Susan Cooper

  • May. 30th, 2012 at 7:23 PM
beth_shulman: (book: wizard heir)
I have been attempting definitions, but I am never really comfortable when writing about "fantasy". The label is so limiting. It seems to me that every work of art is a fantasy, every book or play, painting or piece of music, everything that is made, by craft and talent, out of somebody's imagination. We have all dreamed, and recorded our dreams as best as we could.

Susan Cooper

  • Nov. 20th, 2010 at 7:35 PM
beth_shulman: (wizard heir)
"So the Dark did a simple thing. They showed the maker of the sword his own uncertainty and fear. Fear of having done the wrong thing - fear that having done this one great thing, he would never again be able to accomplish anything of great worth - fear of age, of insufficiency, of unmet promise. All such great fears, that are the doom of people given the gift of making, and lie always somewhere in their minds." (Silver on the Tree)
beth_shulman: (book: wizard heir)
...My problem is one aspect of the Newbery familiar to those of you who have attended this ceremony before -  the fact that the winner, accustomed to solitude as a hermit to his cell, can traditionally be expected to stand up her, before two thousand faces, absolutely rigid with fear.
     I did think I'd found a way to overcome this problem. I happen to be very, very short-sighted. I should need only to remove my glasses, I thought, to be unable to see anyone of these unnerving faces. I might even see something quite different. As on of my fellow-sufferers, James Thurber, once said, "Those of us who are half blind are luckier than you think. Where the rest of you see a paper bag blowing down the street, we see an old lady turning somersaults."
     I gave up the idea about the glasses when I realized that if I couldn't see my audience, equally I shouldn't be able to see my speech. But Thurber's remark stuck in my head. He might just as well have been talking abut another kind of minority group than the myopic: those of us who write books - like The Grey King - which are classified as fantasy. We live in the same world as the rest of you. Its realities are the same. But we perceive them differently.
     We see around corners. It's a little like an abstract painting, or poetry - and not at all like the realistic novel. The material of fantasy is myth, legend, folk tale; the mystery of the dream, and the greater mystery of Time. With all that haunting our minds, it isn't surprising that we write stories about an ordinary world in which extraordinary things happen.
     Nor is it surprising that we should be read, today, mainly by children. Most of us, mind you, have no idea whether we are writing books for children or for adults. We write the book that wants to be written, and let our publishers tell us what it is... But even though more adults are reading fantasy these days - in a flight, perhaps, from the realities of the machine back to the older realities of myth - even so, children are the natural audience for fantasy. They aren't a different species. They're us, a little while ago. It's just that they are still able to accept mystery.  They don't bat an eye when you present them, within the framework of the world they know, with things like a flying horse, candles which burn bitter cold, a house in which yesterday will take place tomorrow. Nothing shakes them. Experience hasn't yet interrupted their long discovery. They still know the essence of wonder, which is to live without ever being quite sure what to expect. And therefore, quite often, to encounter delight.
     ...The whole process is a mystery, in all the arts. Creativity, in literature, painting, music... You may have all the technique in the world, but you can't strike that spark without some mysterious extra blessing - and none of us knows what that blessing really is. Not even the writers, who talk the most, can explain it all.
     Who knows where the ideas come from? Who knows what happens in that shadowy part of the mind, something between Plato's cave and Maeterlinck's Hall of Night, where the creative imagination hides? Who knows even where the words come from, the right rhythm and meaning and music all at once? Those of us who make books out of the words and ideas have less of an answer than anyone. All we know is that marvelous feeling that comes, sometimes, like a break of sunshine in a cloud-grey sky, when through all the research and concentration and slog - suddenly you are writing, fluently and fast, with every sense at high pitch and yet in a state almost like a trance. Suddenly, for a time, the door is open, the magic is working; a channel exists between the page and that shadowy cave in the mind.
     But none of us will ever know why, or how...
     My generation, especially in Britain and Europe, was given a strong image of good and bad at an impressionable age. We were the children of World War II. Our insecurities may not have differed in kind from those of the modern child, but they were more concrete. That something might be lurking in the shadow behind the bedroom door at night wasn't, for us, a terrible formless bogeyman; it was specific - a Nazi paratrooper, with a bayonet. And the nightmares that broke into our six-year-old sleep weren't always vague and forgettable; quite often they were not only precise, but real... I don't think the sensation of threat, of an incomprehensible looming menace, ever went away.
     The experience of war, like certain other accidents of circumstance, can teach a child more than he or she realizes about the dreadful ubiquity of man's inhumanity to man. And if the child grows up to be a writer, in a world which seems to learn remarkably little from its history, then the writing will be haunted.
     Haunted, and trying to communicate the haunting. Whether explicitly, or through the buried metaphor of fantasy, it will be trying always to say to the reader: look, this is the way things are. The conflict that's in this story is everywhere in life, even in your own nature. It's frightening, but try not to be afraid. Ever. Look, learn, remember, this is the kind of thing you'll have to deal with yourself, one day, out there.
     Perhaps a book can help with the long, hard matter of growing up, just a little. Maybe, sometimes.

Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books, 1976 - 1985
Compiled by the Horn Book

Susan Cooper

  • Jul. 22nd, 2010 at 3:22 PM
beth_shulman: (wizard heir)
"For ever and ever... so that a thing may be for ever, a life or a love or a quest, and yet begin again, and be for ever just as before. And any ending that may seem to come is not truly an ending, but an illusion. For Time does not die, Time has neither beginning nor end, and so nothing can end or die that has once had a place in Time."  (Silver on the Tree)


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