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  • “Winter Feeds It”: Cold and the Construction of Good and Evil in Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising
  • Heidi Hansson (bio) and Cathrine Norberg (bio)

The binary warm versus cold governs the symbolic structure of much fiction, frequently as the actualization of a theme concerned with the struggle between good and evil. The contrast is attractively simple and seems to be especially significant in children’s fantasy where the cold season is often connected to death and destruction, while warm temperatures are linked to life and growth. The urtext in the tradition is H. C. Andersen’s tale “The Snow Queen,” whose central, evil character is resurrected as the White Witch in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) and the evil mother Mrs Coulter in Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass (1995), among others. In these stories, the basic conflict between good and evil is crystallized and enhanced through the landscapes of permanent winter that the evil characters inhabit or exploit. Any simple conflation of cold and evil is deceptive, however. As long as plots operate on a fairly clear dualistic pattern, references to cold function rather unproblematically as a shorthand for diverse negative phenomena, but the history of the concept is multifaceted, which makes metaphorical meanings more than usually context-dependent. This conceptual instability is particularly clear as well as particularly evocative in Susan Cooper’s fantasy series The Dark Is Rising,1 published between 1965 and 1977, where literal as well as metaphorical senses of words and phrases denoting cold fluctuate in ways that undercut the ostensibly Manichean structure of the story. In this article, we examine the different governing principles behind the representation of cold as a moral or ethical value in Cooper’s series, with a focus on how cold imagery correlates with the construction of good and evil power in the second installment, the novel The Dark Is Rising from 1973. [End Page 62]

To determine the ideological operations of a core concept like “cold” requires a method that combines close reading of pertinent passages with a systematic investigation of relevant word clusters and images. To this end, we combine literary and linguistic methods of analysis and make use of digital humanities techniques to map the semantic fields of cold and neighboring terms like winter, snow, ice, frozenness, etc., and investigate in what ways they overlap with the concepts of “strength” and “power.” Digital humanities as a method deserves to be more widely used in children’s literature criticism since it simplifies the collection of hard data to support intuitive, hermeneutic interpretations of the text and prevents analyses solely based on exemplary quotations. It also reduces the risk that a seemingly logical pattern, such as an expected correspondence between binaries like light and dark, good and evil, and warmth and cold determines the selection of examples. Even so, researcher bias can never be entirely eradicated, and we do not regard our method as the “hypothesis-free discovery of phenomena” (Liu 414) promised by machine-reading. In our selection of search terms, we have been guided by the obvious dominance of the idea of cold in the text, with the core term cold appearing at least 185 times in a novel the length of 244 pages, and by the fact that the question of power is fundamental in a work that thematizes the struggle between good and evil. Terms connected with cold do not in themselves provide enough evidence, but they do, as historians Gibbs and Cohen remark about larger text mining projects, function as “signposts toward further exploration” (74). By first identifying and classifying examples of “cold” and then studying them in their contexts, we show how they interrelate with other central concepts in the text, what cultural meanings are activated and on the character-level, how physical and psychological varieties of cold are associated with different characters. An important question in this context is how the hero’s maturation process is related to defeating as well as embracing aspects of cold. Given the story’s indebtedness to fairy tale and medieval romance models, one framework for the analysis is literary tradition and myth criticism while cognitive metaphor...


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pp. 62-80
Launched on MUSE
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