Tag: Susan Cooper

Review – Greenwitch

Posted January 20, 2019 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Greenwitch by Susan CooperGreenwitch, Susan Cooper

Greenwitch is the shortest book in the sequence — in my collected edition it is, anyway — but I find that there’s a lot more to chew on than in the first book, Over Sea, Under Stone. Here the world of the first book and the world of Will Stanton collide, and we glimpse both the high purpose and the kids at play. There’s more moral complexity here, a little more maturity… and then there’s also those very human kids getting jealous because Will’s friends with their Great-Uncle Merry.

I think the most appealing thing about this book for me is firstly the focus on Jane, on her actions, on her decency and insight as a human being actually being the key that unlocks victory for the Light… and secondly all the weird and wonderful hauntings of Cornwall that Cooper invokes. I want to know all the background of the weird night of horrors Jane glimpses relived due to the Greenwitch; I want to know who captains the black ship… It’s all fascinating and tantalising, and Cooper never explains too much. She leaves us wondering.

It’s not my favourite book of the sequence by far, but it has its own wild magic, for sure.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Silver on the Tree

Posted May 11, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Silver on the Tree, by Susan CooperSilver on the Tree, Susan Cooper

Finally finished my yearly(ish) reread with this book. The conclusion to the sequence is full of its own magic and beauty, but because of the ending, it just can’t be my favourite. (Perhaps in a similar way that The Farthest Shore doesn’t work for me; I don’t like it when the magic comes to an end!)

The whole sequence in the Lost Land is gorgeous, and probably my favourite thing about this book. Then, of course, there’s the interactions between the group – such disparate kids, and brought together for a quest beyond their understanding. As always, Cooper’s handling of the children and the way they react to each other, particularly the Drews, feels spot on and realistic. Of course they’re going to bicker. And of course the Welsh/English divide feeds into it, setting Bran apart. The whole sequence has had history intruding on the present and the present intruding into history; it’s appropriate that that fraught history also touches the story.

Reading it this time, I wasn’t sure about the pacing. It might just be that I want more, more adventures, more of the Six together, but everyone spent so much time in ones or twos rather than together. There’s so much hinted at – Bran’s relationship to Herne the hunter, for just one – that I would love to explore. That’s why I come back to the book, I suppose, and yet…

Rating: 4/5


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Meeting Will Stanton

Posted February 29, 2016 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

I wrote this post for the TDIR Readathon, but it never got posted. I thought my bit of nostalgia worth sharing anyway — with some additional details I thought of later…

The first time I met Will Stanton was via the BBC’s adaptation for Children’s Radio, written by David Calcutt. They aren’t yet available for the public as far as I know, though I keep checking back, because once upon a time I lent my old tapes to my sister… and somewhere between me and her, or somewhere in the clutter of our respective bedrooms, episode three was lost. You can find the audio via torrents and such, lurking in the dark and dubiously legal parts of the internet, but I’m holding out for being able to legally obtain them.

The thing is, David Calcutt’s adaptation was really good. It captured the spirit of the books and did a spectacular job with some of the creepier aspects. The voices of the Dark chanting “the Dark, the Dark is rising” terrified me as a kid, and the memory is one of those slightly chilly ones. (I know exactly what I was doing, and how reassuring the noise of my dad doing the dishes in the kitchen was.) It was a simplified version of the books, sure – Will had fewer siblings, for example – but faithful in tone and intent (much more so that the movie adaptation which I pretend doesn’t exist). The voice actors were good; I remember Ronald Pickup in particular voicing Merriman Lyon. Brilliant.

I didn’t meet Will Stanton again until I was fifteen or so. Maybe even sixteen. Somewhere in between, I saw The Dark is Rising at the library, but it never got hooks into me. It was when I finally read Over Sea, Under Stone that I was hooked, and promptly devoured the rest. The clinching point was probably when I finally, finally met Bran Davies, though. He was Welsh and proud of it, the landscape was one which called to me, the myths were those of my home. Arthur was rooted in a Welsh landscape, a Welsh context; noble and familiar from English retellings and not the wilder Welsh version, but closer to his roots than usual. Closer to me.

