Saturday, October 14, 2017

Womb-of-All, Home-of-all, Hearse-of-All Night

Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Earnest, earthless, equal, attuneable, ' vaulty, voluminous, … stupendous
Evening strains to be tíme’s vást, ' womb-of-all, home-of-all, hearse-of-all night.
Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west, ' her wild hollow hoarlight hung to the height
Waste; her earliest stars, earl-stars, ' stárs principal, overbend us,
Fíre-féaturing heaven. For earth ' her being has unbound, her dapple is at an end, as-
tray or aswarm, all throughther, in throngs; ' self ín self steedèd and páshed—qúite
Disremembering, dísmémbering ' áll now. Heart, you round me right
With: Óur évening is over us; óur night ' whélms, whélms, ánd will end us.
Only the beak-leaved boughs dragonish ' damask the tool-smooth bleak light; black,
Ever so black on it. Óur tale, O óur oracle! ' Lét life, wáned, ah lét life wind
Off hér once skéined stained véined variety ' upon, áll on twó spools; párt, pen, páck
Now her áll in twó flocks, twó folds—black, white; ' right, wrong; reckon but, reck but, mind
But thése two; wáre of a wórld where bút these ' twó tell, each off the óther; of a rack
Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe- and shelterless, ' thóughts agaínst thoughts ín groans grínd.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Dashed Off XXII

It is problematic to treat florilegia as a bunch of texts piled together rather than as building an impression in 'brushstrokes'.

the perlocutionary effect of a philosophical dialogue

--look at Thomas Roderick Dew's adaptation of Burke and Hume in *Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature of 1831 & 1832*

liturgy as monumental history

the Filioque and the appropriateness of mediation to the Second Person of the Trinity; the Word as Mediator

'the grace of imitating the apostolic way of life'

Chandi in Chandi Charitar as mythological/allegorical representation of victory of divine good over evil

The possibility of sin is in itself the possibility of hell.

Analytic philosophy of religion, when talking about higher theological topics (beyond basic natural theology) seems very often to conflate subjective effect and objective nature.

Anyone rational enough to evaluate evidence is rational enough to evade it.

A schismatic church tends to be a church subservient to secular pressures.

Perfect understanding of sin requires union with God.

The horror of sin is such that it involves deadening us who sin to the horror, like drugs that cloud the mind as they kill us in degrading ways.

Guru Granth Sahib as lyrical philosophical contemplation

"The syllable gu means darkness, the syllable ru, dispeller; because of the power to dispel darkness, the guru is so named." Advayataranka Upanishad 16

"it would be in vain for a thing to be tending to what is impossible for it to reach." Aquinas DC 132

"heavy and light bodies are moved by the generator or the remover of impediment" Aquinas DC 148

DC 165: Every natural body must have a natural inclination to some kind of change, and thus a natural aptness to be moved, if it is to be moved even by compulsion, which must be from a proper inclination by a stronger force.

Every irregular motion or change possesses intension, power (maximum), and remission.

the Mass as linking public and private prayer

pro bono work as a common constituent of humanitarian traditions

Sometimes by attempting to find a way to communicate a position simply, we find its pure cure.

"Beauty is a transcendental, a perfection in things which transcends things and attests their kinship with the infinite, because it makes them fit to give joy to the spirit." Maritain

poetry as trying to capture things by remotion, eminence, and causation

the being-in-the-story aspect of reading

the three great philosophical contemplations: self, world, God

The generated intimates the ingenerable.

the rejection of idolatry, murder, and adultery as key to proper understanding of the image of God in us

"Piety is nothing else than the recognition of God as parent." Lactantius

"A poet of original genius is always distinguished by his talent for description." Hugh Blair

Arguments persuade not directly but by raising the recognizable cost or increasing the recognizable benefit of a position. These costs & benefits may be rational or not.

Anything that can calculate is to that extent a computer; but in this sense there is no meaning to talking about something being 'merely' a computer.

"The sound method of demonstrating a truth is to expose the fallacy of the objections raised against it; and the disgrace of the deceiver is complete if his own lie be converted into an evidence for the truth. And, indeed, the universal experience of mankind has learned that falsehood and truth are incompatible, and cannot be reconciled or made coherent; that by their very nature they are among those opposites which are eternally repugnant, and can never combine or agree." Hilary De Trin 5.6

A template exists as a such only within a larger system.

