Interfaith Fantasy and Science
Trained as a journalist, Susan
Cooper draws upon British mythology and legend when writing her fantasy
novels for children. The Dark is Rising series was acclaimed both
in her native England and in her adopted home, the United States.
I suppose there are plenty of reasons why I should have spent a large
chunk of my life writing the five fantasy novels of the Dark is Rising
sequence, dealing with the struggle for control of the earth between the
forces of good and of evil, the Light and the Dark. Fantasy is founded
in myth, and one of the great themes of myth is the conflict between good
and evil. And I was soaked in fairy tale and myth and folklore from the
age of about three. Then there's religion. I was raised in the Church of
England, drenched in liturgical music and marinated in the King James Bible,
not to mention Paradise Lost, later on. And even though I turned
away from Christianity when I was sixteen, you don't get rid of God and
the Devil as easily as that. Their images lurk in your unconscious forever,
like a watermark in paper.
Nevertheless, I think the deepest roots of my books are embedded in
war. . . .
That cold white flame at the heart of the Light, and Will's justification
of it, comes from the absolute certainty I was given, when I was small,
that we were right. Hitler was evil, and the greedy advance of the
Third Reich across Europe was the rising of the Dark. Little Britain, Jack
the Giant-Killer, was the last repository of the Light, and anything we
did to defeat the Dark was okay. Even our churches confirmed this: one
should pray for victory, said the Archbishop of Canterbury, adding to the
prayer "if it be thy will" or "for the victory of righteousness." . . .
The self-righteousness of the Light is no doubt preferable to the depravity
of the Dark, but it too holds great dangers. It can reach to the point
of a holy war, fought for the promotion of one of the historically militant
religions, like Christianity or Islam – and at that point the Light enters
the Dark, or vice versa, and gives birth to monstrosities like the Inquisition,
or the death sentence pronounced on Salman Rushdie. . . .
Mine is not a Christian viewpoint, along the militant Christ-focused
lines of C. S. Lewis's Narnia books. As a matter of fact, earlier this
year the Dark is Rising books were accused by the Church of Scotland's
Board of Social Responsibility of undermining the Christian faith. I think
this is something of an overreaction (it's also twenty-one years late)
but it's certainly true that you won't find a theistic ideal infusing those
books. Instead there is the echo of the author, the wartime child and postwar
adolescent, observing conflict and imperfection.
["Swords and Ploughshares," Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing
I had to move away from [the Arthurian legend in Silver on the Tree]
because it seems to me that the Arthurian legend is parallel to the Christian
story of the leader who dies for salvation. Whereas what my books were
trying to say is that nobody else can save us. We have to save ourselves.
on the Tree contains a reference to a poem that I remember my mother
reciting to me. It's about Drake being in his hammock, which recalls the
local legend in Devon that Sir Francis Drake will come back to rescue England
if we're ever invaded again. Similarly, Arthur will come back, and Christ
– they are saviors. I didn't want to use that idea. The Arthur that I was
using goes to Avalon, but saving the world is up to the people in it.
["An Interview," Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children]
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