Susan Cooper,
The Dark is Rising #3: Greenwitch
(McElderry, 1974)

Jane, Simon and Barney Drew are looking forward to getting out of school for Easter vacation. They'll get to visit old friends in the little Welsh coastal town of Trewissick, where their uncle lives. They'll see their uncle himself, who quietly happens to be a wizard and the most fascinating person they know. If they're really lucky, their uncle might let them help save the world. After all, they've done it before.

This year, there's the town's spring festival to enjoy. And for Jane especially, there's the making of the strange idol called the Greenwitch, a festival idol made yearly out of the new green branches. It takes all the town's women to make the Witch, but her voice seems to be especially for Jane. Stranger powers than the Witch are moving in Trewissick, things the Drew children can hardly even perceive.

The third book book in Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, Greenwitch is one of the best as a standalone story. Simon, Jane and Barney are believable and likeable kids, smart and brave without being superheroes. Their quests, to find out secrets or hunt down tokens of power, are as difficult as any proper mystery. There's very little unexplainable, undeniable magic in Greenwitch. What there is has a powerful effect, emphasizing the mystery of the powers that drive the story more than fireballs and flying dragons might.

Cooper is also brilliant at creating a mythic atmosphere in a few quick scenes. The Greenwitch itself, and the act of its creation and capture, is a haunting scene that would be the envy of any myth.

Still, Greenwitch suffers a little to be more firmly a part of the larger series. Cooper's writing already lends an air of eternal mystery to the otherwise simple adventure. The often overt references to the overarching plot are unnecessary and distracting. Coupled with characters making promises about the future that read an awful lot like theater previews, the otherwise involving Greenwitch is sometimes made to sound like a minor incident by its own main characters.

But this isn't likely to trouble the intended young audience -- or even an adult one. Powerful, eerie and even a little sweet, Greenwitch has real enchantment for any who care to look.

review by
Sarah Meador

16 January 2010

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