The 'primitive' character of folk ballads is often really a quality of 'undergrowth', arising from their unsupervised and sometimes even outlaw or clandestine character.

Integrity concepts have to have a tolerance for defect or no one has integrity.

positions as methods for drawing conclusions

"In their several assertions and denials, there are points in which each heresy is in the right in defense or attack; and the result of their conflicts is that the truth of our confession is brought into clearer light." Hilary DT 7.7

"Our method is that of using bodily instances as a clue to the invisible. Reverence and reason justify us in using such help , which we find used in God's witness to Himself, while yet we do not aspire to fina parallel to the nature of God. But the minds of simple believers have been distressed by the mad heretical objection that it is wrong to accept a doctrine concerning God which needs, in order to become intelligible, the help of bodily analogies." Hilary DT 7.30

The danger of apologetics is losing the forest in the trees.

Anthony of Padua & concordantia as an exegetical principle

'Argent' and 'silver' are conceptually linked, but they are, as it were, differently tinged, and this is not a mere difference of sound or marks, but of associations that affect fitness of application. Substituting 'silver' for 'argent' may not affect truth value, but in many cases it will be a less fit term to use, because it will not have the right library of classifications and shared associations.

Utilitarianism is the theory of everything having a price.

territorial, national (ethnic), and ritual principles of ecclesial jurisdiction (noticeably, things can get very tangled when they conflict)

imperfect duties as character-focused

Every constitutive principle implies regulative principles.

Procedural fairness requires systems of honor to uphold the procedures and apply them properly.

Genuinely practical reasoning may nonetheless be highly abstract.

a natural stimulus to philosophy: reflection on the limits of application of aphorisms

"Every novelist ought to invent his own technique, that is the fact of the matter. Every novel worthy of the name is like another planet, whether large or small, which has its own laws just as it has it is own flora and fauna." Mauriac

the constative and performative force of sacraments (to show Christ to us and to make us Christ)

entertaining a proposition and judging it to be apparently possible/coherent/intelligible (I entertain the possibility that p, or the coherence or intelligibility of p)

Shelley's Prometheus Unbound as an allegory of the human mind

Vice obscures.

faith, hope, and charity as related to the natural structure of good marriage

one : remotion :: true : supereminence :: good : causation

teaching, sanctifying, and governing as all tending to hierarchical structure

The office of each bishop flows out to all the Church by (1) communion with the See of Peter; (2) communion under the see of Peter; (3) collegiality with fellow bishops.

Narrative retold tends toward stylization.

"The spirit of the world cares much for words but little for works." Francis de Sales

The Silmarillion as a myth concerned with Free will (cf. Letter 153)

docilitas and active participation in the liturgy

natural : conventional :: necessary : contingent

emotive theories of ethics & the experience of music
the meaning of music & shared expressive/emotive meaning (music as dialogical, at least semi-dialogical like the epistolary) -- note that Stevenson's view is indeed cooperative in this way
music & interjections (Uncle Toby is a good place to see the basic similarities)

The fashions of the world ape the powers of the world.

passions, moods, interactions of moods (ambiences)

the Tower of Babel and the temptation to try to seize divine gifts by method

Computing machines operate as parts of interpretation loops.

Dooyeweerd's theory of enkapsis seems to work best for artifacts.

an argument from per accidens causal series on the model of the Third Way

Sometimes when people speak of historical memory, they really mean historical unforgiving.

It is remarkable that science fiction often depicts futures that have no science fiction.

The power of a law is cumulative and builds slowly; it requires consistency in interpretation and enforcement.

An infinite per accidens series is only possible through the action of a cause outside the series that has infinite power.

the three primary episcopal munera/officia: (1) unity of faith; (2) integrity of sacraments; (3) harmony of the churches

"Every good poem must be wholly intentional and wholly instinctive." Schlegel
"Everything in a truly poetic book seems so natural -- and yet so marvelous." Novalis

Scholasticisms eventually collapse under their own weight because human ingenuity cannot rise to higher-level simplifications fast enough to keep up with the complexification that comes from human discursive reasoning.

Hume's account of causation has difficulty making sense of temporally extended effects except as mental conveniences; this follows from the role of successive contiguity.

