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Susan Cooper's books are the sort that immediately cause people to say "But aren't those for kids?"

Technically, yes. So is "The Hobbit," for that matter. And Susan Cooper's "Dark is Rising Sequence" has joined the elite shelf of timeless books that are technically for kids, but not necessarily JUST for kids. With her use of myth and folklore, rich language, and a time-spanning battle between good and evil, Cooper spins up a rare tale in her majestic prose.

"Over Sea Under Stone" features the three Drew children coming to stay with Merriman Lyon. In his attic, they find an ancient treasure map that leads to a hidden grail -- if they can only figure out what the map's writing and symbols mean. But they are not the only ones who are looking for the grail -- three sinister people are in pursuit.

"The Dark is Rising" shifts its focus elsewhere. On his eleventh birthday, young Will Stanton encounters the mysterious Merriman, and is told that he is the last of the immortal "Old Ones" who are fighting the forces of evil (known as the Dark). As the power of the Dark grows, Will must gather the six Signs that can help stop them -- and protect his friends and family from the Dark.

"Greenwitch" brings the four young heroes together. Will and the three Drew kids are brought to Cornwall, where the grail has been stolen. Jane is haunted by nightmares about the Greenwitch, a symbolic weaving of branches and leaves cast into the sea, and a sinister artist captures Barney. But the Greenwitch is not just a tangle of sticks -- it's alive with wild magic that neither Old Ones nor the Dark can control.

"Grey King" is the threat of the Dark. Will is recovering from an illness in Wales, where he meets a "raven boy" (an albino Welsh boy, Bran) and a dog with "eyes that see the wind" -- part of an old legend. Will must lead Bran into a closer connection with the Old Ones. But when an accident befalls the dog, Bran is angry with the Old Ones -- until the truth of his past comes to light.

"Silver on the Tree" brings the series to a climax. Will receives visions of the past, and a message from Merriman that the final battle between the Dark and the Light is about to come. Evil creatures (minks, specifically) are swarming near his house -- and the Old Ones, while almost ready, don't have the power of the Lady. He teams up with the Drews and with Bran to find the Lost Land.

Sure, fantasy incorporating old myth and legend is nothing new. People have been doing it for as long as the genre has existed. But Susan Cooper brings the idea of time-travelling immortals and ancient magic to life in this, and avoids the usual syrup and dumbing-down that most authors feel compelled to include.

Cooper's writing is detailed and atmospheric, although the first book is much more plainly written than the following four. She can switch instantly from lighthearted to mystical and back again, and her writing is heavy with description. Moreover, she takes the folklore and legends of Britain and interweaves them with Arthurian legend, giving the whole Arthurian story a new spin.

While some may not like the portrayal of good and evil as evenly matched, the strength of the Old Ones' determination is extremely invigorating. They're powerful, but still very human, able to make errors and feel sorrow. And there are lessons carefully interwoven about good and evil, about loyalty, compassion, redemption, and friendship. These sentiments are never gooey, just powerful.

As for the kids, Jane, Barney and Simon Drew are a little less endearing because they seem a little dated -- think E. Nesbit characters out of time. Will Stanton and Bran, however, have the qualities of timeless characters, both wise and ancient and yet still very young. And Merriman looms over it all as the all-seeing guardian, alternately forbidding and dignified or kindly and grandfatherly.

