Thursday, January 18, 2018

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (1973)

The day before his birthday, Will Stanton notices that animals suddenly seem to fear him. By the next day, when he turns eleven, it has become clear to Will that the animals know what he is only about to realize: that he is not an ordinary child, but an Old One, with the important destiny of finding and bringing together the six signs that will vanquish the Dark. As the days pass from his birthday, through Christmas, and on to Twelfth Night, Will experiences the usual Christmas festivities of his ordinary life, but frequently slips into other times and places where he slowly begins to acquire the signs. As he gets closer to completing the task, however, the Dark becomes more and more dangerous, causing serious weather conditions and threatening the lives of people Will loves.

I decided to finally read The Dark is Rising on the spur of the moment after realizing that a group of people re-read the book together annually and tweet about it under the hashtag #TheDarkisReading. I liked that at least some participants were reading sections of the book on the date on which they took place, and though I fell behind a few times and then finished a day early, I found this a satisfying way to really appreciate the novel. Though I did listen to the audiobook of Over Sea, Under Stone a few years ago, it was not until I got into The Dark is Rising that I realized how truly wonderful a writer Susan Cooper is. I don't know a lot about English folklore, so I know I missed many references, but even without understanding all of those, the power and beauty of this story came through for me.

Like Something Wicked This Way Comes, this book includes much commentary about the eternal struggle between good and evil, Light and Dark, and I read many passages as decidedly Christian in their sensibilities. I was particularly interested in the character of Hawkin, a traitor who has served both the Light and the Dark at different points in history. While Will is the hero of the story,  Hawkin is almost the cautionary tale, showing how easy it is for an ordinary human being to fall into the trap of believing evil is more powerful than good. He also serves as a reminder that is never too late to be redeemed, to choose the right thing even after many terribly wrong choices.

This book was a lovely atmospheric read to enjoy during the holiday season, and I absolutely understand why it was a Newbery honor book and why people would want to read it every year. I'd like to let this book settle a bit before diving into another from the same series, but the remaining three books of the series are on my to-read list for the future.

1 comment:

  1. I have seen this book on various book lists, but it never interested me. But your review changed my mind.