Greenwitch by Susan Cooper.
Margaret K McElderry Books, 2013 (1974).
“Though they make me in the form of a creature, yet they are making no more than an offering, as once in older days it might have been a slaughtered cock, or sheep, or man. I am an offering, Old Ones, no more.”Chapter Eleven
Greenwich, the meridian, marks the notional point when one day becomes the next but is neither, the point of balance when time is an orphan.
The Greenwitch – fashioned from hawthorn and then sacrificed as dawn breaks and a fishing fleet returns to a Cornish village – it too feels like an abandoned orphan, being a creature of Wild Magic and thus subservient to neither the Dark nor the Light.
And, in the interval between Easter and May Eve when spring gives way to summer, this wild child, this scapegoat naturally seethes and is ready to have a tantrum; is there anyone who doesn’t want to use her, who will instead show her kindness and wish for her to be happy?
Susan Cooper’s Greenwitch, the third fantasy in The Dark is Rising sequence, renews our acquaintance with the village of Trewissick and the Drew children of Over Sea, Under Stone (1965), and with young Will Stanton from Buckinghamshire who, in The Dark is Rising (1973), discovered he was an Old One with as yet untapped powers. The Cornish grail from the Dark Ages, which the Drews had discovered and gifted to the British Museum after a struggle with the Dark, has been stolen, and their great uncle brings them together with Will back to Trewissick to retrieve it, plus a vital clue to deciphering the chalice’s inscriptions.
I enjoyed this second reading of Greenwitch even more than I’d hoped for, despite first coming to it relatively recently. Sure, I wasn’t really lulled by Simon, Jane and Barney Drew’s Great Uncle Merry telling them no harm would come to them from the Dark, because all three come perilously close to it; but of course I remembered the general direction of the narrative and the main characters involved – the Drews, Will, Professor Merriman Lyon, and Captain Toms (whose Grey House the Drews had holidayed in during their stay in Trewissick the previous summer).
But I understood a little more about the anonymous abstract expressionist painter whose malign presence brings about much of the action through drugging, thievery, spellcasting and magical glamour. I also gained a deeper appreciation of the nature of the poor Greenwitch, a figure out of the dim mists of time who suffers annually when the community requires a good pilchard catch or marks an act of betrayal and even an ancient seaborne raid by Norsemen. She feels alone and abused – is it any wonder that she is childish and peevish and considering vengeance? And who else can reach out to her but someone who senses an affinity with her, who understands how she might feel, who might unblock the impasse that results when she feels beset by both Dark and Light?
Finally, I am in awe of the author’s ability to combine a sympathetic understanding of children – male as well as female – with writing credible dialogue and pacing an exciting twisty plot. In her 2013 introduction to this edition Susan Cooper tells us that this story “solves a riddle that I put into the ending of Over Sea, Under Stone—a riddle to which I didn’t know the answer myself, at this time. But a greater riddle will remain.” Part of the answer may lie in the next title, The Grey King, which will take us from a Cornish seaside settlement to a Welsh one.
The third title in Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence was read as part of Annabel’s #TDiRS22 readalong. Coincidentally author Robert MacFarlane has announced his adaptation of the second title for a BBC World Service audio drama/podcast featuring Toby Jones and Harriet Walter, with music by Johnny Flynn. Robert wrote introductions to a recent UK edition of the sequence.
I hope to post a follow-up discussion post on this title, if time allows!