Books, fantasy, influences, writing

Influences: Susan Cooper

Susan Cooper has been one of my favorite writers for oh, close to twenty years now, so I was delighted yesterday when looking over the list of ALA winners this year to see that she has been awarded the 2012 Edwards Award for The Dark Is Rising series. (Former winners include Gary Paulsen, Madeleine L’Engle, Lois Lowry, Orson Scott Card, and last year, Terry Pratchett.)

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when one of my older friends recommended Cooper to me, but I know I was young enough that Dad read through the books first, just to make sure there wasn’t going to be anything in them that would give me nightmares, and also so that he could talk with me about anything that might scare me in them (and why it was Dad who did that with these books, instead of Mom, I’m not exactly sure, because usually Mom was the one who did nightmare-screening for me – but it might have been when she was working, and didn’t have as much time, or it might simply have been that Dad thought they looked interesting). Dad liked the first one so much he read the rest of the series for his own enjoyment, not because he was worried for me. I think it’s the first series (but certainly not the last) that Dad and I both loved, instead of Mom and I. We also both loved the Arthurian connection – we’re kinda both geeks when it comes to King Arthur!

The curious thing, for a nightmare-prone kid like me, is that even though they were eerie and intense, they weren’t outright scary. I was certainly creeped out a few times during the reading of them (I think Greenwitch was the creepiest, for me), but not enough to trouble my dreams. I think because good, no matter how beleaguered or desperate, always triumphed in the end, even (and often especially) through the frailty and love of flawed human beings.

And Will. Short, stocky, serious Will, with the enormous loving family and the heavy burden he shouldered so ably. His friendships with Merriman, with Bran, with the Drew children, and within his own family all so different, and drawn so finely.

Merriman himself was my first introduction to a character who was both good and hard, who could be ruthless in his pursuit of the Light. The Light that burns, sometimes, that doesn’t have room for softness – now, of course, that idea is commonplace, but at the time, I’d never read anything that showed that goodness doesn’t always look good and can, in fact, sometimes look cruel, that looking at the big picture can sometimes mean the details get blurred.

Cooper is another of those writers whose books shaped not just my own writing, but my life. I really can’t think of what sort of a writer I would be today were it not for the richness and depth of her stories. She has written many books besides The Dark is Rising series, of course (I bought Victory! for my dad for his birthday a few years ago – another one that we both loved), and I’ve enjoyed almost all of them, but tDiR has a special place in my heart.

Not to mention, of course, that I hold her and Lloyd Alexander between them directly responsible for my love affair with Wales, that land of magic and mystery and heroism. Which makes me think – maybe this is the year for me to pull out my Welsh language materials that I’ve had for an embarrassingly long time and get to work teaching myself the language. Maybe I should teach it to Joy and Grace at the same time, we three can learn together!

Or not.

6 thoughts on “Influences: Susan Cooper”

  1. I read The Dark is Rising when I was younger, and the Prydain Chronicles, and YES, they both gave me a love for Welsh mythology and everything. I also spent a lot of time wondering how Eilonwy was pronounced until a guide came out in one of the books–I think this was just before I could look it up on the internet. ;) I think it might have given me a love for Welsh names, which I drew on while writing my upcoming book, Rising. (One of my MCs is Mairwyn, and her name is not pronounced as it looks.)

  2. Laura – Welsh names are SO pretty. My youngest daughter (called Grace on the internet) has a Welsh name in real life; I have a drop or two of Welsh blood in my heritage, so I figured I could justify it. I dream of someday visiting Wales and experiencing the ancient magic in it for myself.Rockinlibrarian – I haven't read that blog yet, but I will definitely check out that link. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. I missed this series and this writer growing up, but she sounds fabulous. I love King Arthur, too, so I would enjoy the references, and it sounds like she really knows how to tell a story. What age group would you recommend this for? I'm looking for something new to read to my daughters.

  4. Kirsten – I think it is marketed as MG, so ages 9 and up? I really don't remember how old I was when I read them. And like I said, some of the writing can be chilling – the Dark is appropriately evil, scary, and occasionally superficially attractive while still frightening underneath – so if your girls have problems with nightmares you might want to skim it first to make sure it'll be ok for them.Lydia – I buy myself a new Prydain book as a reward every time I complete a MS! Which means that I only have a few, but it gives me extra impetus to keep going. I also love his Westmark series, which I know a lot of people didn't care for but really broke a lot of stereotypes about heroism for me. And can't forget Vesper Holly, who would leave Indiana Jones in the DUST and then scold him for his sloppy archeology methods!

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