Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper


It is Midwinter’s Eve, the night before Will’s eleventh birthday. But there is an atmosphere of fear in the familiar countryside around him. Will is about to make a shocking discovery – that he is the last person to be born with the power of the Old Ones, and as a guardian of the Light he must begin a dangerous journey to vanquish the terrifyingly evil magic of the Dark.

I thought I'd do a review of one of my favourite books to read at Christmas time. The cover I've posted is the one that I've got. It was handed down (or perhaps I pilfered it) from my brother and I think that my mum passed it on to him. Mine looks a little dog-eared now and has the odd page hanging out of the binding. You can get a much more up-to-date cover now and I'm glad that this is still in print.

Will discovers that he is one of the Old Ones and it is his job to help the others hold back evil from taking over civilisation. Will is the seventh son as was his father and up until his eleventh birthday he'd lived a normal life but things start to get very odd as his birthday approaches and beyond it. Evil has already got the country in its grip. Snow begins to fall and soon it gets deeper and deeper cutting off the village where Will and his family live. Will is given the first sign of power and it is this which enables him to fend off the Dark Rider, a terrifying figure of evil. He is found by Merriman Lyon who explains that he needs to find the other signs to beat back evil and loosen its grip on the countryside. To find them, Will has to pass through time and finds that the present day and that of the past is intertwined. We also meet The Lady, another of the Old Ones, who helps Will on his quest.

As the book progresses things get worse and worse for the inhabitants of the village who don't understand the appalling weather. Will begins to understand more about the Old Ones predicament, the sacrifice they've made. The stakes for some of the characters are high and retribution harsh. Although a children's story the author hasn't shied away from some serious messages. The mythology behind the book adds an extra element to it. There's Merriman, a Merlin-ish character, who appears in Over Sea, Under Stone, another of the sequence of books. I can't say more as I don't want to give away the ending but it blends together a great story with some pagan tradition.

There's so much to praise in this book. Aside from the fantasy part of the novel, Will's family is brilliant. I felt that I was in their house amongst all the bustle as they get ready for Christmas. Will is a great kid from the beginning. It's not as if he needs to improve himself or learn to care for others more - he already does. He grows in confidence as the book progresses and he learns how to be more independent but he's thoroughly likeable throughout. There's a great deal of underlying threat in The Dark is Rising and I read it the other weekend in my darkening lounge as snow fell softly around the house. Dark, atmospheric and beautiful - I can't image ever becoming tired of it. If you haven't ever come across this book or the sequence to which it belongs I'd recommend it. There's not many books that can stand being re-read, year after year for, ahem, quite a few years but this is one. I'm so glad it's now being published as a modern classic and I'm always steering kids to it at work who are looking for a fantasy series.


BookZone said...

It ashames me to say that this is a book I have never read.

My favourite Christmas book has always been The Box of Delights. I have lost count of how many times I have read it, and I watch the BBC version almost every year.

shepline said...

I love this book so much. I have an idea that it should be made a film or a TV series - live action but filmed in dark, woodcut, kind of way.

I once attempted to watch the woefully awful film The Seeker a few years back. I got about 10 minutes into it. Its awful.

The book, I love. :-)

Carmen said...

One I have not read either but it does sound my sort of thing!

Samantha-Ellen said...

Fantastic choice. One of the best children's series I've read. I'm so glad it's now got that kind of 'classic' feel about it, because it deserves to be read!

bascule said...

I love this book, Ihave no idea how many times I've read it over the last 30+ years. I also love the "Brisingamen" books by Alan Garner. I recently read "The Giant Under the Snow" by John Gordon and wish I'd found that as a child.

Ian P said...

Couldn't agree more with you about this book. It was read to my class in school back when I was eight or nine and has stayed with me since. Now thirty or so years later I am looking forward to reading to my son. An absolute classic, darkly atmospheric and always a brilliant re -read