulty, has been stolen by a representative of the Dark. In order to regain it, the Drews reconvene at the Cornish fishing village of Trewissick along with their Great Uncle Merriman and Will Stanton. With the exception of kindly Jane, they distrust Will Stanton and see him as a hindrance in their quest to regain the grail. This is ironic, since Will is an "Old One" and understands the battle between Light and Dark more deeply and commands magic that they cannot even imagine.

Like in Over Sea, Under Stone, the Drews are asked to help the Light (represented by Merriman) without understanding the larger battle between Light and Dark that they are part of. Paralleling what he told them before their first adventure, Merriman says:
But it is part of something very much larger as well, something which I may not explain. I can only ask you to trust me, as you all trusted me once before, in another part of the long battle between the Light and the Dark. And to help, if you are sure you feel able to give help, without perhaps ever
being able fully to understand what you are about. (p.4)

In essence, they are asked to proceed on faith. The difference between this and their earlier adventure is that, paralleling their quest is the quest of a child who possesses ageless wisdom and near-perfect knowledge of the circumstances bringing them to Trewissick. The reader, like Will, has full knowledge. The contrast between Will and the Drews makes the enforced ignorance of the Drews less palatable than it was in Over Sea, Under Stone, though it also bothered me in that book. The Drew children cannot help but appear immature, and though I know they are Susan Cooper's creation, I feel she has done them a disservice.

Merriman and the other adult Old Ones actively enforce the ignorance of the Drew children by erasing from their memories episodes that are scary and/or raise too many questions about the Old Ones' magic. They do it for the children's good, but to me it seems sinister, manipulative, and disempowering. Cannot the children be given the chance to demonstrate their maturity and understanding? Did they not prove in their previous adventures their ability to distinguish between Dark and Light and to withstand the trickery of the Dark? Perhaps Susan Cooper deliberately put the Light in such an ambiguous position, but it seems ironic to me that the Drews should be kept "in the dark" by the Light.

To end on a more positive note, my ambivalence about Cooper's portrayal of the Drew children didn't prevent me from appreciating the novel. Parts of it are imbued with the dreamlike atmosphere from The Dark Is Rising that I enjoyed so much. The character of the Greenwitch itself is thought-provoking and adds complexity to Cooper's world. From The Dark Is Rising, we know that water is neutral, neither Light nor Dark but a thoroughfare for both. The Greenwitch is of this "Wild Magic" that is older even than the magic of the Old Ones. It will be interesting to see if Wild Magic has a role to play as the battle between Light and Dark concludes in the last two books of the sequence.

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