Now this is more like it! In the first volume of the series Over Sea, Under Stone, we met the Drew children, Simon, Jane and Barney who had an adventure with their Great-Uncle Merry in Cornwall and found the grail, which was given to the British Museum. The Drews were missing from the second volume as it concentrated on the ‘coming of mage’ of eleven-year-old Will Stanton, inducted into The Old Ones by Merry (Professor Merriman Lyon) to help fight the coming Dark.
The third volume begins back at the British Museum, where the grail has been stolen. The Drew children are distraught when G-U Merry turns up.
Barney said simply, ‘What are we going to do?’
‘Get it back,’ said Great-Uncle Merry.
Merry arranges for the children to return to Cornwall for the Easter hols. He seems sure the grail will have returned there with its Dark current owners. When he meets them at the station, he has another boy with him, Will Stanton. Merriman and Will had been conversing before the Drews arrived.
Will said at last: ‘And Simon and Jane and Barney have no idea at all that the Dark timed its theft of the grail to match the making of the Greenwitch?’
‘They have never heard of the Greenwitch,’ Merriman said. ‘You will have the privilege of telling them. Casually, of course.’ […]
‘If they are to know nothing about me,‘ he said to Merriman in the Old Ones’ speech of the mind, ‘they will dislike me extremely, I think.’
‘That may well be true’ said Merriman. ‘But not one of us has any feelings that are of the least consequence, compared to the urgency of this quest.’
The Drews find Will a little odd, well he has recently had to grow-up at eleven-years-old rather quickly to gain his powers! Simon and Barney anticipate that he might spoil their fun, but Jane is more accepting, and of course, by the end of the novel, they’re all good friends and have helped each other through some of the adventure to come.
The main narrative first follows Jane and the making of the Greenwitch. At the end of spring, in order to bring in summer and hope of a good harvest and fishing, the women of the village get together during one night to make an huge female effigy from hawthorn, the Greenwitch, and as dawn comes the figure is thrown off the cliffs into the sea by the men. Their landlady, Mrs Penhallow will take part, and Jane is allowed to go. Each of the women gets to make a wish when the construction is finished, most wishing for luck in love and life. Mrs Penhallow urges Jane to make one.
As she came close to the Greenwitch she felt again the unimaginable force it seemed to represent, but again the great loneliness too. Melancholy seemed to hover about it like a mist. She put out her hand to grasp a hawthorn bought, and paused. ‘Oh dear,’ she said impulsively, ‘I wish you could be happy.’
She thought, as she said it: how babyish, when you could have wished for anything, even getting the grail back . . . even if it’s all a lot of rubbush, you could at least have tried . . . But the hard-eyed Cornishwoman was looking at her with an odd surprised kind of approval.
‘A perilous wish!’ she said. ‘For where one may be ad happy by harmless things, another may find happiness only in hurting. But good many come of it.’
Jane’s empathetic wish will be the catalyst for what happens next, and later she has troubled dreams of the Greenwitch, who has something glowing inside her. I loved Cooper’s version of feminine power and the getting together of wise women.
Naturally, the boys felt a bit left out, so go off for their own adventure. The adventure begins when Barney is sketching at the harbour and a man in black grabs his drawing and runs off with it. We are back in the territory of the Dark’s minions trying to scare them away. That theft is followed by poison pen letters telling them to stay away from the Greenwitch, and soon the man in black will try to drug the boys in his painted caravan.
Of course, Merriman seems to know exactly what is going on, he’s there to guide the youngsters through things, but he with Will, will be forced to use all the powers of the Old Ones to negotiate between the sea gods and the Greenwitch to persuade her to hand over the object inside her as the novel turns from an adventure into pure fantasy for a while.
This mixture of adventure and fantasy of a more natural kind rather than the mage battles in the previous novel was a huge hit for me. With the introduction of the Earth Magic that animates the Greenwitch, this book was my favourite in the sequence so far. It was also lovely to be back in Cornwall with the Drews, Merriman and Captain Tom (not forgetting Rufus the dog). Adding Will into the mix gave it the edge that elevated the adventure towards the folk horror in the sections with the man in black.
