Cooper, Susan: (03-04) Greenwitch, The Grey King

Okay, so it won’t be 2011 before I finish re-reading Susan Cooper’s Dark Is Rising series, as I’ve just completed the third and fourth books, Greenwitch and The Grey King.

Greenwitch is much better than I’d remembered, tighter and more emotionally satisfying than The Dark Is Rising. It has good characterization of the Drews, Will, and even the representative of the Dark—not to mention the Greenwitch, who is creepily alien yet a figure to be sympathized with. And I appreciate the way it acknowledges that plot tokens aren’t everything, and indeed that such an attitude can be counter-productive.

It’s just too bad the new prophetic doggerel is so much worse than the first.

Speaking of plot tokens, The Grey King interests me because though it’s structured as a quest for a plot token, the quest is about the least important and interesting thing in the book. The energy and force of the book, for me, comes from the characterization, and particularly the horrible sick inevitability of the actions of one character who is influenced by the Dark. Very much not a comfortable book to read, for that reason, but powerful.

This book also has a conversation about the problem I had with The Dark Is Rising, between John Rowlands and Will:

“But I was only saying, be careful not to forget that there are people in this valley who can be hurt, even in the pursuit of good ends.”

 . . .

[Will] sighed. “I understand what you are saying,” he said sadly. “But you misjudge us, because you are a man yourself. For us, there is only the destiny. Like a job to be done. We are here simply to save the world from the Dark. . . . The charity and the mercy and the humanitarianism are for you, they are the only things by which men are able to exist together in peace. But in this hard case that we the Light are in, confronting the Dark, we can make no use of them. We are fighting a war. We are fighting for life or death—not for our life, remember, since we cannot die. For yours.”

I am not convinced that Will is right—he of all people ought to know that the lack of charity can be a weapon for the Dark, and this seems to me perilously close to the ends justifying the means—or that the text wants us to think Will is right. I’m going to have to withhold judgment until the last book, I think, but at least it’s a live issue in the text.

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