20 December 2010

When the Dark comes rising... YoRY Part 2

I told you how I began rereading The Dark is Rising Sequence about a year ago. Well, with Solstice (and the setting for book two) nearly upon us, I figured I'd expound a bit more. Not that I sat down and read all five books in a row; I read other stuff in between and didn't finish rereading book five, Silver on the Tree, until August or so. But let's stick to Susan Cooper for the moment. Two of the five books in the sequence are Newbery Award winners, which says a great deal about their quality. And that's not my opinion, that's fact. You don't win a Newbery without damned good reason, and The Dark is Rising (book 2) and The Grey King (book 4) have damned good reason. If you don't know what a Newbery Award is, well, I'm very sorry to hear it. Click this link to be taken to ALA's page of Newbery goodness. You might find you've read something on the list and didn't even realize it. I mean, it has been awarded since 1922, so chances are good. I read two other winners over the course of this year, including last year's mystery category winner, but I'll get to those another day.

I'm still pondering on the brilliance of Susan Cooper's YA twist on King Arthur's story. Although, that's not really accurate on my part. It's not about Arthur, per se, but about the mythology, truth, and artifacts related to Britain's greatest king. (Yes, I believe he was real. And I believe that, barring intervention from Doctor Who and his TARDIS, we'll never know how much of the story that's been passed is fact and how much fiction. Except Lancelot. He's pure French fiction.) It's the consequences of Arthur's actions in his own time, and how they affect things and, more importantly, people in the present day of the books that are the action of the story. More than even that, it's about the greatest and last battle of the Light against the Dark. Great battles have been fought over the millennia, but this one is for all the marbles, as the saying goes. There are difficult choices facing the adults and even more facing the children who are our heroes throughout the sequence. Children and adults alike are fallible and human; even those who are more than human make mistakes and must face the consequences. I think this has to have had a profound influence on me as a kid that persists to this day: I don't believe in easy wins for fictional characters. If there is no sacrifice, it cheapens the gains. You know what I mean? I'm all for a happily ever after (HEA), but I don't want it to be too easy and I don't want it to be a guarantee. And, really, I don't have to have an HEA as long as the ending is the right one for the story. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, for example, is a book with hard choices and sacrifices, and while it doesn't exactly have a happy ending, it has the right ending. I love that book. I should reread it more often. It's not like it takes very long.

Do you prefer your books to have a guaranteed HEA, or are you content with the right ending, whether it's happy or not?

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