The Dark is Rising (re-read)

When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back,

Three from the Circle, three from the track;

Wood, bronze, iron, water, fire, stone,

Five shall return, and one go alone.

On Midwinter’s Eve, the day before Will Stanton’s eleventh birthday, all he is thinking about is the approach of Christmas and all he wants is some real snow. But things seem a little… off to Will. The animals around the house skitter away at his approach. The radio blares static when he walks by. There’s a strange tramp hanging around who seems to know Will, and even the familiar and beloved Farmer Dawson is behaving oddly. “Snow coming. This night will be bad,” he says. “And tomorrow will be beyond imagining.”

And indeed, the next day, Midwinter’s day, is beyond anything Will could have possibly imagined. The Dark is Rising, the second in Susan Cooper’s superb young adult series, watches as Will, a perfectly ordinary eleven-year-old in one sense, discovers that he is one of the Old Ones, an ancient circle that has been protecting and sheltering the Light against the forces of the Dark since the world began. Will’s initiation into his true nature, his powers, and the shadowy but dreadfully real battle going on behind the scenes of humanity is gripping, mostly because Cooper maintains a perfect balance: Will may be an Old One, but he doesn’t leave his eleven-year-old self behind. There is a sense of wonder, unreality, and joy even to the most frightening scenes.

Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long,

Wood from the burning, stone out of song,

Fire from the candle-ring, water from the thaw,

Six Signs the Circle and the Grail gone before.

Will’s task, as the youngest of the Old Ones, is to gather the six great Signs of the Light before the Dark can get ahold of them. He has help in his task from Merriman Lyon, another of the great Old Ones, and from the Lady, whose identity is never quite made known. Cooper borrows liberally from Celtic myth and Arthurian romance for her symbols, and has a strong sense of the history and power of British land and legend, but in the end, the adventures are all Will’s. The blend of the ordinary and the fantastic is perfectly done. My only criticism (and this goes for the entire, marvelous, superb series) is that there aren’t enough strong women and girls. She redresses this balance a little bit in her stand-alone novel Seaward, but mostly if you want strong female characters in this kind of novel, you should look to the inimitable Diana Wynne Jones.

The series begins with Over Sea, Under Stone, and then goes on to The Dark is Rising. I can almost guarantee that if you read either of these beginning novels, you’ll be addicted. This was pure delight to re-read — it stood the test of time beautifully, which is really saying something, considering that I first read it about 25 years ago!

*I will mention here that I recently saw a trailer for a film of this book. It looked like the Worst Film of a Book Ever. I have no idea whether they just didn’t read the book at all, or what. Beginning with the entire movie being set in America (really almost unbelievable), and Will having a hateful family, and saying “Awesome,” and being motivated by his “girlfriend,” and the fireballs he’s throwing… okay, I feel feverish. I have to stop now.

This entry was posted in Children's / YA Lit, Fiction, Speculative Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Dark is Rising (re-read)

  1. Heather says:

    Mmm, I liked this series as a kid and liked it just as much, if not more, when I re-read it as an adult (which, looking back at my lists-of-books-I’ve-read, was the summer of 2005 … I feel like I’m perhaps due for another re-read)! As an adult, I was pleased by the British setting and all the mythic stuff; as a kid, I think I just loved the story, though I don’t remember any of my reactions to it at all, beyond remembering that I really enjoyed it.

    I hadn’t heard of Seaward, so I’m glad you mentioned it — perhaps I’ll borrow it from the library.

    Also, I am really glad I managed to miss seeing the preview for the movie. My friends who saw it (the preview, I mean, not the movie!) had the same reaction you did.

  2. Anastasia says:

    oh my god, that movie. I REFUSE to see that movie. It looks so horrible! Even though Christopher Eccleston is in it. I don’t care! EVERYTHING IS WRONG WITH THAT MOVIE.


  3. Aarti says:

    Wow, this sounds fantastic! I put the first book in the series straight on my wish list. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. So much good fantasy has come to my attention lately!!

  4. litlove says:

    Oh these books are amazing. Several years ago now I started reading Over Sea Under Stone onto a tape for my son. Unfortunately he grew beyond Cooper before I finished it. But I should finish it off – might get it done in time for grandchildren. But seriously, I felt almost excited to read your review. They are special books.

  5. Amanda says:

    This was definitely one of my favorite books growing up. My mother read it to my older brother and me and I’ve since reread and discovered how much I really like it. It’s my favorite of the series and a delightfully thrilling read.
    I, too, saw the movie trailer and vowed I would never see it…but after taking a literature and film class I thought I could handle the differences. It took every ounce of will-power to finish that horrible movie. It disappoints me when great books are adapted into horrible movies because it doesn’t increase interest in the books. There’s supposed to be a symbiotic relationship between the two.
    I believe this series particularly deserves a spot on the Top Ten Young Adult Series–and I would venture to say it should be in the top 3.

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