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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

cover of Silver on the Tree

Simon, Jane and Barney Drew are reunited with Will Stanton and meet his friend Bran in Wales. They, along with Merriman, are the six needed who will help find the last great object of power that may help the Light turn the tide against the advancing Dark. Bran and Will find their way into the Lost Land (something like a Welsh Atlantis) and go through several mazes and puzzles until they eventually recover the crystal sword, Eirias. Then they all trek to the Midsummer Tree with silver blossoms of mistletoe that appears once every seven hundred years, in order to use its power to drive out the Dark once and for all.

The Lost Land is a city of makers, craftsman, artists. They follow neither the Dark nor the Light, but when their King Gwyddno described the crystal sword that he knew it was in him to create, knowing that it would be a powerful weapon for the Light and that it might destroy their land, his people all still agreed that he must make it. Another character out of the Arthurian legends-- the bard who helps Will and Bran make their way to find Gwyddno is called Taliesin, among other names.

One of the most heart-breaking moments in the book centers around the character of John Rowlands, a farmhand that has known Bran since he was a boy, and who has helped both Will and Merriman without wanting to know too much about what they were doing. The children discover that his beloved wife, Blodwen, is really an agent of the Dark who has been there to keep an eye on Bran (and there are hints and suspicions of her duplicity quite early in the book). Rowlands is heartbroken by this knowledge because he truly loved his wife and feels betrayed at the Light for taking her away from him (and even her memory), and the Dark attempt to take advantage of this by choosing him as arbiter in their challenge that Bran does not belong to the time and has no right to approach the midsummer tree.

Bran gets to meet his father briefly, and at the end of the book Arthur, Merriman, and the other Old Ones (except for Will) sail away out of our world-- it reminded me of Tolkien's Elves leaving Middle Earth from the Grey Havens, or all the royals with the gift of magic leaving Prydain in Lloyd Alexander's The High King. Like Taran, Bran recognizes that this world needs him and decides to stay-- clearly a great sacrifice but also the right choice, and proving, as John Rowlands judged, that Bran did indeed belong to this time.

Jane has an interesting role to play-- when they are all looking for the Lost Land and the Lady (one of the most powerful of the Old Ones), she appears only to Jane, admitting a kind of kinship with Jane: she says that some things "may be communicated only between like and like," and goes on to say that "you and I are much the same, Jane, Jana, Juno, Jane, in clear ways that separate us from all others concerned in this quest..." Jane becomes a point of connection of like and like between the lady and Will (since she is both young and female). There's also a kind of tenderness between Bran and Jane that I found interesting. When Bran and Will are in the Lost Land, Bran comments that a girl is not as pretty as Jane, and Will responds that he hadn't noticed. Later, there's a kind of tenderness and maybe even a wistfulness towards her (for instance, when she can't see the crystal sword after he sheathes it), and he calls her "Jenny." Obviously, it wouldn't be appropriate to develop this thread too much in a children's book, but I found myself wondering if Jane might possibly be their century's Guinevere.

Title:Silver on the Tree
Author:Susan Cooper
Date published:1977
Genre:Children's Fantasy
Series:The Dark is Rising
Number of pages:269
Notes:repeat reading


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