Memory and Cooper
klj at sccs.swarthmore.edu
Fri Oct 10 16:52:30 EDT 2003
When I first read in the Writer's Autobiography series that Susan Cooper
was an atheist, at first I was really surprised. But then it occurred to
me that the Light really was not being portrayed as the absolutely good
side, as much as Cooper tells us that this is the case and as much as I
totally went along with that view when I first read the series when I was
nine. It's hard for me to know what to do with this - on the one hand, I
think this is obvious enough to me as an older reader (esp. given the
passage that Charles mentions btw. Will and John Rowland) that I feel it
has to be intentional - on the other hand, if this is part of the point of
the series (and, since it was a favorite of mine as a child, I _want_ to
think that now), why does it feel so much like I'm just making an excuse
for it ;-)?
"We should have each other to tea, huh? We should have each other with
cream, then curl up by the fire and sleep for awhile. It's the grooviest
thing! It's the perfect dream."
---Robert Smith (the Cure), "Lovecats"
On Fri, 10 Oct 2003, Charles Butler wrote:
> > Except that in Rowling, there is a clear awareness that this is a
> > You don't ever get that awareness from Cooper.
> I too have problems with the memory-erasure at the end of Silver on the Tree
> (which isn't unique in the series, btw - it happens on a smaller scale
> earlier in the same book and also in *The Dark is Rising* and
> *Greenwitch*) - but I think it's a bit unfair to say that Cooper is unaware
> of the moral problems here. Minnow already mentioned that John Rowlands says
> that to give up his memory would be 'living a lie'. And in the fourth book
> Rowlands and Will have quite an extended conversation about the moral
> dubiousness of some of the Light's actions, in which Rowlands compares them
> to 'fanatics' for whom the ends justify the means (a charge Will does not
> It seems to me that Cooper's very much concerned with how we can map moral
> ideals onto human behaviour with all its mixed motivations, messy outcomes,
> inevitable compromises, etc. I don't think this is cold-war thinking so much
> as WWII thinking - something Cooper has often acknowledged as fundamental to
> her imaginative outlook. WWII was a more morally-absolute war than any other
> I can think of (at least in terms of the moral necessity of defeating
> Hitler), but it had plenty of dirty episodes on both sides, and it
> frequently raised questions of this type: 'Should I do this (in itself) bad
> thing if I know that in the long run the greater good will be served? If I
> do, will I be any better than the evil I'm supposed to be fighting? If I
> don't, won't I be letting false sentimentality blind me to the even-worse
> consequences?' And so on. This comes up quite early, in *DIR* when Will has
> to choose whether to sacrifice his sister rather than capitulate to the
> Rider - and it's a recurring theme throughout.
> I tend on the whole to think the memory-erasure was at least a questionable
> choice (morally and articistically), but Cooper's attitude to the Light is
> more ambivalent than some recent comments would suggest. (She's also a much
> better stylist than Rowling, IMO!)
> Incidentally, I'm sure I read somewhere that she too was disappointed as a
> child by the 'it was all a dream' ending of *Box of Delights*, which is
> where we came in. Which makes it all the odder that she did something
> roughly analogous herself.
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