#TDiRS22: Neither Light not Dark

© C A Lovegrove

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?

Trewhiddle chalice, St Austell: 9th century (British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)

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.

Susan Cooper

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!

11 thoughts on “#TDiRS22: Neither Light not Dark

  1. I noticed this time that it’s a bit odd that Merriman tells the children they are in no danger from the Dark. Isn’t the whole point of the Dark that they are terribly dangerous? Removing that would take all the tension from the story, and so we don’t quite believe him. Maybe Cooper felt a bit of compunction about putting such huge responsibility upon children, and wanted to give the message that the adults would protect them, no matter how unlikely that seemed.

    I like what you say about the Greenwitch acting childishly because she is made use of and unprotected. And just now I make the connection with what I said above, about the Drews being under the protection of the Light. Maybe that helped Jane, a child herself, to reach out to the Greenwitch. Her being sheltered in some measure by wiser powers is what enables her to make a step toward maturity, and that communicates itself to the Greenwitch and helps her to make a step as well.

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    1. Yes, I don’t quite believe what Merriman says either, Lory. If he means they aren’t in physical danger that’s not factually correct, as when Barney is drugged in the Romani caravan. And as for mental danger – psychologically they’re all very vulnerable and who knows what lasting trauma they could’ve suffered from their exposure to the manifestations of the Dark’s power and malevolence? Merriman’s reassurances are, as you seem to suggest, put in more to mollify the timid reader but are contradicted by the whole point of a fantasy thriller – which is to heighten the reader’s anxieties!

      I loved the focus going onto Jane here, given more agency and character depth than she seemed to be given in OSUS. Perhaps Cooper, by bestowing her second forename to the girl, decided she needed to invest some more of her own sensitivities in the character, sensitivities which had been barely hinted at in the earlier instalment but which involved sympathy and compassion.

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  2. Brilliant post, Chris. I wasn’t able to join in with this re-read but I shall certainly read the sequence again before long. Greenwitch is generally purported to be the weakest in the series but I didn’t find that to be the case at all. And an adaptation from MacFarlane – marvellous! Thank you so much for flagging this!

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    1. Thanks, Sandra! I don’t know why this is so often touted as the weakest instalment, I didn’t think so when I first read it and I’m doubly certain now that it isn’t! OSUS could be seen as that, with Cooper feeling her way into the material she’d chosen to employ, but it nevertheless had a power of its own. Here she clearly knows what she wants to say and do in order to move the saga forward and, I firmly believe, does it beautifully.

      I’m looking forward to the immersive MacFarlane adaptation too – what a treat it’ll be, an extended Christmas present!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! I’ve added it to the calendar already! You prompted me to follow MacFarlane on Twitter where I saw the copy of the letter that Susan Cooper wrote in response to Robert’s readalong of TDIR in 2017. Did you see it? Wonderful imagery! I’m down a rabbit hole now and find her solstice poem from 2019…

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        1. I’ve not seen it (may look for it in a mo) but remember other people I follow on Twitter being involved in the readalong at the time. I was busy reading Austen’s Persuasion and some Charlotte Brontë at the time so couldn’t even think of joining in, unfortunately.

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  3. Pingback: #TDiRS22 – The Dark is Rising Sequence Book 3: Greenwitch – Annabookbel

    1. Yes, that’s my takeaway from reading this – though of course I only came to it recently and as a male! I love the almost role reversal – the personification of a daughter of Tethys behaving like a child having a tantrum being soothed by a sympathetic child behaving as an adult should.

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