Greenwitch by Susan Cooper

Greenwitch is the third novel in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence. I loved the first two books, so I was pleased to find that I enjoyed this one just as much. It brings together characters from both the first book and the second, so I would recommend reading both of those before starting this one, if possible.

The novel opens with the Drew children – Simon, Jane and Barney – whom we met in Over Sea, Under Stone, returning to Trewissick in Cornwall with their Great Uncle Merriman. The Grail, which played such a big part in Over Sea, has been stolen from the British Museum and the children know who is responsible: the forces of the Dark. However, the inscription on the Grail can be of no use to the Dark without the manuscript that will help to decipher it – and the manuscript is lost at the bottom of the sea.

To help the Drews in their quest to recover the Grail and locate the missing manuscript, Merriman has brought along Will Stanton, the boy we first met in The Dark is Rising. But Will doesn’t reveal to the others that he, like Merriman, is one of the Old Ones and working for the forces of Light, so they are left feeling uneasy and resentful about his presence and his relationship with their Great Uncle.

Like the previous books in the series, this is an atmospheric and eerie story, steeped in magic and ancient folklore. The ‘Greenwitch’ of the title is a giant effigy in the form of a woman made of sticks, constructed by the women of Trewissick and sacrificed to the sea in a yearly ritual – not just an inanimate object, but a living being, with a mind of her own. This is referred to as a type of ‘Wild Magic’, or the magic of nature, another element in the ongoing battle between Light and Dark. The Greenwitch holds the key to understanding the Grail, but the children will have to persuade her to give up her secrets before the agents of the Dark get there first.

I found this book as compelling as the first two and read most of it in one day; as a book aimed at younger readers, it’s quite short and the plot moves along at a fast pace, but as an adult there’s still enough depth and complexity to the story and characters to hold my attention. It was good to see the three Drew children again, after they were absent from the last book, and this time I particularly liked the large and important part Jane played in trying to befriend the Greenwitch and defeat the Dark. At first I was disappointed by the children’s hostility towards Will and the way he seemed to have a much quieter, more passive role in this novel after being the central protagonist of the last one, but later I decided that the decision to tell most of the story from the Drews’ perspective was actually quite effective. It made Will appear aloof and otherworldly, in keeping with his position as one of the Old Ones working on behalf of the Light. Still, I found the reluctance of Will and Merriman to confide in the other children quite frustrating, as it would have made things so much easier for them.

There are some wonderful moments and set pieces in this book: the ritual sacrifice of the Greenwitch; the evil that emanates from the paintings produced by the artist of the Dark; Jane watching from her window as magic and madness take hold of the village of Trewissick. Although this is the middle book in the series and so there are still things that haven’t been resolved and things that I don’t quite understand yet, I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to continuing with The Grey King.

This is book 13/20 from my 20 Books of Summer list. Obviously I am not going to complete the list this summer, but I’ve enjoyed most of the books I’ve read, which is the most important thing!

25 thoughts on “Greenwitch by Susan Cooper

  1. Calmgrove says:

    I really must read this, having never completed it after having had to return it to the library, oooh, back in the 70s.

    But already my mature self is picking up possible nuances in words — where the real magic of ‘spells’ rests for me — such as Greenwitch being by water (as Greenwich is by the Thames) and the antiquity suggested by the surnames Stanton and Drew (the stone circle of Stanton Drew I knew well from when I used to live in Bristol).

    • Helen says:

      That’s interesting. I made the Greenwich connection but didn’t link Stanton and Drew. I think these books will be worth a re-read after I reach the end of the series as I’m sure there have been lots of little details I haven’t picked up on.

  2. Sandra says:

    I’m pleased you enjoyed this one, Helen. I’ve heard it said that it’s the weakest in the series but I disagree. I couldn’t point to a weak book in the sequence to be honest. I hope you enjoy the next one; I think you’re in for a treat!

    • Helen says:

      So far I’ve found all three books in the series to be of a similar standard and I couldn’t really pick a favourite or least favourite. I’m looking forward to reading the other two.

  3. whatmeread says:

    I didn’t like Over Sea, Under Stone as well as you did, so I didn’t continue the series. But sometimes, especially in summer, it’s nice to relax with a good kids’ book.

  4. Liz Dexter says:

    I love this one, especially, as you say, Jane’s role. I re-read them all over one Chrismas/New Year with my husband one year. The next one is terrifying as one commenter says, I can never get over my fear of the Mari Llwyd and have to read that bit of the book on a sunny morning!

  5. Melita Kennedy says:

    I don’t remember if I read this one or The Dark is Rising first, but it was definitely before Over Sea, Under Stone. I was underwhelmed by OSUS but I thought Greenwitch was deliciously creepy and its female protagonist spoke strongly to me.

    • Helen says:

      I liked Over Sea, Under Stone but maybe I would have been less impressed by it if I’d read it after books two and three. I thought Greenwitch was the creepiest so far, though.

  6. Calmgrove says:

    Right, inspired by your review I bought and have now read this, and already have drafted much of my own review in my head, so thank you for the impetus!

    A little conundrum for you, Helen. I’d been led to believe that Trewissick was based on Mevagissey on Cornwall’s south coast, and I concocted a map of Trewissick for my Over Sea, Under Stone based on the real Cornish village (https://wp.me/s2oNj1-oversea).

    But all the details in Greenwich seem to me to point to the other side of the peninsula: the Atlantic is mentioned (rather than the Channel), the dawns and the sunsets, Merriman and Will heading out to an oceanic trench to visit Tethys.

    I’m quite a visual reader so these things matter to me, but am I overanalysing this seeming discrepancy? It doesn’t of course take away from the power of the story and the writing.

    • Helen says:

      That’s an interesting observation. Everything I’ve read on the internet does suggest that Trewissick was based on Mevagissey, so maybe the author decided the geography of that location didn’t quite work for the story she wanted to tell in Greenwitch. I would never have noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out! I hope you enjoyed the book anyway.

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