The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (Macmillan, 1973)
This dark fantasy novel for children is one of my favourite books, in part because it combines two of my favourite types of fiction - kids' fiction and fantasy. It's the second book in the five-book long 'The Dark Is Rising' sequence.
The Dark is Rising is a very seasonal offering from Susan Cooper, perfectly placed for a December Fantasy Friday posting from John C Adams Reviews.
Susan Cooper is an immensely popular children's author whose work has stood the test of time in the way that only the best writers can. Originally from the UK, she worked as a journalist but moved to America when she married. She won the lifetime Margaret A Edwards award from the American Library Association.
Two other books in the 'The Dark is Rising' sequence: The Grey King, which also won the Newbery Medal, and Silver on the Tree were named best English-language book with an authentic Welsh background by the Welsh Book Council. In 2002 Susan Cooper was nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award.
A few days before Christmas, Will Stanton discovers that he's the seventh son of a seventh son when his parents admit to their family that he had an elder brother who died as a baby. Will already suspects that he has special powers.
The mysterious Merriman Lyon and the local farming family the Dawsons have already told him as much, and he's learned spells and acquired the ability to generate fire out of nowhere. But his fledgling powers are still clumsy, and Will's misplaced enthusiasm means that the Lady, one of the key members of the Old Ones group into which Will is inducted, is weakened just when the Light need her most.
The threatening figure of the Rider has entered Will's usually sedate village life, and the odd, shuffling tramp-like Walker has also crossed Will's path. He has good reason to be wary of both of them with their centuries old connection to the Dark.
Will's quest is to locate the six signs and unite them. They are one of the Light's objects of power and crucial to the fight back against the Dark that will unfold in future books in the series. Wood, Bronze, Iron, Water, Fire and Stone.
As Will collects each in turn, the danger to his community and his family quickens with the approach of Twelfth Night, when the power of the Dark is at its strongest.
The Dark is Rising evokes the warmth of family at Christmas and marries it to the chill of the dark, ice and snow without. It is bookended by Midwinter's Eve and Twelfth Night, with Yule in between, in accordance with the old Celtic calendar of festivals. There's much of the ancient world in this book, which is more present in its pages than the comparatively modern Christian world. That is just one of the many things I love about this book.
The first book in the sequence was Over Sea, Under Stone and it followed the quest by the Drew children - Jane, Barney and Simon - to locate the Holy Grail inside a cave on a headland in Cornwall during a family holiday in the summer. The Dark is Rising continued that tradition of setting the action within the school holidays. Susan Cooper appreciated that kids love having a book to settle down with just as school's out and they get lots more free time. I only wish I could say the same as an adult because school holidays always seem to be the busiest times.
I've long since lost count of how many times I've read The Dark is Rising over the years, but I still love it.
Many thanks for reading the last in a week-long special of reviews on the theme of Christmas. The comments section is open. I'll be back on Monday.
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my review of Clover by Susan Coolidge here. Or you might like to take a look at my review of The Chalet School in Exile by Elinor Brent Dyer here.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of The Day of the Triffids here.