Britocentric fantasy

minnow at minnow at
Mon Apr 12 13:25:48 EDT 2004

Charles Butler wrote:

>Okay, here's a topic I've been thinking about recently. I was reading a
>couple of academic articles (both I think by Americans) on Susan Cooper, and
>both criticise the Dark is Rising sequence as colonial/imperialist texts
>because they make it clear that all the important stuff involved in the
>saving of the world goes on in Britain, and that the rest of the world (the
>worldwide circle of the Old Ones) are involved, if at all, only in a
>subsidiary way, passing on messages like 'Tell Will Stanton that the Old
>Ones of the South are ready,' etc.

Highly shocking: rather than try to write about somewhere she hadn't
been and make it and its mores and language and customs and such, with
which she was completely unfamiliar, the core of the story, the naughty
woman wrote about things she knew about.  Fie and tut, smacked wrist. 
If she had set it all in America, where are the ancient sites and
1000+-year-old legends she should have used, someone? And if they are in
one of the American Indian languages, is it one that someone not born to
it can hope ever to learn and understand?

>Okay - as it happens I largely disagree with this line, but what's almost
>more interesting to me is why the same criticism *hasn't* been levelled at
>other British fantasists whose British hero(in)es also save the world (and
>often more than one): Pullman, for example, and maybe even Rowling (has HP
>saved the world yet? Does he look likely to?).

As a non-reader of that lot I have the distinct impression he did that
as an infant, by inadvertantly foiling some thing or other the Dark Lord
was trying to do and getting a scar on his head for his pains.  The Dark
Lord winning means the End Of The World as a rule, or at least the End
Of The World As We Know It.  Those who have read it may refute or
confirm that, I expect.

>And - obDWJ - it is quite
>clear that Chrestomanci, the most powerful magician in the world, who seems
>to have a multiverse-wide brief to police magic, is also an employee of the
>British Government first and foremost - in fact he plain says so in
>Magicians of Caprona. And Britain (or Britain-analogues) are at the centre
>of world-saving in several other books too, such as Hexwood, Merlin
>Conspiracy, Sudden Wild Magic, and so on. Yet no one, to my knowledge, has
>accused DWJ of having imperialist tendencies in the way they have Cooper.
>Isn't that odd?

Cooper is living in America, and so ought to know better than to set
things in a country not her own since 1963, maybe.  

Has anyone complained that some world-saving fantasy set entirely in an
American, or in an Australian, context is a colonial/imperialist text,
and if not, why not, would be another question that sprang to my mind. 

>How does this look from outside Britain, I particularly wonder?

Me too.  Why on earth anyone should regard a second-rate has-been
country as having colonies, or as having an empire, fair baffles me.

To unsubscribe, email dwj-request at with the body "unsubscribe".
Visit the archives at

More information about the Dwj mailing list