All per accidens causation requires a larger causal system.

Bellarmine's discussion of the notes of the Church as an outline of a theory of motives of credibility

truth as (defeasibly) recognizable by: label, primordiality, durability, consensus of many, provenance, temporal coherence, structural coherence, internal goodness, efficacy, goodness-causing, diagnostic sign, predictive confirmation, confession of adversaries, detriment of denial, benefit of acceptance

"The emotive meaning of a word is the tendency of a word, arising through the history of its usage, to produce (result from) affective responses in people. It is the immediate aura of feeling which hovers about a word." Stevenson

moral sense of responsibility // musical investment

- a musical sense theory (cf. Hutcheson on the sense of harmony)

Music is motivating, in at least a vague way.

Disapproval cannot be mere dislike, and comparison of cases of disapproval shows that it generally has reference to a standard.

It is remarkable how often emotivist and expressivist accounts of ethics read as if they were written by people who have no conception of human emotional life or its expressions.

obligations arising from the need to do good before death, if possible

fiction : lying :: lending : usury

hypothesis as fiction under inquiry, postulate as fiction under practical problem-solving

the diversity of rites as allowing self-correction and redundancy
self-correction, redundancy, cooperation, complementarity, hierarchy, restraint, rich perspective

exemplar-occasion, exemplar-agent

That we can have means to ends establishes that there are causal dispositions.

Experimental design is planning using knowledge of causal dispositions.

deontic limitation as intrinsic to the notion of marriage

hidden decency as a narrative trope

Nietzsche on objectivity as intellectual castration.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Evening Note for Thursday, October 12

Thought for the Evening: Of the Logic of Imperatives

Inference is often assumed to be a matter of assertions; but there are good reasons for thinking that you can infer with imperatives. Consider, for instance, these arguments:

Don't brake while accelerating. (A little later) You are accelerating; therefore, don't brake.

A: Drive to Cleveland to see your mother.
B: I cannot drive to Cleveland unless I rent a car.
A: So rent a car!

Act only according to that maxim that you can at the same time will to be universal law. The maxim to lie to get money is not such a maxim. Therefore do not act according to it.

A: You have to go to town, either by bus or by car.
B: I can't go by car; my car's in the shop.
A: Then go by bus.

A: Take all of Joe's things to the station.
B: Does this belong to Joe?
A: Yes, so take that.

All of these seem to be reasoning involving imperatives, with imperatives in either the premises or the conclusions. Because of the assumption that inference is tied to assertion, though, there was a big dispute, as far as a logical dispute can be big, a few decades back, over whether you could have a logic involving imperatives, in the proper sense. Héctor-Neri Castañeda (who is still absurdly underappreciated) was probably the most influential voice arguing that you could indeed have such a logic. In the course of the dispute it became clear that the two major arguments against were (1) the fact that imperatives have no truth values; and (2) that trying to do an imperative logic on analogy with that for assertions creates some anomalies.

The first of these is certainly the major obstacle for most people; it has become common to associate logic so much with truth values and truth conditions that the prejudice against a non-truth-value logic is quite strong. But it's clear enough that you can have things that are analogous to truth values -- the one that I think is usually most useful is concerned with whether a command or imperative is 'in force', but there are others. I, of course, am on record saying that you can be interested in many other things beside truth values and truth conditions (possibility values and possibility conditions, for instance), so I am utterly unimpressed with this line of argument. But it also, I think, serves to distract from another, more important point, which is that you can obviously give rules governing reasoning with imperatives.

We can identify rule-governed phenomena involving imperatives. For instance, we can identify contradictories:

Go to the store. Don't go to the store.

Obviously, this is because we have some form of negation. We can find imperatives that are equivalent:

Go to Canada. Go to the country that is second largest by land area.

That means that we can substitute imperatives for another. Some imperatives include each other. For instance, 'Do this' and 'Do something' are related in that if you have conform to the former, you have also conformed to the latter, although the reverse is not true. This is at least something like an implication. We can have conjunctions (Talk to Bob and talk to Jane), disjunctions (Talk to Bob or talk to Jane); we can eliminate the conjunction by taking one of the conjuncts, and we can eliminate the disjunction by something that looks very like disjunctive syllogism. These are not arbitrary moves; they are rule-governed, and so there should be some logic to them.

