Susan Cooper

Charles Butler hannibal at
Sat Oct 11 10:58:16 EDT 2003

I agree with an awful lot of Melissa's last post - but I'm not sure I would
go quite so far in uncoupling  Light/Good, Dark/Bad. Yes the Light is often
ruthless, and even cruel - though always with the ends-and-means proviso
that it acts to prevent still greater cruelty in the long run. But if this
really is a battle of two opposing principles in which the role human choice
and action is incidental (though important, as you say - but important only
in the functional sense that humans are needed in order to fulfil some of
their prophecies, etc), and in which neither side can be called good or bad,
at least as humans might understand those terms, then it leaves open the
question of why Bran and the Drews should want to help the Light at all,
often at great personal effort and risk.

The reason is, surely, that should the Dark win the struggle against the
Light there will be evil consequences for humanity. Cooper is sometimes a
little vague about what these would be (one doesn't anticipate that
Buckinghamshire will become a modern Mordor, even if Windsor Great Park is
uncomfortably close to Slough), but she gives one very clear example of how
the otherworldly battle might impact on ordinary lives near the beginning of
*Silver on the Tree*, through the racism shown against young Manny Singh.
Reflecting on this incident, Will realises that race hate might be one
conduit through which a triumphant Dark might sweep into the human world.
Without some such threat of moral consequences, humanity might just as well
treat the battle of the Light and Dark as a grand son et lumiere
entertainment - full of sound and fury but for them, at least, signifying

I don't think this need threaten free will, incidentally. Caradog Prichard
in the Grey King is a good example of someone whose mind is 'taken over' by
the Dark: but he had to invite them in - as of course did the Walker.

Now I must dash, so excuse any typos - I'm taking the kids to the circus!


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Melissa Proffitt" <Melissa at>
To: <dwj at>
Sent: Friday, October 10, 2003 11:59 PM
Subject: Susan Cooper

> 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
> >|>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
> at the tone of the discussion on this topic, which I have unfortunately
> 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
> *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
> 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
> that point where the Lady oh-so-kindly says he'll forget because it's
> 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
> 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
> 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
> realize what she was doing, didn't recognize that neither the Light nor
> 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
> 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
> forget what's happened, again, strikes me as not only reasonable but a
> 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
> society in which a few benefit from magically receiving the "endowments"
> 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
> 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
> 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
> truly good, but also in any place where someone is willing to put rules
> regulations over the good of her fellow humans.  Cooper's series may not
> nice, it may not be moral, it may not even be enjoyable, but it is
> metaphor of Dark and Light is just another way of looking at the dark
> inside all of us.
> Melissa Proffitt
> (sorry for preaching; I shouldn't post at the end of the day)
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