Cooper, Susan: (05) Silver on the Tree

What an extremely peculiar book Susan Cooper’s Silver on the Tree is.

It has some very wonderful and haunting episodes, both scary and moving. And yet many of those are embedded in a long section with a peculiarly metafictional bent that I can’t get a handle on, that doesn’t quite seem to fit, but that my thoughts always slide off of as though it were a dream.

Then, on one hand, it rests the penultimate development on mortal choice and judgment. On the other hand, it rests the ultimate development on plot tokens taken to the logical but idiotic conclusion.

And that doesn’t even mention the very ending, which sends many people I know into frothing rages. (Or the unanswered questions of why the Drews, or why the huge privileging of Great Britain in the fight against the Dark, or why the very odd treatment of women in the book . . . )

Color me baffled.


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  1. …Yeah. I adore these books and always have since I read them in fourth grade, but Silver on the Tree especially is a weird collection of (as you say) the wonderful and the rage-inducing (count me in as one of the objectors to the very ending, though I’ve decided to look at it as another example of the Light being annoyingly “we know what’s best for you!!”).
    I would have fewer problems with Great Britain’s privileged standpoint if she hadn’t taken such care to point out that the Old Ones spanned the entire world.
    I didn’t actually think the treatment of women was particularly odd for its time — there aren’t many of them, and they don’t really get to do a whole lot, but neither are there in LOTR or the (early) Earthsea books. The Rider, um, subplot in SotT is just plain weird, but it’s not the first time the Light has been entirely confused by who is and is not a high-ranking Dark operative (e.g., both the first and third books).

  2. Like Truepenny, it’s the contrast to _Greenwitch_ particularly that bugs me–Cooper could do more and better than here.

  3. Plot tokens: absolutely. I was really shocked when I found that this battle of apparently cosmic scale turned entirely on who was in possession of a particular tree at a particular moment of time. J.K. Rowling gets criticised a lot for her use of plot tokens, but it seems to me that what she does with them is a lot more meaningful and more rooted in the story than what Cooper does, even though Cooper’s world as a whole is richer and deeper.
    Importance of Great Britain: because of the tree? Once there is one important magical thing or place or whatever in a country, it’s not wholly unreasonable that others would then gather there.
    The Drews: I suspect they are meant to be random. They are ‘three from the track’; they represent ordinary people.
    I have a strong sense that she hadn’t really worked out the end in advance; not only does the tree pop up from nowhere, but one might expect to have heard of the White Rider earlier – the gap between her appearing and her being unmasked isn’t long enough to be really effective. I wonder if she (Cooper, not the White Rider) had originally planned to write one book for each plot token and one for the final battle, and then Greemwitch happened, changing the schedule and forcing her to finish in a rush.

  4. Another Andrew: I’m not sure if the tree is sufficient to explain it, since it’s only accessible that one time and the Rising in Arthur’s time, for instance, doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it.
    Excellent point about the pacing, and I don’t know.

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