Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Dark Is Rising

Lately I've been on a big children's fantasy kick. Perhaps because I found the last Harry Potter a bit underwhelming, perhaps it's summertime nostalgia, I'm not quite sure. But this last week I've re-read the Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper, and I love them almost as much as I did as a kid.

There are five books in the sequence, a bit unusual in the fantasy trilogy world, but I think it's the perfect amount of books for the story that Cooper has to tell. Each of the books stands up pretty well by itself--in fact a movie was made out of the 2nd book a few months ago, which I may try and watch soon since I've liked the books so much.

The first book: Over Sea, Under Stone, tells the story of three small English children, their oblivious parents, and their mysterious great-uncle who are all vacationing for the summer in Cornwall. The children (Simon, Jane, and Barney) accidentally discover a mysterious old parchment, which seems to be a map to a treasure of sorts. Then they discover that Great Uncle Merry (Merriman) is of the Light, and is fighting the power of the Dark, and he needs the children to find the Arthurian treasure in order to stop the Dark from rising. Mysterious visitors appear in the village, and events which seem to presage the success of the Dark start to occur. Jane meets a mysterious man who wants the document badly, and Simon and Barney both also have interactions with the Dark that come a little close for comfort.

The second book: The Dark is Rising, feels much older and darker than the first. In this book we meet Will Stanton, who although is not quite eleven is also an Old One, born to fight on the Light's side in the battle against the Dark. Will Stanton learns that he must complete a quest to find the Six Signs of Light, and link them together in order to make an object of power for the Light. He is hindered by the Dark Rider, and by the inclement weather--England is suffering from the worst blizzards in a century. As in the first book the rest of the family is oblivious to the drama unfolding under their noses, as they all merrily prepare for Christmas. Will is assisted in his quest by fellow Old Ones--including a man named Merriman.

The third book: Greenwitch; unites Simon, Jane, Barney, and Will, who are all spending Easter together with Merriman in Cornwall. The three children aren't quite sure what to make of Will, and some bickering and snobbery ensue. Jane is allowed by the village women to watch the making of the Greenwitch, a Cornish tradition that will greatly affect the outcome of the unfinished quest from the first book.

The fourth book: The Grey King, takes Will Stanton to Wales. It's October, and Will has been ill--the grey mountains of Wales reflect his grey mood. He meets a mysterious albino boy named Bran, who has a special dog, and maybe some more special talents. Bran and Will are trying to solve the riddle of the Grey King to find a special harp that the Light needs for its quest, but they are hindered by a man named Caradog, who is out to get Bran's dog, and by the Grey King himself, who wants desperately to keep the treasure in his mountains.

The fifth book: Silver on the Tree, is the end of the series. It begins in summer, with the appearance of a mink--a menacing, evil creature, at Will's house in the Thames Valley. Will is taken back in time to the time of the first rising of the Dark--during the reign of Arthur. The ultimate battle between Light and Dark ensues, and each of the five children: Will, Simon, Jane, Barney, and Bran must play a pivotal role to assist Merriman in the battle.

I don't want to give too much away, so these reviews are a bit vague, butthe books really are superb. The children are normal: sometimes bratty, sometimes clever. While the themes of the book aren't particularly original, they rely a lot on Welsh mythology and the typical Light v. Dark aka Good v. Bad struggle, they are presented in an original way, and are still very enjoyable. I highly recommend all five books, but I particularly like The Dark is Rising, I think it best captures the drama and intensity of the series.

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