The second major reason used by doubters is that we get puzzles if we take a logic of imperatives to be very like a logic of assertions. To some extent, this objection only gets its force by assuming that a logic of imperatives and a logic of assertions would have to be isomorphic, which was a common supposition in the attempt to build a logic of imperatives, but I see no reason to assume such a thing farther than the evidence requires. (It should be noted, that some anomalies are arguably not. For instance, one of the most common examples makes use of disjunction addition: 'Post this letter; therefore, post this letter or burn it.' But this is not a problem. Because disjunction addition is not standard for natural language assertions, either; it is a rule that is proposed not because it fits the way we talk -- it very much does not -- but because it simplifies the organization of the formal logical system. Thus some of these problems are due to the complications that come from trying to translate between natural languages and artificial languages, and are not actually unique to imperatives.) But there do seem to be some differences. The most obvious one, of course, is that you can't understand arguments based on imperatives to have validity in the sense of truth-preservation. Rather, there needs to be an analogous kind of validity -- in-force-preservation, perhaps.

I think there's another big issue that hasn't been considered at all in the literature. Every attempt at formulating a logic of imperatives that I have seen has focused on building the logic on the model of propositional logic. But there seems good reason to think that this will inevitably give us some odd results. Many imperatives seem to work not like unitary propositions but like predications. We have a subject (usually You), and what we do is apply the imperative to the subject: (You) -- go to the store. This is perhaps not true of all imperatives (if I say, 'This shall be done' as a command, it seems like the imperative is being treated more like a proposition and than like a predication), but it does seem true of enough that we should consider that a propositional-logic model might sometimes not fit things very well.

Various Links of Interest

* Thony Christie discusses the logician Christine Ladd-Franklin.

* Ralph C. Wood, J. R. R. Tolkien's Vision of Sorrowful Joy

* Razib Khan, The 100 Million Killed Under Communist Regimes Matter

* Clare Coffey, Addictions flourish when people are left to manage pain

Currently Reading

Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard
Maximos the Confessor, On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The Ambigua, Volume II
Cajetan, Commentary on St. Thomas Aquinas' On Being & Essence
Edith Stein, The Hidden Life: Essays, Meditations, Spiritual Texts

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Originality and Eccentricity

The odd manner in which Mr. Mill worships mere variety, and confounds the proposition that variety is good with the proposition that goodness is various, is well illustrated by the lines which follow this passage:-- "Exceptional individuals ... should be encouraged in acting differently from the mass" --in order that there may be enough of them to "point out the way." Eccentricity is much required in these days. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded, and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportioned to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric makes the chief danger of the time.

If this advice were followed, we should have as many little oddities in manner and behaviour as we have people who wish to pass for men of genius. Eccentricity is far more often a mark of weakness than a mark of strength. Weakness wishes, as a rule, to attract attention by trifling distinctions, and strength wishes to avoid it. Originality consists in thinking for yourself, not in thinking differently from other people.

James Fitzjames Stephen, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Chapter II

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Subject to Truth and Free Because of It

The will to know, and to know freely, corresponds to the idea of ​​creation. The created world is rational, and this means that we can know it. Its rationality is a harmony that one contemplates: theory comes from theorein which means to contemplate: the truth draws to itself like the good and the beautiful. Indeed, creation is the work of a transcendent author, thus infinitely complex, the comprehension of which is never exhausted. Hence the idea of ​​a truth always to be sought and mined. It cannot be contained in a single book, as totalitarianisms (Stalin) or total utopias (Orwell) or fantastic literatures (Borgès) would want.

The regime of truth, under which we live, implies two essential consequences or characteristics:

Truth implies universality, because a true proposition is everywhere and for all. While a myth is only valid for a group, a tribe, a culture.

Truth implies freedom, because in the regime of freedom an arbitrary authority cannot impose dogmas according to its good pleasure: the human mind is at the same time subject to truth and free because of it.

Chantal Delsol, "L’idée d’Université" (my translation).

