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The dark is rising,
This review is from: The Dark is Rising Sequence: The Dark Is Rising / Greenwitch / Over Sea , Under Stone / Silver on the Tree/ The Grey King (Paperback)
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.