A writer, thoroughly familiar with English and Celtic myth, legend, and tradition, brilliantly selects and reconciles them with the folklore of her native Thames Valley region of Buckinghamshire to create a compelling fantasy. Taking the central character, the austere Merriman Lyon from her first book 'Over Sea, Under Stone', the author gives him an even more commanding position in the new book, which is the second in a projected sequence of five.
On Midwinter's Eve, the night before his eleventh birthday, Will Stanton, seventh son of a seventh son, finds his world suddenly become ominous: Animals are afraid of him; the radio gives out raucous shrieks in his presence; and the weather turns unnaturally cold and wild. Even a neighbour's birthday gift - a flat iron circle quartered by a cross - seems somewhat enigmatic. Early on his birthday morning, Will awakes to find himself centuries back in time and discovers that he is actually the last of the 'Old Ones', a mystical company whose mission has always been to keep the forces of the Dark at bay. For the highest purpose - to complete the circle of Old Ones devoted to the conflict between the Light and Dark - Will has been born with a great gift of power; and he must now undertake the heroic quest to find and to join together the six Signs of the Light - signs of wood, bronze, iron, water, fire stone - for "the Dark is Rising."
So Will begins his perilous quest; for the power of the Dark is at Midwinter Peak between Christmas and Twelfth Night. Merriman, the first of the Old Ones, is his mentor and shield; he gives the boy the ancient book of hidden knowledge, of the true magic - not "of magic... born out of foolishness and ignorance and sickness of the mind." Will, the Sign-Seeker, released from the laws of the universe that bind ordinary people, drifts back and forth in time, using his newly acquired wisdom and intuition against the omnipotent threat of evil. Contrapuntally, however, back in his own time, Will's Christmas is a celebration of joy, for he is still the youngest in a large and loving family for whom the holiday is traditionally a festival and a delight. But with Christmas over, the emboldened Dark intensifies its assault: The country is buried by the snow of endless blizzards, gripped by terrifying cold, and finally submerged by overwhelming floods, before the signs of light are ultimately joined in power.
The mounting excitement of the narrative is well matched by the strength of the writing, which can be as eloquent as a Beethoven symphony. Full of symbolism and allegory, the story and its implications are nevertheless clear, comprehensible, and enormously exhilarating.
( from Horn Book Review - 1973 )
The Dark Is Rising is the first book by Susan Cooper I read, at school and aged eleven. I, like many other boys of that age reading this book, wanted to be Will Stanton. I wanted to be caught up in a world of adventure and (gulp) danger, but perhaps the desire was simply to be 'special'. However, at the same time, I knew that perhaps really, given the chance, I wouldn't have wanted to be in Will's shoes.
Why? Well, The Dark Is Rising is the story of a dangerous battle. Hawkin, The Walker, provides a lasting image of this book. A tragic figure who shows that there are ultimately casualties in the battle against evil. In this case, the Light, both Will and Merriman, are forced to be quite ruthless in their quest to prevent the Dark from rising.
In an interview after the DR books were completed, Susan Cooper cited a letter from a reader and acknowledged that the books were perhaps a reflection of the good and evil found inside oneself and perhaps indeed this was enough for me.
One of the elements of the book which had most effect on me at the time were the lasting images of the end of innocence for Will. Sometimes burdened by his destiny, sometimes resolute in the quest for the signs, but often a small boy in a large family. I cringed in terror at The Rider, squirmed at the power of the 'witch-girl' Maggie Barnes, but more than anything mourned for the loss of Will's childhood. Will is caught between the emotions and allegiances of a boy (and he is scared) and those of being an Old One. This theme recurred vividly in The Grey King where we again see the effect of evil on human lives. Ultimately, Will accepts and embraces his destiny and begins his extraordinary relationship with his mentor and new-found friend, Merriman.
Another lasting memory of the book is the vivid account of the weather. Contrary to popular belief, deep snow throughout Christmas is a rarity in Britain. Within the book we are transported into a world gone mad as the power of the Dark is personified in the cold and the effect on people's lives. It is this contrast between the safety of Will's family and the powerlessness caused by the weather which effectively presents the two worlds of the book to the reader - the human world inhabited by us all and the world inhabited by the supernatural powers of the Dark and the Light.
This is my favourite book of the series and fittingly, it has been re-issued in Britain by Puffin books and Random House as a 'Children's Modern Classic' book. In addition, both 'Over Sea, Under Stone' and 'The Dark is Rising' have been dramatised by Children's BBC Radio 4.
In the past Susan has told me of the continuing interest to bring The Dark Is Rising to the screen and she has been involved with several outlines and screenplays. And now this is happening - visit the Dark Is Rising Movie page for full details.