John of St. Thomas and the Verecundia Problem

I've noted before that there are some puzzles about Aquinas's treatment of verecundia as an integral part of the virtue of temperance. I noticed, recently reading John of St. Thomas's Introduction to the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas (as translated by Ralph McInerny), his interpretation of it:

He treats modesty first, whereby one fears to be confused or tested by the base. It differs from penance because penance grieves for sin as such as offensive to God, but modesty flees the baseness of sin insofar as it fears its dishonor and disorder. Thus this does not pertain to the perfect man, nor is it a virtue, but rather a laudable passion, since it does not directly seek the good but flees evil because of the dishonor of it. Thus modesty is not a component part of temperance but disposes to it.
[John of St. Thomas, Introductionto the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, McInerny,tr. St. Augustine's Press (South Bend, IN: 2004) p. 129.]

This is a very reasonable interpretation; verecundia

(1) is counted as a quasi-integral part of temperance;
(2) is not a virtue because it is inconsistent with complete virtue;
(3) is instead a laudable passion.

The major problem with putting these together is that temperance itself is required for complete virtue, and we have the puzzle of how temperance can be required for complete virtue when one of its integral parts is inconsistent with complete virtue. This is handled by the next point,

(4) verecundia is not a component part of temperance but dispositive to it.

This resolves the complete virtue puzzle completely: verecundia disposes to temperance, but is not required for temperance as such. Aquinas says as much at ST 2-2.144.4ad4. But it raises questions of its own.

This very neat and clean summary makes it easier to identify the verecundia problem. An integral or quasi-integral part of virtue is "in likeness to integral parts," that is, in the sense that wall and floors are parts of the whole that is a house, "so that the things which need to concur for the perfect act of a virtue, are called parts" (ST 2-2.44.1). Therefore, it seems that:

(a) if verecundia is a quasi-integral part, it should not be merely dispositive;
(b) if verecundia is inconsistent with complete virtue, it cannot be required for the perfect act of temperance.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Music on My Mind

Billy Joel,"Miami 2017". A bit of sci-fi apocalypticism from 1976.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Fortnightly Book, October 8

If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, born in Palermo, Sicily, spent a considerable portion of his life thinking through a novel. He had the idea of writing a story about nineteenth-century, in the time of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, based loosely on the life of his great-grandfather, who was Prince of Lampedusa in that period, and he worked on it, off and on, for decades. Every word, every sentence was closely scrutinized. Finally, in the 1950s it began to take shape, and he knew it to be good. So he submitted it to a publisher. It was rejected. He submitted it to another publisher. It was rejected. One of those rejections may or may not have been due to a clerical error. But Lampedusa was dying of a tumor in the lung, and so he never saw it published. His will asked that his heirs do everything in their power to get it respectably published, and so it was, in 1958, a year after his death, under its final title, Il Gattopardo. It is often regarded as the greatest Italian novel of the twentieth century.

A gattopardo is apparently a serval, but the English title has always been The Leopard. I will be reading the Pantheon Books edition, translated by Archibald Colquhoun, which is based on a more careful examination of the manuscript (Lampedusa had only one final draft manuscript) than some of the early published versions, and has an introduction by Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi, Lampedusa's cousin and heir, who was involved in the process of getting it published.

It is the 1860s, last decade of a divided Italy; the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, decadent and degenerate, is on the verge of destruction by the Risorgiomento. Garibaldi has already started the process that will bring the Kingdom to its knees. And, among the soon-to-be-extinct aristocracy, Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, must decide whether to uphold the older values of the aristocracy or, as his nephew Tancredi advises, change so as to maintain the family's influence. Either way, much will crumble to dust.

Susan Cooper, The Dark Is Rising Sequence


Opening Passage: From Over Sea, Under Stone:

"Where is he?"

Barney hopped from one foot to the other as he clambered down from the train, peering in vain through the white-faced crowds flooding eagerly to the St Austell ticket barrier. "Oh, I can't see him. Is he there?"

"Of course he's there," Simon said, struggling to clutch the long canvas bundle of his father's fishing rods. "He said he'd meet us. With a car."

Behind them, the big diesel locomotive hooted like a giant owl, and the train began to move out.

"Stay where you are a minute," Father said, from a barricade of suitcases. "Merry won't vanish. Let people get clear." (p. 1)

From The Dark Is Rising:

"Too many!' James shouted, and slammed the door behind him.

"What?" said Will.