With its majestic prose and entrancing, otherworldly characters, the "Dark is Rising Sequence" is a remarkable piece of work, and one that deserves many rereadings. Outstanding.
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on 13 April 2004
It's great to start to see Susan Cooper around the place again. With all of the Potter hype and the renewed interest in the wonderful Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper deserves some time in the limelight for the outstanding Dark is Rising sequence. She's steeped in anglo-saxon mythology in much the same way as Alan Garner, but has created a much warmer and more accessible world than Garner.
The first book in the sequence was clearly originally written as a stand-alone book, but I would guess it planted seeds of ideas which took a decade to germinate when she picked up the story again. After the long gap, the next four books came quite thick and fast (coinciding with my childhood) and the writing of them is dynamic and exciting. The characters are fantastic, with the Merlin figure Merry being one of the most endearing attempts to create that arch-sorcerer. They are great fun from start to finish and are as intelligent, fresh and fantastic as when I first read them nearly thirty years ago (ouch!).
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on 16 February 2002
I first read these books twenty years ago and try to read them every few years.Each time I re-read them I seem to find something different to enjoy so I am never bored.I can't wait until my two sons are ready to read them.The way that Susan Cooper combines Arthurian legend with the lives of five very different children is amazing.The reader is drawn into this world from the beginning and is taken on a magical journey through each book until the nail biting and, in some ways, tragic ending.Through the past and present, real and fantasy worlds we follow our heroes,sharing their triumphs,fearing the Dark with them and feel a little bit empty when its all over. Absolutely brilliant - if you haven't read it go and buy a copy. For years I wanted to be an Old One!
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Susan Cooper's "Dark is Rising" sequence has joined the Prydain Chronicles and "The Hobbit" as timeless books that are technically for kids, but not necessarily JUST for kids. With her use of myth and folklore, rich language, and a time-spanning battle between good and evil, Cooper spins up a rare tale in her majestic prose.
"Over Sea Under Stone" features the three Drew children coming to stay with Merriman Lyon. In his attic, they find an ancient treasure map that leads to a hidden grail -- if they can only figure out what the map's writing and symbols mean. But they are not the only ones who are looking for the grail -- three sinister people are in pursuit.
"The Dark is Rising" shifts its focus elsewhere. On his eleventh birthday, young Will Stanton encounters the mysterious Merriman, and is told that he is the last of the immortal "Old Ones" who are fighting the forces of evil (known as the Dark). As the power of the Dark grows, Will must gather the six Signs that can help stop them -- and protect his friends and family from the Dark.
"Greenwitch" brings the four young heroes together. Will and the three Drew kids are brought to Cornwall, where the grail has been stolen. Jane is haunted by nightmares about the Greenwitch, a symbolic weaving of branches and leaves cast into the sea, and a sinister artist captures Barney. But the Greenwitch is not just a tangle of sticks -- it's alive with wild magic that neither Old Ones nor the Dark can control.
"Grey King" is the threat of the Dark. Will is recovering from an illness in Wales, where he meets a "raven boy" (an albino Welsh boy, Bran) and a dog with "eyes that see the wind" -- part of an old legend. Will must lead Bran into a closer connection with the Old Ones. But when an accident befalls the dog, Bran is angry with the Old Ones -- until the truth of his past comes to light.
"Silver on the Tree" brings the series to a climax. Will receives visions of the past, and a message from Merriman that the final battle between the Dark and the Light is about to come. Evil creatures (minks, specifically) are swarming near his house -- and the Old Ones, while almost ready, don't have the power of the Lady. He teams up with the Drews and with Bran to find the Lost Land... and the means of saving the world.
Sure, fantasy incorporating old myth and legend is nothing new. People have been doing it for as long as the genre has existed. But Susan Cooper brings the idea of time-travelling immortals and ancient magic to life in this, with a hefty dose of adventure and tragedy.
Cooper's writing is detailed and atmospheric, although the first book is much more plainly written than the following four. She can switch instantly from lighthearted to mystical and back again, and her writing is heavy with description. Moreover, she takes the folklore and legends of Britain and interweaves them with Arthurian legend, giving the whole Arthurian story a new spin.
While some may not like the portrayal of good and evil as evenly matched, the strength of the Old Ones' determination is extremely invigorating. They're powerful, but still very human. And there are lessons carefully interwoven about good and evil, about loyalty, compassion, redemption, and friendship. These sentiments are never gooey, just powerful.
The characters are overall quite good. Jane, Barney and Simon Drew are a little less endearing because they seem a little dated and similar. Will Stanton, however, has the sparkling quality of a truly classic character, a mixture of a wise ancient being and a preteen boy. Bran, as the heir of Arthur, is a fantastic accompaniment to Will. And Merriman looms over it all as the all-seeing Merriman, alternately forbidding and dignified or kindly and grandfatherly.
With its majestic prose and entrancing, otherworldly characters, the "Dark is Rising Sequence" is a remarkable piece of work, and one that deserves many rereadings. Outstanding.
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on 5 February 2000
.. This is the greatest book (or lot of books) that I have ever read. My older brother read this when he was my age, and was thrilled, as I am. I love Over Sea, Under Stone, with Great Unkel Merry (gurmerry) and his tales of the Pen-dragon. I found myself reading this first book, as the others, in four nights. Neaning only to read one or two chapter a night, I was up 'till the early hours reading 5 or 6 chapters a night! I had not realsised this either. The way she tells about the cave, the way she describes the grey house, the way she depics Mrs Palk among others are all excellent. I found myself mouthing what they said, and could thouroughly imagine the characters, who were described so well. The surprising conclusions and cliffhangers after each chapter and book are great. I have three words for the reader of this review: BUY-THIS-BOOK! Don't hesitate, once it comes to your door, and start reading, you will be immersed on a world of fantasy and adventure, I'm sure you will never forget. You will want to read this again, and again, and a few times more!
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on 22 January 2002
I first read Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark is Rising and Greenwitch when I received them as presents for my 9th birthday. I bought myself The Grey King and Silver on The Tree and at 26, I still love the sequence. I can still remember the two rhymes that lead the children, and us, through the various discoveries of the books. The characterision is excellant - all the characters truly come to life on the page and are so well described that you can see them in your mind's eye.
Ms Cooper has mixed High fantasy and Arthurian fable with wonderful modern (well - 1970's) life: in The Dark is Rising, Will veers between being a small boy who is enjoying a family Christmas to struggling to cope with his newly discovered place in the world of the Old Ones. Now, re-reading the books as an adult, I also enjoy seeing the elements of ancient British legends - John "Wayland" Smith; Taliesin the Bard; Herne the Huntsman and the legend of Llanberis Pass in Wales.
To children: try them!! I was delighted when I found they are now published as Modern Children's Classics, but don't let that word put you off - the books are easily as enjoyable as Harry Potter, but have a stronger element of high fantasy.
Adults - give them a go: like Rowling and Wynne Jones, Cooper's writing is ageless.
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on 29 December 2007
I came accross this series many years ago when I was a teenager, and fell in love with it. Some of the ideas may seem a little old-fashioned these days, but the basic moral values should still hold true. Every aspect of human behaviour is touched on, showing the consequences of what we do or say.

