Failing to Communicate With Your Team: Greenwitch

Greenwitch, the third book in The Dark Is Rising series, reunites the characters from the previous two books. Lacking both the lighthearted adventure tone of the first book and the intense focus of the second, Greenwitch is a frequently uneasy mix, despite some lushly beautiful scenes.

The story begins with the unexpected theft of the Grail from the museum that was supposed to be guarding it. (In the museum’s defense, they were undoubtedly only concerned about mundane thieves, not mysterious agents of dark magical forces.) The theft alarms Simon, Jane and Barney, who correctly assume that this is a sign that the dark forces are rising again. They determine to seek out the help of Great Uncle Merriman—only to find that he is already looking for them to request their help.

(Incidentally, although I have no problem with the idea of kids accidentally happening upon an adventure that helps defeat the sources of evil, I find myself increasingly wondering just why so many magical beings turn to children for assistance. Admittedly, it does seem to work out in most cases, so I guess it’s an appropriate recruitment mechanism. Onwards!)

This is not something Merriman wants to face alone, so with some convenient manipulation of some equally convenient relatives he manages to have Will, with his extensive magical powers, join the group in Cornwall. This does not prove to be particularly popular, since he fails to give Simon, Jane and Barney any information about Will—much less that Will is a magician, and can actually be of some use. Instead, the kids find Will a nuisance.

The novel introduces a new element to the battle of Light versus Darkness: Wild Magic, that is, magic derived from nature that has not chosen to take sides in the battle, remaining neutral. And here, interestingly enough in a series where most of the magical protagonists and antagonists have been men, the Wild, unaffiliated magic is dominated by women: Tethys, the spirit of the ocean and the seas, delighting in flattery and gifts, but refusing to follow either the Light or the Dark, or give either an advantage, and the Greenwitch, a creature who can be summoned by human women, horribly lonely, but delighting in having, for the very first time, a secret of her very own. Jane immediately feels sorry for her, and when offered the chance to make a wish, wishes that the Greenwitch could be happy.

As I read the book, however, I found my irritation at the forces of Light rapidly growing. Bear in mind that in the last book, Merriman nearly doomed the entire cause of the Light and got Will killed by refusing to share necessary information with a loyal servant. You would think that this would have emphasized the importance of full disclosure, but, no: once again, Merriman and Will decide on a tell no one policy, not even telling the other kids about Will’s real identify and powers, or what Merriman and Will are off doing.

It’s not just that this causes unnecessary stress between Simon, Barney and Will (although it does). But this lack of knowledge puts Simon and Barney into actual, physical, danger, and almost jeopardizes the entire mission, since Barney does not know who to trust—or not to trust. Which in turn almost gets Simon and Barney killed.

Look, I’m sympathetic to the “I can’t tell you for your own good,” concept, for both entertainment and military reasons, especially if silence ends up helping out the plot or protecting top secret invasion plans. Sympathetic, but uneasy. But in this case, Merriman and Will have already faced the consequences of rather less than full disclosure: it meant betrayal, danger, and destruction of almost the entire human race. And this is not exactly “I need to keep my plan hidden so the bad guys won’t find out about it.” Rather, once again, this is failing to inform the foot soldiers of the full dangers they will be facing. It smacks of elitism—if you’re not a Great Old One, you don’t need to know—but it also smacks of poor decision making and some major trust issues.

Simon, Jane, and Barney are not exactly ordinary kids at this point in any case. They found a Grail. In most children’s series, this would be enough to immediately put them into the “okay, we usually keep this sort of stuff secret, but given what you’ve done….” That reaction may not be entirely realistic, but it adds a thrill, and rewards characters for their deeds. And in this particular case, it’s not as if Merriman even has the excuse that he is trying to keep kids entirely out of danger: in fact, he chooses to bring them along, and then sets them loose without bothering to keep an eye on them or protect them. Sure, eventually this helps progress the plot—Merriman and Will would not be able to learn certain critical pieces of information without the accidental aid of Simon and Barney. And Jane,not considered important enough to be told what’s going on, is the one responsible for Will and Merriman’s success.

So, to sum up: the Light? Has learned nothing. I find this frustrating.

About Jane: I haven’t really gone into the edging on problematic gender relationships in this series yet, but Greenwitch has some issues. The Dark Is Rising is, for the most part, focused on male protagonists and antagonists, with women and girls in more supportive roles. I don’t exactly have a problem with this—I happily read books focused on male characters.

But I do find myself made a little uneasy by Jane, largely because in this book, her role is mostly as a passive observer. Simon and Barney go exploring, get kidnapped, escaped, and so on; Will and Merriman confront the forces of the Dark and the Deep, and travel down to meet Tethys in the ocean depths. Jane—gets taken to a festival, and spends the climatic moments of the book watching and cowering from a window. This would be less bothersome if it didn’t reflect the roles of nearly every woman in the book: even the powerful Lady from the second book is less an actor than an observer, roles echoed even here by Tethys and the Greenwitch: powerful in their way, but deeply constrained in ways that the men are not. Tethys is part of the ocean, bound to its depths— depths Merriman and Will freely visit and return; the Greenwitch is bound by humans, lonely, miserable, also forced to return to the ocean depths.

And yet Jane, not the others, is the one to triumph over the forces of darkness, doing so not through confrontation, but—pay attention, forces of Light—an act of kindness, through building trust. (And even after that, and after guessing that something is different about Will, is she trusted with Will’s secret or told what is going on? No, no she is not.)

As I’ve suggested, despite magical moments (Will and Merriman’s descent into the sea, and the madness that strikes the village), this is perhaps the weakest book in the series, never quite meshing together, and leaving a certain dissatisfied feeling. Fortunately the series did not end here.

Mari Ness promises that if she ever recruits kids to help fight against the forces of evil, she will tell them what is going on. She lives in central Florida.


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