I’ve read it over and over since then, and I’m not really sorry I didn’t read it as a child, or that my introduction was through an adaptation. Now there’s the perfect voice for Merriman and the Rider, recorded faithfully in my head, and I was old enough when I came to the later books to appreciate some of the subtleties which I know I would have missed as a child – like the tender, painful relationship between Bran and his adoptive father, for one.

At the same time, I’m glad I did encounter the Rider for the first time as a child. Now he properly frightens me – as he should.

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Review – The Grey King

Posted January 9, 2016 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Susan Cooper's The Grey KingThe Grey King, Susan Cooper

I somewhat put off reviewing The Grey King after finishing reading it, because I’m not sure what there is to say about it anymore. I’ve rhapsodised about it at length: the use of mythology, the casual use of the Welsh language, the home-ness of the landscape and the people… The shades of grey and the adult touches when it comes to Owen Davies and John Rowlands, and Will Stanton’s interactions with them. There’s some beautiful passages, especially the section spent in Craig yr Aderyn, and some genuine moments of horror, loss, anger, fear…

And there’s Bran Davies. One of the first Welsh heroes I came across in fiction — at the age of sixteen or so. And he really is Welsh; Welsh-speaking, Welsh-thinking, a part of the Welsh landscape and mythology. But he’s also very human — vulnerable. Angry. Resentful, even. Strange and unhappy and alone. And then his friendship with Will is just lovely, the immediate rapport between them, the ways Will being an Old One damages it, the ways Bran adapts.

And there’s Cafall. All too briefly, but so key to the plot, to Bran.

There’s quite a lot of more adult themes here — quite far from the world of Over Sea, Under Stone, which is almost entirely concerned with Barney, Jane and Simon. There’s Owen’s grief for Gwen; Gwen’s grief at betraying her husband; the jealousy and rivalry between Owen Davies and Caradog Prichard; Arthur’s yearning for connection with his son… And of course, those shades of grey I mentioned. The conversation between John and Will about how the Light will ignore the good of a single person to pursue the greater good, and John’s reaction, really highlights to me that the humans are the real heroes of this series. And the villains, too, because Lords of the Dark choose to become what they are — they aren’t born, like Old Ones.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Greenwitch

Posted December 26, 2015 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

061329971X.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Greenwitch, Susan Cooper

Greenwitch is the shortest book of the sequence, and yet that doesn’t mean that little happens. It’s perhaps the most densely packed with symbolism and meaning and mythology that you just can’t get a handle on: the drowned man, the ship going inland, Roger Toms, the Wild Magic… This book, to me, emphasises the aspects of this sequence which are otherworldly and quite beyond the human characters, even while the humanity of those characters plays a huge part. It is Jane’s human kindness which wins the day, in the end. But she’s meeting a world which is wild and amoral and strange to her, with rules that make no sense to her.

It’s also, once again, great on human interaction: the pettiness of Barney and Simon toward the intruder, Will, and Jane’s attempts to bridge the two worlds. More out of a sense that that’s the girl’s job, perhaps, than because she has any genuine interest in Will for himself. Jane is the most reluctant of the Six — right now I’m wondering a little if that’s because she’s the only female character. I hope not, but there are so many scenes where she’s timid, more afraid than the boys… But at the same time, she also has a different understanding of the world, and a deeper view on things. She’s the one who can see the Greenwitch for the lonely creature it is, the one who can see Will for the strange being he has become. Which might, again, be rooted in gender, but I don’t think it’s any kind of simple binary. Which is a relief.

The writing is, as with the other books, very fine: there are some excellent set-pieces, for example when Will and Merriman travel beneath the sea to meet Tethys, or Jane looking out over the harbour — even the descriptions of the caravan.

