Tuesday Author Discussion: Susan Cooper

(Brenna’s still out of town, but as with her fiction, she sent her input for the author discussion to her sisters ahead of time. Enjoy! And pretend it’s Brenna!)

As a child, I liked Susan Cooper because she scared me. The simple fact was, I liked being scared, and when you’re eight, it’s hard to find very many scary books. So I liked to get out my copy of The Dark Is Rising (especially on windy, cloudy nights when the weather was really ugly) and turn out all the lamps except one, and then reread all the scenes with the Walker and the Rider and creepy Maggie Barnes.

Looking back, I find a lot of qualities to praise Cooper for—depth of history and world-building, use of allegory and mythology, but when I was little, I didn’t think about those things. The quality that I appreciated—really earnestly appreciated—was, The Dark Is Rising Sequence is grim.

What scared me specifically was not the plot, but the characters. I wasn’t indifferent to epic conflict between good and evil, but it didn’t disturb me in the chaotic, expansive way it does now. I lacked the perspective to see it as anything more than fascinating. What scared me was the fact that even when adults fit relatively neatly into good and bad allegiances, there wasn’t always a hard dividing line. People could be manipulated. They could be tricked. Even more alarming, innocuous characters might turn out to be wicked under their harmless facades, and essentially good people might turn out to be ruthless. For the this reason, I was deeply suspicious of most of the good characters, and absolutely terrified of Merriman Lyon. He was abrupt, mysterious, pragmatic, he did ominous things without explanation, and was basically everything I felt a mentor should be.

I can’t be certain that this aesthetic has influenced my own writing. Or more precisely, I can’t be sure that it originated with Susan Cooper, but every time I go to write a conflict between two factions, both sides wind up being scary. I’ve grown up forever distrustful of the virtuous character, because I’m always expecting them to do something awful. The inherent tension involved is staggering. It’s frightening. It’s enjoyable.

So, I’ll say it like this: when I was a kid, I was absolutely terrified of Merriman Lyon, and I liked it that way.