Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Cooper, Susan

(1935-    ) UK-born writer, in the USA from 1963, who began publishing with Mandrake (1964 UK), an sf novel. Soon after, SC began to publish her most important work to date, the Dark is Rising sequence: Over Sea, Under Stone (1965 UK), The Dark is Rising (1973), Greenwitch (1974), The Grey King (1975) and Silver on the Tree (1977), all five assembled as The Dark Is Rising Sequence (omni 1984 UK). Only slowly is the reader brought into the full compass of the tale, in which Underlier figures from the Arthurian saga (> Arthur) gradually unveil themselves: kindly old Great-Uncle Merriman Lyon turns into Merlin, one of the Old Ones or Secret Masters, a group of quasi-human beings which exist in a flexible relationship to Time and have long acted as guardians and mentors in the great conflict between Light (whose knights they are, and which represents the civilizing force of the Arthurian idea) and the Dark (which is a kind of personalized entropy, a sickening impulse towards the Thinning of the world into Chaos). Much of the Arthurian wisdom is transmitted to the main protagonist – young Will Stanton, seventh son of a seventh son (> Seven), who turns out to be the last of the Old Ones – through precepts conveyed in a fictional Book, the Book of Gramarye. The sequence, which takes place respectively in summer, winter, spring, autumn and midsummer (> Seasons), is full of characters and icons out of the Cauldron of Story; for example, the Goddess, known here as The Lady – and owing her nature at least in part to Robert Graves's The White Goddess (1947) – is an important figure, and is attended by considerable additional Celtic material (> Celtic Fantasy). The overall tale evolves – not without occasional narrative confusion when time paradoxes and puzzles must be confronted – towards a guardedly affirmative climax in which it seems that the various young protagonists plus Bran Davies (King Arthur's son) may succeed in staving off entropy and totalitarianism.

SC's later work has been more succinct, though not inconsequential. In the remarkably complex Seaward (1983) two young protagonists find themselves in an Otherworld complexly run on Wonderland lines and proving a testing ground for the newly dead (> Posthumous Fantasy). The protagonists, who remain alive, become caught up in a vast Chess match between a Goddess figure who (ambivalently) represents Death, and her father/brother/son/consort, who (less interestingly) represents Life; the conflict threatens at points to turn the tale into a two-sided Godgame. Ultimately the novel unfolds through complex Recognitions of choice and passage into a tale in which Quest and Rite of Passage are the same thing; and the two youngsters choose mortal lives, back in the real world. The eponymous spirit who haunts some young protagonists in The Boggart (1993) longs only for his exile in Toronto to end, and to be allowed back to the enfolding mists of Scotland; eventually he is granted his wish.

Even in her lightest tales, SC conveys an underlying sense of the vital importance of the issues she raises, and she complexly modulates, from moment to moment, the rite-of-passage experiences undergone by all her young protagonists. She gives a sense that the world is important; and that fantasy is a central way of understanding the meaning of the world. [JC]

other works: J.B. Priestley: Portrait of an Author (1970 UK), study of J B Priestley; Dawn of Fear (1970), associational; Jethro and the Jumble (1979), for younger children; several volumes, generally for younger children, which tend to present Twice-Told versions of old tales, including The Silver Cow: A Welsh Tale (1983), The Selkie Girl (1986), Matthew's Dragon (1991), Tam Lin (1991) and Danny and the Kings (1993).

Susan Mary Cooper


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.