Today’s guest is one of my favorite book bloggers, Angie from Angieville! Angie is a voracious reader who reads a lot of different books, including fantasy and science fiction, and she has the gift of making one want to read the books she is passionate about—though I’m sure her great taste is a factor in that as well! Her beautifully written, heartfelt guest post on one of the first female science fiction and fantasy authors she read illustrates this perfectly. It made me want to read every single book by this author she mentioned!
On the day of the dead, when the year too dies,
Must the youngest open the oldest hills
Through the door of the birds, where the breeze
There fire shall fly from the raven boy,
And the silver eyes that see the wind,
And the Light shall have the harp of gold.
By the pleasant lake the Sleepers lie,
On Cadfan’s Way where the kestrels call;
Though grim from the Grey King shadows fall,
Yet singing the golden harp shall guide
To break their sleep and bid them ride.
When light from the lost land shall return,
Six Sleepers shall ride, six Signs shall burn,
And where the midsummer tree grows tall
By Pendragon’s sword the Dark shall fall.
Y maent yr mynyddoedd yn canu
ac y mae’r arglwyddes yn dod.
I first read these opening lines in elementary school, and I can still feel, with almost perfect clarity, the shivers they sent down my spine. They felt ancient, those lines. They felt real. And I wanted nothing more than to instantaneously lose myself in their history and weight, to walk through the door of the birds at the raven boy’s side and wake the Sleepers. At the time, I had no idea the depth and breadth of the world I was entering. I only knew with a surety that I belonged there. And so my relationship with Susan Cooper‘s books began. Through her wonderful Dark is Rising sequence I made my first real contact with Arthurian legend–a literary realm generally populated by men, I would come to find (with a few luminous and welcome exceptions including Cooper and the incomparable Mary Stewart). I will always be grateful my initial experience with Arthurian lore came in the form of Cooper’s capable storytelling. Because she was at the helm, the character of Jane got her fair say. In fact, Greenwitch, the third book in the series, is for all intents and purposes her story. And it holds a special place in my heart as much for that as it does because it features a quest for the grail.
This entire series set the standard in so many ways for me when it comes to fantasy worlds and the incorporation of myths and legends in a way that honors the original while striking out into unique territory. In it, Cooper plays with all the familiar elements of the once and future king’s story, even as she adapts and reshapes them to fit her vision of the legend and how it plays out in a more modern setting. Cooper’s Lost Land, in which the young protagonists find themselves stranded for the final battle, is (at its heart) completely Other. It may, here and there, bear the trappings of fantasy worlds as you have known them, but it is (at its very essence) an alien landscape. And so the last of the Old Ones Will Stanton, along with Jane, Simon, and Barney Drew, and the enigmatic Bran Davies, are forced to leave behind our world and navigate a treacherous land of mad kings, crystal swords, and skeletal horses with ribbons of blood blowing in the wind. Cooper’s endings are always somewhat bittersweet, as befits the serious and honest way in which she approaches her characters and her worlds. But I find myself longing to return to them because of those grey areas, because though her protagonists must face the borders and, at times, unforgivable shortcomings of their worlds, they do so with an understanding of their place, with an undimmed thirst for the next horizon, surrounded by the lyricism of their author’s words.
I finished the Dark is Rising books and immediately went on to seek out the rest of Cooper’s body of work. I was happy to find that she set her hand to everything from science fiction to historical fiction and handled it all with a golden touch. Seaward, her scifi/time traveling standalone, remains a perennial favorite of mine. It has been out of print for several years now, but I recently discovered that Simon & Schuster is re-releasing it this coming August with an eye-catching new cover. Prophecies play an important role in this magic-drenched novel as well.
A man with eyes like an owl, a girl with selkie hands, a creature in a high place.
Unlike the longer series format, Seaward is both short and sweet. Yet it still manages to adequately explore the questions of what happens when one has lost everything and how it is possible to go on in the face of the vastness of the universe. It is a book that deserves far more attention than it currently receives and I always recommend it to readers who stopped with the Dark is Rising books, or who enjoy chess, riddles, insect sidekicks, and dragons.
When Kristen invited me back for this year’s Women in SF&F Month, I felt the distinct urge to write about one of the first female SF&F authors I read, one who laid the groundwork for so much of my reading life. As with each of my most beloved authors, I can trace a lineage of sorts back through the years and through the books. I connect the lines and pages from the me that was to the person I am now. Cooper’s words and characters and stories form a bright thread in that picture, their influence real and so very valued.