But that is not the reason I love the series - they are a reality-based fantasy, and despite Will only being a small boy (in the normal world) there was much he can change, and even more that he can do in the magical world of the Old Ones. He is wiser than his age and has to hide it so as not to upset his family. Will is in part ruthless - or focussed - and at the same time he can be very compassionate. He is pleased to be able to forget his alter-ego an 'Old One' and still be just a boy, but he accepts the responsibility when it is once again thrust upon him. Sometimes being a boy of the real world gets in the way of his duties as an 'Old One' when dealing with the other children - he wants to be liked as much as anybody else does. Woven in to the story is the legend of King Arthur, always captivating, and it is written in a way to encourage more reading about that legend.

The best book of the series is by far The Dark Is Rising - and can be read as a stand-alone book, but every book is brilliant in its own way. If you want to get to know the series, start with this one, although it is chronologically not the first but the second in the series, as it defines the Old Ones and their duties. Over Sea, Under Stone makes the alter world more mysterious. Greenwitch brings the Drew children and Will together and then in the Grey King Will meets Bran. In Silver on the Tree they all meet up for the finale.

This series is 'Tolkien meets C.S.Lewis' - and a lot of the fantasy books written today now have a threefold base - Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Cooper - brilliant!

I have been lucky to be able to pass my love of this series on to my own two sons; the adventure appeals to them as boys as much as it did to me as a girl.
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on 8 December 2005
...you first read it when you were a child, and are still reading it years later.
...in times of trouble (or chickenpox/tonsilitis) you reach for it like a security blanket.
...you need to buy a new copy as your present dog eared one has lost it's cover, several pages and has had numerous lemsips and coffees accidentally spilled onto it.
...you tell everybody you meet about it and aren't satisfied until at least 95% of them have gone out and got it.
It is a very exciting book, full of adventure and mystery. When I was small and went to the coast on holiday I would spend my days searching for relics in caves and pretending to read imaginary manuscripts. In the Winter, when the snows started I would wonder what I would do if I walked out of the house only to turn around to find it had vanished.
I think that the main reason I love the book is because I was so taken in by it when I was young. I believed.
Perhaps I still do!
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on 10 May 2002
I read these books when I was about ten (many years ago now!) and still remember the richness of the telling. They ate books to stimulate the young imagination, enthrall, scare and lift the spirits in equal measure. I still remember the "dark is rising" rhyme and the (to a ten year old) startling realisation at the end of "Under sea, under stone" of who Uncle Merry really is. Deeper and darker than Harry Potter, they also avoid the predictability and formulaic plotting that creeps into Rowling's series. These books led me on to "serious" literature, drawing me on to read the whole series and triggering an obsession with books.
A child who enjoys these would probably go on to enjoy Mary Stewart's "Crystal Cave" series when older, also Arthurian in basis and magical in the telling.
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Susan Cooper's books are the sort that immediately cause people to say "But aren't those for kids?"