"Too many kids in this family, that's what. Just too many." (p. 3)

From Greenwitch:

Only one newspaper carried the story in detail, under the headline: TREASURES STOLEN FROM MUSEUM. (p. 1)

From The Grey King:

"Are you awake, Will? Will? Wake up, it's time for your medicine, love...."

The face swung like a pendulum, to and fro; rose high up in a pink blur; dropped again; divided into six pink blurs, all of them spinning madly like wheels. He closed his eyes. He could feel sweat cold on his forehead, panic cold in his mind. I've lost it. I've forgotten! Even in darkness the world spun round. There was a great buzzing in his head like rushing water, until for a moment the voice broke through it. (p. 1)

From Silver on the Tree:

Will said, turning a page, "He liked woad. He says--listen--the decoction of Woad drunken is good for wounds in bodies of a strong constitution, as of country people, and such as are accustomed to great labour and hard coarse fare." (p. 1)


When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back;
Three from the circle, three from the track....

The series follows the adventures of the Drew children (Simon, Jane, and Barney), Will Stanton, and Bran Davies as they find themselves enmeshed in a great cosmic war between the Light and the Dark, a war in which they fulfill a role in prophecies with the help of Merriman Lyon, the oldest of the Old Ones.

...and the grail gone before

The first in the series, Over Sea, Under Stone, is the one that is most different from the rest of the series, being less fantasy and more mystery that alludes to, but for the most part does not much depend on, larger fantasy elements. Invited to the fishing village of Trewissick, in Cornwall, by Great Uncle Merry (not literally their uncle, but a longstanding family friend), the Drews discover an ancient map and find themselves in a race to discover the long-lost grail before the sinister Mr. Hastings and his associates.

Six signs the circle...

Will Stanton, born on Midwinter's Day as the seventh son of a seventh son, discovers that he has been born into a prophetic role as the last and youngest of the Old Ones, guardians of the Light, and that his task is to gather the six signs, powerful relics that can aid the Light in turning back the Dark. Completing the circle of the Old Ones, he must complete the circle of signs; but the Dark is at its strongest in the days after Midwinter's Day, and the Rider of the Dark will stop at nothing to prevent him from succeeding. He walks a path laid out by prophecy -- but the Dark has its own prophecies, and victory cannot come without great risk.

Power from the green witch, lost beneath the sea...

The grail has been stolen from the museum where it had been housed, and the Drew children return to Trewissick ready to discover how to get it back. They are very disappointed when they discover that Merry has invited a boy named Will Stanton, as well, which will make hunting for the grail much more difficulty. In Trewissick, it is the time of the Greenwitch, an ancient festival in which the townspeople make a figure out of green branches and cast it into the sea for luck. Jane will discover that the Greenwitch holds a secret on which the fate of the world depends -- and the Greenwitch is a thing of Wild Magic, with no allegiance either to the Dark or to the Light.

Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold...

Will is recovering from hepatitis, which has caused him to forget something absolutely essential; he can remember nothing more about it than that it starts with "On the day of the dead". He is sent to family in Wales to recover, and there meets Bran Davies, an albino boy. Together, they unravel the secret protected by the Grey King, one of the most powerful of all the agents of the Dark, as well as the secret of Bran's past.

All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.

The Dark has begun its final rising, a rising greater than any since it was partly back by Arthur, the greatest champion of the Light, and the Old Ones prepare for their last chance to stop it. Will returns to Wales with the Drews to find the crystal sword of the Pendragon, the last great relic of the Light needed to take the silver mistletoe on the midsummer tree, which grants great power to those who have it.

Fantasy relies on seeing the world, as we know it, not as an encompassing whole but as a thing with borders, beyond which is another world in which things work very differently and which can be explored imaginatively. Proper handling of those borders is the most important element in what is usually (and sometimes misleadingly, since it need not be a border that literally divides worlds) called 'world-building' when speaking of fantasy. Much of Tolkien's pre-eminence, for instance, comes from his deft constructions and handling of borders within borders within borders -- the hobbits are over the border from the reader, but the hobbits themselves are shielded by a border from a great world, and that greater world has its own border. Once you establish the border dividing our world from the other-worldly, there are many things you can do it. The mundane can stumble into the other world; the other-worldly can intrude into the mundane; they can run in parallel; one can stay entirely on the side of the mundane but in such a way as to suggest the existence of the other-worldly; one can stay entirely on the side of the other-worldly; if your story is sophisticated enough, you can mix these in various ways. Cooper is quite good at giving us a diverse treatment. The Drews at first don't cross the threshold, but find hints of the other world; in the next book, Will crosses it; in the third and fourth, the other world intrudes on the mundane in significant ways; in the fifth, we are in a sense always on the otherworldly side, but have to cross from other world to even stranger other world. All of these are handled well.

