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October 24, 2007

Greenwitch

9780689304262Greenwitch, the third book of The Dark is Rising series, is a weird little book. And I do mean little. In my edition it's less than 150 pages. Almost a novella.

After ripping on Over Sea, Under Stone, yesterday, I was eager to see if Greenwitch held up, not that I had loved it as much as TDIR when I was a kid, but I'd thought it was a good book.

And it still is, despite continuing conflict between the Famous Three adventure story tone and the TDIR mystic mood. This is the book where Will from TDIR is brought together with the Drew children from OSUS. Will is entirely unused here. He's played off as an adult, basically, wah-wah wah wahing like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. The three children ... well, the boys really, are just as pointless and annoying as ever, but Jane has a new job here that I'm a bit ambivalent about.

The beauty of a child stepping into a predetermined role in an ancient ritual--and then adding their own style to the performance of that role--is one of the things that makes TDIR so luminous. And the child who does that in Greenwitch isn't Will this time, but Jane Drew.

HERE BE SPOILAGE! She goes to the making of the Greenwitch, a wicker "child" sacrificed to, or adopted by, the sea every spring. Only women of the village are allowed to attend, but Merlin swings her an invite. While there, she goes to make a wish on the completed Greenwitch, a village tradition, but is overwhelmed by the sadness emanating from the figure, which has acquired a sort of magic power as it is made. Instead of wishing for something for herself, she wishes that the Greenwitch might be happy.

It is her (very minor) self-sacrifice that wins them the McGuffin in the end. And I have a bit of an issue with this. Cooper struggles to give each of what will in the end be FOUR boys a distinct character role. But she doesn't really struggle with Jane. Jane's role is set: she's The Girl. She gets to play an important role in this one because, as a girl, she's the only one of them who can get close to the Greenwitch. Not because she's smart, or sensitive, or heroic, or magical. Because she's a girl.

And the choice she makes is the girl's choice: self-sacrifice, empathy. ARgh!

Anyway, the other weird thing about the book is that its purpose is to clean up the mess that OSUS left. OSUS was crap, as I have said, and at some level, Cooper must have known this. The series of books is about the acquisition of four things of power which will then defeat the dark. Four things of power, five books. So the obvious arc would be one book for each thing, and then the fifth book for the showdown.

But it takes three books to get two of the things. The Grail is acquired in OSUS, but the manuscript inside the grail, without which the grail is useless, is lost. Then, at the beginning of Greenwitch, the grail is stolen back, so they don't have either of the things it took a whole book to get. So it takes another whole book to get them back. Not efficient storytelling, but then Cooper was working with two different decks: one a card deck and one a tarot deck. Greenwitch is the attempt to meld the two different lines she's started, or rather to bring the children of OSUS into the world of TDIR. She mostly succeeds.

There's also a bit of business about cultural relativity that falls flat. Too bad, b/c the bit about class conflict in TDIR made some interesting promises. Unfortunately, everyone in this world has servants/housekeepers, and Cooper makes much play of the betrayal of servants. Seems she wasn't half as conscious of class war as she wanted to be.

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