Memory and Cooper (an old bit of thread)

minnow at minnow at
Tue Oct 28 18:51:04 EST 2003

The Knowledge Pika wrote:

>I read Robert Graves after I became a pagan, and I felt that it was a work
>of fantasy fiction in the mythological tradition, based loosely on _The
>Golden Bough_, which I was able to struggle through more of. (Despite the
>extremely biased and twisted ethnography of _The Golden Bough_, it is at
>least internally consistent.)

As I have understood it from academics who have made a particular study of
early religions, evidence for the existence of the worship of a single
Goddess, anywhere, any time before the modern age, is as hard to find as
evidence to support the occurrence of millions of witch-burnings in

>Now, this was long after I read Susan Cooper, and I did NOT see it as
>'spiritual' but as fantasy based. Perhaps we are using a different
>definition of 'spiritual'-- there are no personal Gods or Goddesses, only
>powerful forces and mythological powers. So perhaps what I mean by
>'spiritual' is not the same as what you mean by 'spiritual'?

Whatever anyone may or may not mean by "spiritual", is it impossible to
write about something in which one does not personally believe, and still
convey an impression both of knowledge and of sincerity?  We know jolly
well that it is possible to preach a doctrine, very convincingly, without
actually obeying the precepts one preaches, after all: look at the
televangelists who preach chastity and have adulterous affairs, or the
gurus who preach poverty and then drive off in one of their personal fleet
of Rolls-Royces to take their Lear-jet to the next gig.  If they didn't
carry conviction, they wouldn't have got where they are, but it's obvious
they can't really believe what they say.

Is an atheist debarred from writing a book in which the characters have a
belief-system not her own?  If so, is someone who can't actually do magic,
and doesn't believe it possible to practise magic successfully in real
life, debarred from writing about a wizard or wizards, or about a group of
mysterious people who can do things like stopping time in its tracks,
snapping their fingers to cause candles to light, and so forth?

Maybe Susan Cooper didn't believe (doesn't believe) in God or gods, but
found the patterns various beliefs and stories carried with them, and the
resonances they have, useful for her purpose, whatever that was apart from
telling an interesting story in an interesting way.  It would be fairly
difficult to write about a conflict between Good and Evil without lifting
some ethical beliefs from *somewhere*... or even about a conflict between
the Dark and the Light.

Speaking of sources, has anyone else read Greer Gilman's *Moonwise*?  She
had not when she wrote it read either *The Golden Bough* or *The White
Goddess*, and all the old-religions-ish-ness in it is, she claimed,
entirely based on English folk-songs.  That's where *she* got the Cutty
Wren from; which makes me wonder where Cooper found it.  Certainly I'd be
pushed to try to explain all the things in Cooper as coming from any one
source.  Her work always felt to me like an extremely well-crafted
patchwork made of a large number of different bits of old cloth.


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