I think the series overall struggles a bit when it comes to integrating the "three from the circle" (Merry, Will, Bran) and the "three from the track" (the Drews); indeed, I think it struggles somewhat in integrating the mundane from the other-worldly in general. Within a single book, it does not interfere with the story, although I think it is nonetheless noticeable in SOTT; OSUS avoids the problem by deferring it, and TDIR manages to hide it by interweaving the story with the liturgical and paraliturgical elements of the Christmas season (somewhat ironically, since TDIR also makes clear that the series assumes a non-Christian cosmos). But the scale of things in the last three books is so great that the world of the Drews and the world of the Old Ones sometimes jar against each other a bit. Nonetheless, one needs both. For one thing, it is only because of the Drews that we can take the Light to be actually good, rather than just a different faction in a largely inexplicable war; we learn already in TDIR that the Light can be rather ruthless, and it is strongly hinted in TGK that Will's serious illness was simply a tactical move by the Light. The Light does benefit from the associations with Arthurian legend, but the associations are all stripped of exactly those things that would mark the Light as unequivocally good -- Arthur is not a Christian king, and the grail is not an instrument of divine grace. It is really the Drews who provide a reference point that lets us treat the victory of the Light as the victory of good.

TDIR is in many ways the best book of the series. I remembered liking Greenwitch quite well on my last reading, and I think it actually holds up. It is usually regarded as the weakest in the series (and I have held the same at some point), but having read it again, I'm still inclined to think it the second best, although its story is complicated somewhat by being the first book in the series definitely to make the series a series; OSUS and TDIR could practically stand alone, since the only thing relating them before Greenwitch starts tying them together is Merriman Lyon. It is also, I think, only Greenwitch that gives the Light an unambiguously moral victory; OSUS shows the cleverness of the Drews and TDIR the determination of Will, TGK gives us a victory that is (unsurprisingly) grey and mixed, and the victory in SOTT is so abstract as to border on allegorical, but the victory of the Light in Greenwitch depends entirely on human compassion. The series trades very heavily on the moral overtones of 'Light' and 'Dark', but for most of the series, you could just name them 'Red' and 'Blue' without all that much change, beyond the fact that "The Blue is rising" lacks that ominous and urgency-inducing ring. But Greenwitch is a struggle not just between the Light and the Dark, but between light and dark in precisely a moral sense.

Besides some excellent characterization and 'world-building', the series also is strengthened by the fact that there many very memorable scenes -- the dog Rufus coming to the rescue in OSUS, the Christmas party and also the flood in TDIR, the agent of the dark painting his spell and also the rise of the Wild Magic in Greenwitch, the riddle test in TGK, and the train to the midsummer tree in SOTT stand out particularly.

Favorite Passage: A part of one of the strongest portions of Greenwitch, a point at which it makes a forceful turn:

"You are a made creature only, you will do as I say!" Arrogance sharpened the man's tone, gave it an edge of command. "Give the thing to me, at once, before the Dark shall blast you out of this world!"

The children felt Captain Toms gently but urgently drawing them all back against the wall, into a corner almost cut off from the spot where the two figures confronted one another on the quay. Nervously they moved as they were told.

From the blackness that was the Greenwitch came a hair-raising sound: a long low lamenting, like a moan, rising and falling in a mumbling whine. Then it stopped, and the creature began muttering to itself, broken words that they could not make out. Then there was silence for a moment and all at once it said very clearly, "You have not the full power of the Dark." (p. 107)

Recommendation: Recommended.


Susan Cooper, Over Sea, Under Stone, Aladdin (New York: 1989).

The Dark Is Rising, Aladdin (New York: 1986).

Greenwitch, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York: 2013).

The Grey King, Collier (New York: 1986).

Silver on the Tree, Collier (New York: 1986).