Before I sign off this time, I wanted to do a quick comparison with another work in which a figure is built! Greenwitch was published in 1974, and just the year before a ground-breaking movie in the genre was released – The Wicker Man. Set amid pagan May Day celebrations on a remote Hebridean island, a devout Christian policeman (Edward Woodward) is sent to investigate reports of a missing girl, and he is horrified by the pagan rituals he sees. He discovers that the crops had failed, and according to local lore a human sacrifice must be made. He assumes that Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) is hiding the girl (Britt Ekland) somewhere – not realising that it will be him inside the effigy come May Day. It’s fascinating to see the difference between the two – The Wicker Man is definitely The Dark’s work, whereas the Greenwitch is not a reaction to a harvest, but an offering to ask for the gods’ benevolence. Both undoubtedly pre-date Christianity in their origins.
I am thoroughly enjoying my discovery of The Dark Is Rising Sequence of books, The Grey King is next which takes Will to Wales and some Mabinogion-inspired adventure.
Meanwhile, I am indebted to those reading along with me. See the latest posts by Chris, Karen and Lory on Greenwitch here. See you all next month I hope!
Source: Own copy. Red Fox paperback, 215 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)
15 thoughts on “#TDiRS22 – The Dark is Rising Sequence Book 3: Greenwitch”
I loved it too Annabel, and it was much more powerful than I recalled. And also loved the pagan, feminine side coming to the fore. Good comparison with The Wicker Man, too, although they were on different sides!
The Wicker Man was in my mind all the way through in a ‘that’s the way The Dark would do it’ idea! I loved the ambivalence of the Greenwitch once in the sea too – she took some winning over.
Im so enjoying this tour through the series with you and glad this one was a hit! Next we’re off to the book that made me want to visit Wales. Still haven’t made it yet so I’ll welcome the armchair travel.
Thank you for joining in as always, loved your post. Wales is beautiful, but I admit I don’t know Pembrokeshire where The Grey King is set well at all.
I loved this instalment for very different reasons than for the previous two, principally the focus on the female point of view in the persons of Jane and the Greenwitch. I also liked the sense of continuity with Merriman, then Will linking up with the Drews, plus the return to Cornwall and being reacquainted with Rufus and finally meeting Captain Toms.
I’m still so grateful you’re running this readalong, what a delight it’s proving!
I too loved how this instalment linked the two previous ones in a way that didn’t seem forced at all. I love stories that invoke the typically feminine image of Earth magic and Mother Nature so was bound to adore Greenwitch I think.
I love this one, it was so empowering to read as a young girl and I have loved it as an adult, too. The natural magic and weaving of myth is wonderful.
Oh! Thank you for this review. I read the first book and loved it and have been dragging myself through book 2. Knowing that I will revisit the “cast” from book 1 again will make me get through the second book. Not sure why I am struggling with it; I keep putting it down and leaving it. Must soldier on because I know that it is worth it.
Hi Sandy, I found book 2 dislocating too! The jump to high fantasy made it so different I struggled a bit before getting into the flow too. You do have riches in store in the third book though…
Everyone’s made such good points! Thanks for the links to the Chris, Karen, and Lory reviews which I also enjoyed and agreed with. I hadn’t read this one before. Like you all, I loved the female power rituals, Jane’s sympathy for Greenwitch, the Wild Magic outside Light and Dark, and Barney’s artistic growth. I marked this quote when he’s sketching the harbor: “something of himself was going out through his fingers. It was a kind of magic.” And this one, when Will sees skulls in a wreck: “Killed by pirates, perhaps, he though: destroyed, like too many men, neither by the Dark nor the Light but by their own kind…” These are rich, deep books and I’m looking forward to the next in the series.
What excellent quotes you picked out. Wonderful. I agree it’s lovely to see ‘Barney’s artistic growth’. I didn’t really comment on that having chosen to go down the Wicker man route in my comments! Some of the others picked that up though.
I am catching up but very much enjoyed this book, which I had certainly not reread since it came out. I liked the focus on Jane and the very realistic description of that long ritual night of watching/sometimes sleeping as the Greenwitch is created. The awkward and suspicious development of the Drews’ relationship with Will – Will is just a great character! I wish I had remembered part of the series was set in Cornwall before I visited in July! Cooper now lives in a part of Massachusetts not far from me; actually, in the same coastal town as the woman who sits next to me at work. I told her to keep her eyes open for her when walking on the beach!