Growing up in England during WWII, Cooper studied English under professors J.R.R. Tolkien (who mumbled during lectures) and C.S. Lewis (who had a flair for Renaissance literature). Because the Oxford curriculum extended only to 1832, she “inhaled myths” at university and read lots of Beowulf, Malory, and Spenser. As one friend put it, “they taught us to believe in dragons!” This, combined with her childhood experiences of being read to in bomb shelters during air raids and walking to school with a schoolbag and a gas mask slung over her shoulders, imbued her writing with a strong sense of place and Good & Evil–no surprise to anyone who’s read The Dark is Rising.
The concept for her “most challenging book yet” hatched from Cooper’s interest in place–this time, the woods surrounding her house in Marshfield, Massachusetts. After a trip to the library, she discovered the land she lived on was once inhabited by the Pokanoket tribe before the English deeded it to a man who was, of all things, a cooper.
From there, she started to wonder how local relations between English settlers and Native American deteriorated so rapidly between the first Thanksgiving dinner and King Philip’s War just sixty years later. “I became obsessed with knowing what went wrong,” Cooper said, but “I wasn’t going to write a history book. I’m a storyteller. I make things up.” So she invented the characters of Little Hawk and John Wakely, who, despite their circumstances, develop a genuine but dangerous friendship.
That’s not to say Cooper’s research wasn’t extensive. She read piles of books and archival materials and all of Roger Williams’ letters. The process of writing Ghost Hawk became as much “a voyage of discovery” for herself as Little Hawk and John Wakely’s story is for us. As for the shocking turn of events midway through the book, Cooper assures readers that despite her penchant for brooding myths and her wartime upbringing, because she writes for children, she always leaves the last line of everything not in despair but with hope.