Susan Cooper Is Amazing

Heart2I’m almost done reading what has proved to be one of my favorite fantasy novels of all time: The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, published 1973.

The woman is a genius. I’ve devoured fantasy books since I was a child, but I’d never heard of her work until recently. Her writing is not mentioned anywhere near as often as it merits.

The two books of hers I’ve read so far have a quiet elegance that many fantasy writers could learn from.

I also experienced an understated, humble tone that eases the soul (but still has potency at conveying the story), in contrast to current brash fantasy. Don’t get me wrong, I love—for example—the wild exuberance of the revisioned Doctor Who show, with its charisma and dash and … brashness, I love its brashness! Am a huge Dr. Who fan. (Oops, Doctor Who is science-fiction, not fantasy, but I experience comparable endearing and thrilling qualities in much of the current fantasy I love.)

Nevertheless, I hadn’t known I also need the gentleness of Cooper’s writing. Until reading Over Sea, Under Stone, I had not noticed that most current fantasy, stuff I absolutely love, has a razor edge scraping my skin and nerves.

That edge is part of its power, and I do not mean only the aforementioned thrill and dash and passionate emotion. There is also the sharp edge created by portraying the raw states of both brutality and devastation. We need this rawness acknowledged. Goddess knows, it has meant the world to me to find books that reveal it. I eat them up. Still, they had become too strict a diet for me personally. I needed Cooper added to it, both for her gentle language and the quiet, powerful love subtly underlying the tone of her prose.

The two books I’ve read are part of a five-part series. The first in the series, Over Sea, Under Stone, brought me back to my childhood, when I spent hours curled up reading magical tales; the book’s grace, simplicity, and trust in humans touched my heart, like a healing balm perfect for me in our crazy times.

If Over Sea, Under Stone soothed a heart scraped raw by our current society, The Dark Is Rising stole that heart and made it more whole: It has some authentic messages, and I’m one of those people who wants her light reading to bear an important message or two.

(Psst. If you’re a witch, there are a few subtle bits well worth your time. Well worth it.)

Reading The Dark Is Rising, I was aware Cooper’s soft style is by no means tantamount to a milquetoast story. She confronts darkness. I feel kin to her as a writer, because I believe a voice that understates its message can be a powerful force against evil.

I should mention, though I enjoyed the first of the series, I far prefer the second. As I said, it’s one of my favorites. But I’m glad I read them in order.

I definitely liked the first one enough to want to check out the next in line, which is saying a lot, because I’m super fussy about what I read right now.

I look forward to the rest of the series.

Addendum: this was written about February 2016, then was lost in my stack of articles I had no time to post. It feels vital to finally post the article, both for the sake of Susan’s work and in honor of all the women whose remarkable work is not fully acknowledged.


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