Leonardo Di Caprio's impassioned Oscars acceptance speech urging collective responsibility for Climate Change demonstrated how popular culture can raise awareness of important issues. As young people face persistent criticism for their perceived lack of participation in political and environmental changes around the globe, it is important to notice this link. The intersection between culture and politics is decreasing all the time, as forms of communication evolve at an increasingly rapid rate. In a world dizzy with information, making choices about what to consume, how and why can become overwhelming: but where this attention is captured, the consequences of engaging a dynamic, enthusiastic and determined audience, has the potential to enrich, educate and change.
With 184,000 books being published in the UK each year, the choice of reading material is even more dizzying than the seemingly endless choices of films and television programmes. While the annual celebrations of last week's World Book Day aimed to engage the imagination of young people in the joy and value of reading, the question about what to engage their attentions with is also an important factor. From "1984", to "To Kill a Mockingbird" up to "The Hunger Games" essential moral lessons are riven throughout literature, and have always influenced curious minds hungry for stimulation. As the world faces environmental and financial crises the value of literature to communicate these dangers must not be under-estimated, and Anna McKerrow's "Crow Moon" trilogy does exactly that for those Young Adults searching for their next literary addiction.
Last year's "Crow Moon", the first book in McKerrow's trilogy, introduced a world in which Magic is real. Situated in the South West of England in Devon and Cornwall, is the Greenworld. Simple agricultural practices have been reinstituted and communities follow an eco-Pagan system of beliefs ruled by traditional Witches. Each person lives within their means, and contributes to the wellbeing of the village. With respect for natural resources, national and cultural heritage, and informed by alternative practices such as Reiki and Tarot, the Greenworld conveys a sort of socialist and feminist Utopia as the backdrop to "Crow Moon"'s gripping coming of age story. However, it is in the Redworld, across the border from the Greenworld, that McKerrow's second book, "Red Witch", takes place.
Far more recognisable and therefore infinitely more terrifying, the Redworld depicts a society oppressed and dismantled by greed, and desecrated by the ruthless search for fossil fuels. Through the eyes of Demelza Hawthorne, the powerful yet anguished teenage protagonist, the horrors of fracking and the extreme consequences of policies which serve the rich and exploit the poor are described with a chilling authenticity. Perhaps most disturbing, are scenes where the sacred areas around Glastonbury have been mercilessly torn apart as a consequence of fracking: plans to frack in Somerset were put forward by UK Methane in 2013. As she struggles with romance, deception, betrayal and grief, Demelza's relationship to the environment itself is also put under tremendous strain as she begins to understand her own hard-won power.
Alongside the action of the story, extracts from poets Algernon Swinburne, Lord Byron and John Donne introduce each chapter, not only reinforcing the heritage that the principles of the Greenworld are based on, but serving as an essential reminder to honour our predecessors. Perhaps because of McKerrow's skills as a poet, it is unsurprising that she chooses such prestigious reference points, and it is a delight that she includes her own powerful perceptions on life and its meaning in the form of extracts from such additional volumes as "Tenets and Sayings of the Greenworld" - a favourite of which is this invaluable statement!
"All loves are great, but the greatest loves are motherhood and sisterhood, whether a sister from the womb or a sister of the soul, a blood mother or the Great Mother of us all."
Published on 10th March, "Red Witch" is a rare achievement in combining politics, history, entertainment, and mass appeal. Likely to captivate beyond its Young Adult target audience, this compelling book series is becoming more essential with each episode.