Greenwitch by Susan Cooper: Dark, Light, and Wild Magic
Updated: Apr 19
Third book in the The Dark Is Rising series
Overall rating: 9/10
Quality of writing: 9/10
Concerning content (language, violence, etc.): some
Age level: 10 and up
Enlisted by their mysterious uncle, Merriman Lyons, Simon, Jane, and Barney Drew embark on a quest to find an ancient golden grail, which has been stolen by the forces of evil known as the Dark. Joining them is Will Stanton, a boy who, although he seems normal at first, begins to evidence strange powers, which he uses to help them. This book also introduces fans of the series to Wild Magic, a force beyond the control of the Dark or Light, which in this book takes the form of the Greenwitch (a traditional image of branches thrown into the sea) and Tethys, the Lady of the Sea. Incorporating influences from ancient Celtic customs and other British history, Greenwitch is an interesting read that emphasizes the value of compassion over force.
The plot of this book is one of the least driven in the series, mainly because the characters are pursuing two main objectives (firstly, find the Grail; secondly, convince the Greenwitch to return the manuscript) and because the Drews (who are ostensibly the main characters) do not participate in a number of action sequences (since they are mortals, unlike the Old Ones Merriman and Will). The conclusion is also a bit anticlimactic: the protagonists simply find the Grail in an old Gypsy wagon, and Jane convinces the Greenwitch to return the manuscript. Despite this, the plot does have plenty of action (just not particularly linear action) and is overall fairly engaging. On the whole, the plot of Greenwitch is nice, but not quite up to the standard of the rest of the series. (8.5/10)
While the plot is nothing especially amazing, the characters of Greenwitch are some of the best-developed in the series, particularly Jane and the Greenwitch. At the beginning of the book, Jane wishes for “the Greenwitch to be happy,” which convinces the Greenwitch to give her the manuscript necessary to translate the Grail; we also see the Greenwitch (which both the Dark and Light are shown to consider merely as an obstacle to getting the manuscript) in a wholly different light from Jane’s perspective: as an “unimaginable force… but lonely… melancholy” Cooper also uses this book to experiment with characters who are neither of the Dark nor of the Light: Tethys and the Greenwitch (as mentioned before), and the painter, an emissary of the Dark who tried to seize the Grail and manuscript for himself. Overall, the characters in Greenwitch are possibly some of the best-written in the series and deserve a 9.5 out of 10.
Cooper continues in the same style as the previous books in the series, using descriptive and occasionally slightly archaic language to build the story’s action and atmosphere; this could prove a bit confusing for some readers. Additionally, some readers may find this book’s plot unclear, since it has less of a single main conflict than many other books in the series. (4.5/10)
Quality of writing
Cooper’s descriptive language is very nice overall, and the scattering of archaic words gives the reader the sense of “ancient power… older than all men… alone, absolute” which really captures this book’s atmosphere. Cooper also has a knack for giving each character a unique diction, which makes them “come to life” for the reader: the contrast, for example, between the way Merriman and Simon speak lets the reader know immediately that Merriman is by far the older and wiser. Overall, Cooper’s writing in Greenwitch is excellent and merits a 9/10.
While Greenwitch has no real language or violence, there are a number of scenes that may disturb some readers. These include the scene where the painter summons the Greenwitch out of the sea, the scene where Barney is hypnotized by the painter and made to essentially perform a kind of divination, and the scene where the painter is carried away by a crowd of ghosts summoned by the Wild Magic. Additionally, references to Celtic paganism do occur in this book (most notably the Greenwitch itself). Readers and parents of readers should judge for themselves on whether to read this book. (Do note, however, that despite the story’s pagan elements, Good and Evil are clearly defined, and the morality is generally Judeo-Christian in nature).
Due to some potentially disturbing scenes and occasionally archaic style, this book is recommended for readers ages 10 and up.