Technically, yes. So is "The Hobbit," for that matter. And Susan Cooper's "Dark is Rising Sequence" has joined the elite shelf of timeless books that are technically for kids, but not necessarily JUST for kids. With her use of myth and folklore, rich language, and a time-spanning battle between good and evil, Cooper spins up a rare tale in her majestic prose.

"Over Sea Under Stone" features the three Drew children coming to stay with Merriman Lyon. In his attic, they find an ancient treasure map that leads to a hidden grail -- if they can only figure out what the map's writing and symbols mean. But they are not the only ones who are looking for the grail -- three sinister people are in pursuit.

"The Dark is Rising" shifts its focus elsewhere. On his eleventh birthday, young Will Stanton encounters the mysterious Merriman, and is told that he is the last of the immortal "Old Ones" who are fighting the forces of evil (known as the Dark). As the power of the Dark grows, Will must gather the six Signs that can help stop them -- and protect his friends and family from the Dark.

"Greenwitch" brings the four young heroes together. Will and the three Drew kids are brought to Cornwall, where the grail has been stolen. Jane is haunted by nightmares about the Greenwitch, a symbolic weaving of branches and leaves cast into the sea, and a sinister artist captures Barney. But the Greenwitch is not just a tangle of sticks -- it's alive with wild magic that neither Old Ones nor the Dark can control.

"Grey King" is the threat of the Dark. Will is recovering from an illness in Wales, where he meets a "raven boy" (an albino Welsh boy, Bran) and a dog with "eyes that see the wind" -- part of an old legend. Will must lead Bran into a closer connection with the Old Ones. But when an accident befalls the dog, Bran is angry with the Old Ones -- until the truth of his past comes to light.

"Silver on the Tree" brings the series to a climax. Will receives visions of the past, and a message from Merriman that the final battle between the Dark and the Light is about to come. Evil creatures (minks, specifically) are swarming near his house -- and the Old Ones, while almost ready, don't have the power of the Lady. He teams up with the Drews and with Bran to find the Lost Land.

Sure, fantasy incorporating old myth and legend is nothing new. People have been doing it for as long as the genre has existed. But Susan Cooper brings the idea of time-travelling immortals and ancient magic to life in this, and avoids the usual syrup and dumbing-down that most authors feel compelled to include.

Cooper's writing is detailed and atmospheric, although the first book is much more plainly written than the following four. She can switch instantly from lighthearted to mystical and back again, and her writing is heavy with description. Moreover, she takes the folklore and legends of Britain and interweaves them with Arthurian legend, giving the whole Arthurian story a new spin.

While some may not like the portrayal of good and evil as evenly matched, the strength of the Old Ones' determination is extremely invigorating. They're powerful, but still very human, able to make errors and feel sorrow. And there are lessons carefully interwoven about good and evil, about loyalty, compassion, redemption, and friendship. These sentiments are never gooey, just powerful.

As for the kids, Jane, Barney and Simon Drew are a little less endearing because they seem a little dated -- think E. Nesbit characters out of time. Will Stanton and Bran, however, have the qualities of timeless characters, both wise and ancient and yet still very young. And Merriman looms over it all as the all-seeing guardian, alternately forbidding and dignified or kindly and grandfatherly.

With its majestic prose and entrancing, otherworldly characters, the "Dark is Rising Sequence" is a remarkable piece of work, and one that deserves many rereadings. Outstanding.
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