I’m probably way ahead of the TDiR Readathon now. Always happens! And it means you still have the opportunity to join in…

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Dark is Rising

Posted December 20, 2015 by Nicky in Reviews / 8 Comments

The Dark is Rising by Susan CooperThe Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper

Slightly ahead of the ideal time to read this book — which would be veeery slowly, a chapter or two at a time, over the Twelve Days of Christmas. I never have the patience for that! As usual, I loved The Dark is Rising; the quiet moments of enchantment, the beautiful writing, the warmth of the family relationships and the reality of the bickering, protective group of siblings. There’s more adult, complicated stuff as well as simple squabbling among siblings: the whole relationship between Merriman and Hawkin is a difficult one, and foreshadows what John Rowlands says about the Light in a later book. The morality of the Light is a cold, clear justice.

One thing I noticed a lot this time, though, was how Britain-centric the sequence is. Every so often it’ll make a reference to other parts of the world — the Jamaican carnival head, the darker skinned Old Ones, etc — but it talks about the battle for “this land”. As though the struggle between Light and Dark throughout history is focused on Britain. I’m not sure that’s an attitude that can really fly anymore, however simple and obvious it may have seemed when the books were originally written. I love how rooted the books are in Britain, the landscape and the people and the different histories that intertwine, the Anglo-Saxon and the Celtic, the Roman. But the focus on Britain as the whole centre of the fight against the Dark seems short-sighted.

Still, that is the other thing to love: the glimpses of mythology surrounding the books. Not just the Arthurian mythology, but the mysterious king whose dead hands held the Sign of Water for Will; the lore of the smiths; the Old Ways; Herne the hunter… I wish I could read beyond the pages into all that richness.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Over Sea, Under Stone

Posted December 2, 2015 by Nicky in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan CooperOver Sea, Under Stone, Susan Cooper

It’s time for a The Dark is Rising sequence readathon again! If you wish to join, you can do so via this blog. It’s the perfect time of year to reread the books, at least the second one in particular, with the winter solstice coming up. I always try and read them around this time of year!

With that said, here goes my millionth (ish) review of Over Sea, Under Stone. I’ve noted before that it’s basically an Enid Blyton adventure/mystery story, with Arthurian trappings. This time through, I noticed a bit more than that; despite the fact that it is much lighter than the later books in tone, for the most part, there are moments of darkness and fear: the moment on the top of the cliff with the standing stones, Barney captured, Barney in the cave, the last few pages before the epilogue… Because of that link to Arthur, because of the figure of Merriman, the seriousness that we see later in the story is still there. The Dark doesn’t go away safely in the way that the criminals always do at the end of a Famous Five book.

I think it’s partly that which makes the books survive for me — under the concerns of the children, there’s that darkness and fear.

Another thing which gets me is how all the people act like people. Jane and Barney and Simon get scared, they get jealous of each other, they puff themselves up and act important… The adults are indulgent, complacent. And then there’s the poetry of the quiet moments, the moon on the water and the quiet dusty attic and… Yeah. Brilliant writing. Not as compelling as the later books, but even here it’s very fine.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Ghost Hawk

Posted November 16, 2015 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ghost Hawk by Susan CooperGhost Hawk, Susan Cooper

It’s a shame that I didn’t enjoy this book more, given how much I adore The Dark is Rising and Seaward. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to venture into spoiler territory to explain why, so here’s the non-spoilerish thoughts: the writing is still good, and I actually found the first section of the book pretty absorbing, despite criticisms I have seen about the portrayal of the Native American culture.

Given that it’s written in the voice of a Native American character, it has a certain authority about that, but apparently it’s not very accurate, taking elements from different tribal cultures and mixing them up. The end result is a pretty generically Native American setting, with the characters behaving and believing in a general Native-American-ish way to the casual reader… but despite all the details and the sense of authority, this doesn’t fit the tribe Little Hawk is supposed to be a part of. It fits with what I sort of expected, but I’d have liked something more accurate — even with fiction, I don’t read just to get a general stereotype reflected back to me.

And now for the spoilery part.

Just under halfway through the book, the point of view character is murdered, and thus we pass from the Native American experience to a Native American hanging around relatively unable to act, like white people become the focus. I’m not a big fan of the narrative trick Cooper pulls to begin with, and it makes it worse that it takes a character who was active, engaging and unique and makes the story all about the experiences of a young white boy, just arrived to colonise North America, while the Native character hangs around being sympathetic and trapped. And dead.

