Silver on the Tree

And so, finally, I reach the end of The Dark is Rising sequence.

Silver on the Tree is another very Welsh episode, with a lot of the action taking place in Eryri (or Snowdonia to you, Mr Sunak, you peasant). King Arthur is involved again, and there is a quest into Cantre’r Gwaelod, the sunken land that once filled Bae Ceredigion. Interestingly, while Arthur is portrayed as an agent of the Light, both Saxons and Vikings are described as agents of the Dark. Given that Susan Cooper was born in Buckinghamshire, that’s quite a change in allegiance.

By the way, the opening online event for the British Library’s Fantasy exhibition was Natalie Haynes interviewing Susan Cooper. As I rather expected, Cooper had spent a lot of time on holiday in Eryri and Kernow as a child, which explains the use of those locations in the books.

So, we are in Eryri, and Cooper once again demonstrates her understanding of the foibles of how Welsh people speak. These are, as I’m learning, a result of their using Welsh grammatical structures while speaking English. There are also a few phrases in the book that are in Welsh, and are untranslated. Of course they are Cymraeg Gogledd, so a very different dialect to what I’m learning, but they are mostly understandable.

The section in Cantre’r Gwaelod is quite weird. It reminded me a lot of H P Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. The region is inhabited, but it isn’t clear whether the people are really alive, or of they are just animated by magic. The main characters are the Fisher King in his Glass Castle, and his bard, Gwion, who is not as bach as he was when he drank from Ceredwin’s cauldron, and is more commonly known as Taliesin.

The point of the quest is for Bran to pick up a magic sword (as shown on the cover) so he can wield it in a great confrontation with the Dark, which is about the take place. Will goes along to offer his Old One wisdom, and the Drew siblings are around to offer support.

My overall impression of the books is of how little agency the main characters have. This book is no different. Most of what happens is foretold in some way, and the characters simply have to act out the scenes of prophecies, or follow the instructions of mysterious benefactors. I’m not sure why this is. OK, so it is a book for children, but surely they should understand actions and consequences.

Because of this concern, I was very surprised to see, right at the end of the book, that agency is required after all. However, the big choice is not left to Will, to Bran, to the Drews, or even Merriman Lyon. The character on whose shoulders the fate of the world rests is a simple Welsh farmer called John Rowlands.

I’m not sure what to make of all this. If anyone knows of a good academic analysis of the books that looks into this issue, please let me know.

In the meantime, the books are wonderfully atmospheric, so I’m not surprised that children loved them, and probably still do.

book cover
Title: Silver on the Tree
By: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Puffin
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