ASLAN'S KIN ¶ Interfaith Fantasy and Science Fiction

Susan Cooper

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 for Children]


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. Silver 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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