In Susan Cooper’s 1977 children’s novel Silver on the Tree, the hero, Will Stanton, encounters some boys from his school bullying a younger boy, Manny Singh, on the bank of a stream. They are taunting him for his ethnicity and his musical studies; the biggest bully, Richie Moore, snatches his music case and drops it in the water. Will’s grown-up brother Stephen comes on the scene, and, having tried to reason with Richie, finally drops him into the water to retrieve the music case.
Later, the bully’s father calls round at Will’s house. A discussion follows between Mr Moore on the one side and Stephen and Will’s father on the other. After Stephen has explained that he acted in response to Richie’s bullying Manny Singh, Mr Moore, addressing Will’s father, says: ‘Made a lot of fuss about nothing, that kid, I dare say. You know how they are, always on about something.’ Thinking he means children, Mr Stanton agrees. ‘Mine usually are,’ he says.
Mr Moore replies: ‘Oh no, no...I’m sure your bunch are very nice. I meant coloureds, not kids.’ And after some further, slightly sharper interchanges, he says ‘I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think they should be here, them or the West Indians. Got no right, have they? Taking jobs that should go to Englishmen, with the country in the state that it is…’
An argument develops between him and Stephen. Mr Moore, still sitting in his car, becomes heated:
The man’s face had darkened. He leaned belligerently out of the window; his breath came more quickly. ‘Let them solve their own problems, not come whining over here!...They don’t belong here, none of ’em; they should all be thrown out. And if you think they’re so bloody marvellous you’d better go and live in their lousy countries with them!’
Mr Stanton makes a very measured response, ending with an offer of ‘reparation’ for any harm done to Richie. But:
‘Reparation hell!’ The man started his engine with a deliberate roar. He leaned over the seat, shouting above the noise. ‘You just see what happens to anyone laying a finger on my boy again, for the sake of some snivelling little wog.’
And here is Will’s reaction:
From the moment when he had heard the man in the car begin to shout, and seen the look in his eyes, he had been no Stanton at all but wholly an Old One, dreadfully and suddenly aware of danger. The mindless ferocity of this man, and all those like him, their real loathing born of nothing more solid than insecurity and fear...it was a channel. Will knew that he had been gazing into the channel down which the powers of the Dark, if they gained their freedom, could ride in an instant to complete control of the earth. He was filled with a terrible anxiety, a sense of urgency for the Light, and knew that it would remain with him, silently shouting at him, far more vividly than the fading memory of a single bigot like Mr Moore.
Now, in Susan Cooper’s fantasy sequence, The Dark is Rising, the Old Ones are a select group of people from all times and places whose mission is to combat the rising Darkness and prevent it from taking possession of the world. But when I was reading this passage it jumped out at me how applicable it is to ourselves and our own times. Christians are the true Old Ones, the people selected to champion the Light and stand against Darkness. In Cooper’s mythology the weapons that Will and his comrades use are various symbolic objects which have to be recovered in a race against time. For us, as no one reading this needs to be reminded, the weapons are prayer, righteousness, and faithful lifelong witness. Cooper’s portrayal of hatred—‘real loathing born of nothing more solid than insecurity and fear’—seems to me still to ring true, 40 years later. And Will’s insight that this hatred could be ‘the channel down which the powers of the Dark, if they gained their freedom, could ride in an instant to complete control’ sounds a warning note to me as a Christian.
In my April blog post I suggested that there are moments in history when, inexplicably, normal restraint is removed, society begins stepping towards chaos, and fearsome mockery and cruelty are unleashed. When unbelieving society sleepwalks into the jaws of the rising Darkness, Christians are called to make a stand.
Perhaps I am reading the signs of the times wrong, but I fear that now may be one of those times. This is my last blog post before the General Election. I am praying for all leaders, friend and foe alike, and for all voters, especially those beguiled into apathy. And let us pray especially for our fellow writers, the journalists and editors of our national newspapers, that they may tell the truth. Will you join me?