Gender and Empowerment in Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising Sequence

Citation metadata

Editor: Dana Ferguson
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 6,256 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

[(essay date spring 1991) In the following essay, Veeder laments Cooper's promotion of male authoritative modes that place its juvenile and, especially, its female characters into submissive roles in the The Dark is Rising books.]

Reviewers, critics, and readers of Susan Cooper's "The Dark is Rising" sequence have widely varying opinions of her work. Cooper's evocative prose and suspenseful plots have received Newbery prizes (The Dark is Rising received the Newbery Honor Medal in 1974 and The Grey King received the Newbery Medal in 1976). Her themes and moral stances have received both praise and blame. Ann Swinfen, in In Defense of Fantasy, notes admiringly that "the reader who has entered imaginatively into the liberated experience of Will and the other characters is better able to perceive the world's 'beauty and marvelous joy,' and perhaps may learn to 'work and care and be watchful'" (146). In other quarters, the books are dismissed as empty potboilers or relatives of "Dr. Who." Fred Inglis dismisses Cooper as one of the "Tolkien formation" (232), purveyors of counter-culture literature for children, with an arch medievalism and limited sensationalist effect. While I share some of the dissatisfactions of Inglis and other critics with Cooper's fiction, I would locate the central limitation of the sequence elsewhere--in the pervasive marginalization of females and children in order to elevate dominant adult males as the sources of authority.

While Lois Kuznets, in considering Cooper's relation to American fantasy as well as to the Arthurian myth of male development, notes Cooper's failure to deal with female development, she is finally more interested in the usefulness of the Arthurian myth in explaining the quest of Bran Davies for the sword Eirias than in analyzing Cooper's problems with female characters. What interests me is that in all five novels, though in different ways, the binary opposition between males and females central to the patriarchal world is sustained. In both psychological and representational economies within the sequence, man and the authority of his law are central. Females of any age and males of a young age--though in different ways--cannot come closer to the center of power than the utilitarian margin. Little girls, as we can see especially in the character of Jane Drew, are by definition denied access to power, and when their actions are valued, it is only because of the service they provide to the patriarchal mode, as its couriers or eulogizers. Even adult females--the strong Lady needs to be considered in detail--are maintained in sex-determined positions of dependency, functionally necessary but ideologically subordinate to the central male figures, Arthur and Merriman/Merlin. Little boys--the Drews, Will Stanton, and Bran Davies--need to be evaluated not only in relation to their female peers but also in relation to their adult male elders. While not essentially denied access to the realm of the phallus, as are Jane and the Lady, the boys are forced into the patriarchy's projects. Any decisions they are apparently allowed to make are only between binary possibilities defined...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420104791