#TDiRS22: The sea, the sea

I got through this month’s Dark Is Rising readalong book, Greenwitch, in extra quick time. It’s the shortest book in the series, and I remember it as one of my favorites. I was swept along again by this atmospheric tale that contains elements of horror but also of elegaic beauty.

I don’t think it’s necessary to read the first book featuring the Drew children to enjoy this one — I hadn’t when I read the books as a child, and it didn’t bother me a bit. But those who loved Over Sea, Under Stone will no doubt be happy to encounter the Drews again, and to return to the Cornish village of Trewissick. We also meet again Will Stanton, protagonist of The Dark Is Rising, who is now rather amusingly seen as an annoying interloper by the Drews. I’d not noticed that the ordinary children are not explictly told about the circle of the Old Ones of the Light (which includes Will) in this book; they only sense that their adopted great-uncle Merriman and his friends are good, and seeking to protect them and all that is good in the world. The forces of the Dark are rising to oppose this impulse, and the children become caught up in that struggle, but are often only half-aware of what is going on, or bespelled to forget it.

Illustration by Laura Carlin

This gives rise to some chilling scenes, especially the one where Barney and Simon enter the caravan of a strange painter they suspect has taken the grail that belongs to the Light. Not a good idea, kids! But thanks to Simon’s quick thinking they come out with some helpful information. I liked Simon better in this book than in his first appearance, perhaps because he had less of a role and the others came forward more. Barney also acquires a talent for art (inherited from his mother) that makes him more interesting. His fascination with the painter’s work, which he finds disturbing and yet also powerful, helps to show how the Dark can draw in vulnerable human souls.

But this book really belongs to Jane and to the Greenwitch, a marvelous creation so convincing that readers have persisted in believing it must be a real Cornish custom. Don’t go looking for a village in Cornwall that makes a giant figure out of rowan and hawthorn each spring and throws it in the ocean, though; Cooper made it up. She did build her invention on the bones of real traditions — of sacrifice and then of substituted images — that persist in many cultures to this day.

This intrusion of ancient elemental forces into the modern world, with materialism making some people blind to their power while others remain intuitively sensitive to it, is the most memorable part of this brief novel. And it is Jane, invited to attend the making of the Greenwitch (open only to women), who brings in a new element to the age-old cycle of exchange and appeasement that is how humans have always related to the Wild Magic of nature. When Jane makes a different and unexpected kind of wish, she feels foolish and silly, but really she’s demonstrated the wisdom only a spontaneous, childlike heart could contain.

It’s her simple, uncalculated gesture of compassion, rather than the outward rushing back and forth of the males, their power struggles and demands and logical arguments, that makes the difference in the end. The rage of the Greenwitch looms over our hardened, insensitive human society today, just as it does over Trewissick when all the shadows of the past are called forth. Somehow, we have to find a way to care, to open our hearts, even in the midst of this frightening chaos. Like Jane, we need to make a new relationship to nature and set new possibilities in motion.

That’s what’s always inspired me in this story, and still does today. What did you think of the Greenwitch, and of her story? What touched you or thrilled you the most?

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12 thoughts on “#TDiRS22: The sea, the sea

  1. Thanks for this lovely post, Lory. Greenwitch is also my favorite of TDiR, because of Jane’s role in it, but moreso because of the Greenwitch herself. I love how Cooper gives a “women-only” ritual so much power, and how that power is embodied in a work of art intended for destruction. So many layers of meaning! BTW, when I saw Cooper at a conference several years ago, this was the book I took for her to sign.

    1. Great choice. I love the Greenwitch too and the whole idea of the “Wild magic” beyond the power of both the Dark and the Light. There is much we need to acknowledge that is not within the reach of our limited conscious minds.

    1. It’s Jane’s seeing her as a person that makes the difference, when all the wizardly knowledge and power in the world is useless. That’s something that bears remembering.

  2. I too liked the shift more to a female perspective in this instalment – the Greenwitch herself of course, and Jane, but also Tethys and, to a lesser extent but importantly, to Mrs Penhallow, the children’s American aunt and the unnamed woman who takes charge of the proceedings for the building of the Greenwitch.

    And there are many subiminal symbolic moments too, like the defilement by the painter of the grail itself (the chalice is traditionally seen as a womb-like matrix) by using it to bespell Barney; and the ritual gift exchange that Jane enacts with the Greenwitch.

    Such a wonderful novel, and a delight to return to – I hope I’ll have time to explore some more of its intricacies before I have to go on to the next book!

  3. Yes! I love this one because of the centrality of Jane and the Greenwitch, and always have done. Although there are other pagan elements (thinking of the Mari Llwyd here which I always dread getting to!) this one is the one where that’s central and most successful in weaving everything together.

    1. There are a lot of scary elements in the books from folklore and yet Cooper manages to balance them out with beautifuland comforting images in a way I always found completely magical.

  4. I’m not participating in this read-along because I recently re-read The Dark is Rising and didn’t feel like it lived up to my memory. That said, I am really enjoying experiencing the whole series vicariously and your review has me tempted again to revisit this one.

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