Susan Cooper

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Fri Oct 10 18:59:33 EDT 2003

On Mon, 6 Oct 2003 23:58:25 -0400 (EDT), deborah wrote:

>On Mon, 6 Oct 2003 minnow at wrote:
>|>>Like etiquette books they often disagree with one another, in my experience.
>|>The solution to this is simple: one should only read Miss Manners.
>|Is she sound in the matter of dangling participles?  :-)
>She is, Like Melissa, A Genius and Allways Right.

Wow, me and Miss Manners.  How lovely!

Which is what brings me back to Susan Cooper, because I'm a little appalled
at the tone of the discussion on this topic, which I have unfortunately had
to read all at once due to having been busy all week.  (Not that it was an
unfortunate thread, really, but that it was overwhelming.)  Disliking her
books, being annoyed by them, I can see.  But the idea that they are somehow
*wrong* therefore, I don't understand.

With one exception, everything that happens to the humans in the Dark is
Rising sequence is internally justified.  And, as I've said before, the
implication throughout is that humanity is quantitatively different from
both the Light and the Dark.  All the humans who brush up against
representatives of said forces *do* forget what's happened: Will's sister
Mary, his brother Paul and the rector (I think rector; the clergyman on
Christmas day, anyway), his oldest brother Stephen, and ultimately the Drew
children and Bran Davies at the very end.  My sense from this is not that
it's a denial of what they've done, but a suggestion that humanity cannot
work out its destiny if it's "tainted" by knowledge of that otherworldly
battle.  Far from seeing this as just another "and it was all a dream"
story, I think Cooper very handily deals with the implications of living
with the knowledge of something no other person would ever believe, not to
mention lacking the power to fully take part in that struggle.  I also see
it as being slightly related to something I take very seriously, which is
the idea of free, unfettered agency to choose good and evil.  That's not
what she's talking about, of course, but it was an implication that mapped
very handily on my understanding of life.

John Rowland is the exception, of course, and it still jars me when I get to
that point where the Lady oh-so-kindly says he'll forget because it's better
for him to do so.  Technically, there should have been no choice; the
well-established precedent says that humans are not allowed to remember.
And if they were going to make him forget, it should have been for that
reason--not some abnormal decency on the part of the Light, which is *not*
good and has never really been called such.  In fact, there's a point in the
series where the Light is referred to as a cold, piercing white flame, in
opposition to the vast black void of the Dark; neither extreme is what we
would call good.  Merriman's dealings with his manservant Hawkin are a case
in point.  He is bound by rules and laws that prevent him doing anything
merciful like, I don't know, WARNING THE POOR MAN about what happens when
you ride with the Dark.  I do not believe for one second that Cooper didn't
realize what she was doing, didn't recognize that neither the Light nor the
Dark were morally superior to one another.

And that's where it comes full circle for me:  The Light isn't about
goodness.  The Dark isn't about evil.  This is not some remapping of heaven
and hell, angels and demons.  In fact, it represents an absolute polarity
between two sides in the same struggle, and humanity's part in it, while
important, is incidental; humans cannot become Old Ones by wishing it, or
even by great service.  So the idea that the humans involved must ultimately
forget what's happened, again, strikes me as not only reasonable but a good
thing--part of being human rather than being absorbed by the Light.

But this doesn't mean that I think it should always be acceptable for a
character's memory to be erased.  What I object to is the idea that it
should *always* be an error on the part of an author if it isn't clearly
identified as a Bad Thing.  David Farland, in his Runelords series, posits a
society in which a few benefit from magically receiving the "endowments" of
others--their sight, their hearing, their strength, their mind.  Those
giving the endowments are crippled so that someone else can be
strengthened--and thousands of readers cried out against the immorality of
it all, because Farland never directly said it was a bad thing.  And yet
it's pretty clear that the point of it all is to get the reader thinking
along those lines, questioning not only what they were reading but the
morality, in a general sense, of aspects of our own society.  Sometimes it
is questioning the morality of a story that gives it the greatest meaning,
and I think the Dark is Rising sequence is just that ambiguous.

I read the series when I was young and impressionable.  But the impression I
got is best summed up by that description I cited earlier:  far from being
about good/nice and evil/nasty, these books are about the dangers of being
too polarized by one set of values or another.  Having read about that cold
white flame, I began to see it showing up all over the place--mainly in
religion, because there are members of my faith who are too hidebound to be
truly good, but also in any place where someone is willing to put rules and
regulations over the good of her fellow humans.  Cooper's series may not be
nice, it may not be moral, it may not even be enjoyable, but it is true--the
metaphor of Dark and Light is just another way of looking at the dark places
inside all of us.

Melissa Proffitt
(sorry for preaching; I shouldn't post at the end of the day)

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