Greenwitch by Susan Cooper

Book 3 of The Dark is Rising Sequence

Susan Cooper
  • Category:Children's Fiction, Fantasy Fiction
  • Date Read:15 April 2023
  • Year Published:1974
  • PAGES:187
  • 5 stars

The different story elements from the first two books of The Dark is Rising Sequence start to converge in this third volume, with Will Stanton (from The Dark is Rising) meeting the three Drew children (from Over Sea, Under Stone), brought together by Merriman Lyon. The grail found by the Drews in the first book has been stolen from the British Museum by agents of the Dark. We know from The Dark is Rising that the grail will be an important artefact for the Light to use against the Dark in their final battle, so this book centres on its recovery. This book takes us back to the village of Trewissick in Cornwall, where the Drews and Will have been gathered together by Merriman. At first the Drews resent Will’s presence and have little to do with him, but by the end, without any explanations, all seem to accept that he has an important role to play in the battle against the Dark that they cannot yet understand. Jane is the first to understand that he isn’t really a child like them, and that he has a connection to Merriman that goes beyond their relationship with their ‘Great Uncle’, even if she doesn’t know what he actually is.

The group arrive in Trewissick in time for the annual making of the Greenwitch. This is an ancient Spring ritual celebrated in the village, to bring luck and to ensure a good harvest of crops and fish. Only women are allowed to participate in the making of the Greenwitch, and non-locals are normally excluded also. But Mrs Penhallow, their landlady, invites Jane to attend with her. Jane watches all night as the local women weave a huge figure out of hawthorn, rowan and hazel twigs, leaves and blossoms, then fill it with heavy rocks to ensure that it sinks beneath the water. She is told that those who are barren, or otherwise crossed, can touch the figure and make a wish. In her mind, she connects the Greenwitch with the standing stones that stand on the headland above the sea, and therefore understands it as something that intrinsically belongs to the sea despite being made from the earth. She also feels both a great power and a great loneliness coming from the figure. When it is finished, young women from the village touch the Greenwitch and wish for wealthy husbands. Jane joins them reluctantly, then impulsively wishes that the Greenwitch could be happy. At dawn, the fishermen return to the village from their night’s work, and put the Greenwitch to the cliff. That is, they throw the figure into the sea from the headland.

The Greenwitch is of course central to the story, as she has in her possession something that both the Light and the Dark want: a manuscript that allows the writing on the grail to be understood. The children had found this manuscript when they initially found the grail but lost it in the sea while attempting to keep the agents of the Dark from taking it. The Greenwitch is neither of the Light or the Dark. Instead, she represents the separate power of Wild Magic, and cannot be controlled by either side.

Jane has a central role in this story. In Over Sea, Under Stone, she seemed more passive. For example, she waited on the rocks while her brothers, including the much younger Barney, went into the sea cave to recover the grail. While she initially seems to take on a traditional female role of caring and nurturing her brothers, this time it is her actions that recover the grail while her brothers have the more passive role. Without her connection to the Greenwitch, the grail and the manuscript would be lost. Jane’s connection to the Greenwitch comes from her caring nature. She genuinely feels sorry for the figure’s life of loneliness and isolation. Her pity touches the Greenwitch and forms the bond between them.

This is a very short book – the shortest in the series – but it still has a couple of incredibly vivid scenes that enhance the atmosphere of the series. One scene feels rather Lovecraftian, when Will and Merriman dive deep into the sea to the kingdom of Tethys, the sea goddess. Tethys, angered by their demands for her help, threatens them with a creature of horror:

“out of the distant shadow a great shape came. It was the dark thing that carried within it the bright lights that Will had seen; nearer and nearer they came, looming larger and larger, white and purple and green, glaring out of a swelling black mass as high as a house. And Will saw with a chill horror that the thing was a giant squid, one of the great monsters of the deep, huge and terrible. Each of its waving suckered tentacles was many times longer than his own height; he knew that it could move as fast as lightening and that the tearing bite of its dreadful beak-like mouth could have annihilated either of them in a single instant.”

Another scene that resonates is when the agent of the Dark uses a painting to cast a spell to summon the Greenwitch. He pours his power into the painting, from which swirls of green and blue and yellow glow into the darkness, "in great writhing seething patterns like a nest of snakes". His spell brings a storm as well as the Greenwitch, but he cannot make her yield to his demands, and her Wild Magic lets a nightmare of hauntings and monstrosities loose on the village. Jane, against the orders of Merriman, who told her to go to sleep, watches the horrors from her bedroom until she can no longer stand it and ends up cowering into a corner to stay safe. It's all very dramatic!

At the end of the book, with the grail safely back in the possession of the Light, Merriman, Will and Captain Toms (another Old One who lives in Trewissick) are finally able to use the manuscript to decipher the message on the grail. It’s another prophecy, one that directs us to the action in the fourth book, The Grey King, and suggests that King Arthur will return to aid the Light in a final battle against the Dark. All the elements are coming together now and I can't wait to continue on with the story.

The Dark is Rising Sequence

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper Greenwitch by Susan Cooper The Grey King by Susan Cooper Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper
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Susan Cooper
Susan Cooper
Susan Cooper did not plan to write a five book sequence when she first published Over Sea, Under Stone. It wasn’t until several years later when she began what was eventually to become The Dark is Rising, that she realised the stories were thematically linked, and began to plan a five book series about the fight between good and evil. Greenwitch marks the point in the series when the different characters from the first two books meet and the overall direction of the fight against the Dark becomes clearer.
Excalibur returned to the Lady in the Lake
Excalibur, the legendary sword of Arthur Pendragon, shown here being returned to the Lady in the Lake by Sir Bedivere. A prophecy at the end of Greenwitch predicts that “. . . where the midsummer tree grows tall, By Pendragon's sword the Dark shall fall.”