So much no. That set up just… no. And then, surprise! We get some white saviour stuff.

I still enjoyed the general quality of Cooper’s writing, but in terms of plotting, the book was rather slow, and that ‘gotcha’ in the middle just annoyed me. Bah.

Rating: 2/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted May 19, 2015 by in General / 10 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, so I’m going to borrow an idea that came to me via Guy Gavriel Kay:

“My youngest brother had a wonderful schtick from some time in high school, through to graduating medicine. He had a card in his wallet that read, ‘If I am found with amnesia, please give me the following books to read …’ And it listed half a dozen books where he longed to recapture that first glorious sense of needing to find out ‘what happens next’ … the feeling that keeps you up half the night. The feeling that comes before the plot’s been learned.”

So here’s my ten… Consider this an order if I am ever found with amnesia!

  1. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper. Well duh.
  2. The Earthsea Quartet, Ursula Le Guin. I’m curious as to how I’d feel about The Furthest Shore and Tehanu, reading them for the first time as an adult — originally I read them when I was quite young.
  3. The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay. I was torn between this and Tigana, but this was my first experience of Guy Gavriel Kay’s work, and I’d love to come to it fresh. Especially because it’s so influenced by prior fantasy.
  4. Whose Body, Dorothy L. Sayers. Well, all of the Peter Wimsey books really.
  5. Anything non-Arthurian by Mary Stewart. I’m not such a fan of her Arthurian books, but her other books are pure comfort to me. I might need that, if I’ve lost my memory!
  6. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. And Lord of the Rings, obviously.
  7. Among Others, Jo Walton. My first book by Walton was actually Farthing, but that’s less personal. It’d be interesting how much Among Others would resonate with me if I didn’t have the memories I do. (Mind you, neuroscience probably supports the idea that I’d still feel a sense of recognition, even without conscious memory.)
  8. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. An absolute must — I can’t go without knowing the opening and closing lines.
  9. Something by Patricia McKillip. Just don’t start me on Winter Rose unless you’re willing to take notes about my experience, compare them to my old reviews, and publish a study on unconscious memories of reading in amnesiacs.
  10. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Obviously a whole course of Arthurian literature would be essential — you could start by giving me my own essays on Guinevere and Gawain — including Steinbeck’s unfinished work. But this would make a good starting point, and you could check if I retained my knowledge of Middle English too.

Now I almost want that to happen, so I can study the neuroscience of reading and memory from within! It’d also be interesting to see how I reacted to the Harry Potter books if I couldn’t remember a) reading them as a child and b) the hype surrounding them. And —

Yeah, I’ll stop. Looking forward to seeing what themes other people have gone with this week!

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted May 12, 2015 by in General / 4 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is “ten authors I really want to meet”. Now, I’ve actually been lucky and met a fair few authors I love — Jo Walton, Robin Hobb, Alastair Reynolds… But I’m sure I can come up with ten more.

  1. Ursula Le Guin. And nobody is at all surprised. Not even a little.
  2. Patricia McKillip. I know very little about her as a person, but her writing is awesome.
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien. I mean, not as a zombie or anything, but if I could go back in time. Attend one of his lectures maybe?
  4. Hazel Edwards. She wrote There’s a Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake. Obvious.
  5. Cherie Priest. She seems cool, I want to pet her dog, and I like her on Twitter.
  6. N.K. Jemisin. Granted, I’d probably just babble quietly, but that’s the same with anyone I admire.
  7. Robin Hobb. Again. I was fourteen at the time, after all.
  8. Jacqueline Carey. Sign all my books. All of them.
  9. Guy Gavriel Kay. Ditto.
  10. Susan Cooper. The first thing I move into a new house is my copy of The Dark is Rising sequence, and I’m not even kidding about that. It goes in the first box or bag to enter the new place, and gets put on the shelf symbolically before anything else.

So, uh, yeah. I could probably think of more, but I’d better stop daydreaming now…

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