There was a point in elementary school when it seemed like everyone was reading Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence, and somehow I never did. The other week, I decided to rectify that. I was at the library, and The Dark Is Rising caught my eye. Only later did I realize the first book in the series is actually Over Sea, Under Stone, but The Dark Is Rising works as a standalone.
A few things struck me as I was reading. First, The Dark Is Rising is a great snow book, and more specifically, a great Christmas book. I really read it at the wrong time of year (and in the wrong climate). Second, it was rather extraordinary that so many Old Ones should just happen to be around in this one village in Buckinghamshire. Everyone from the lady of the manor to the smith to the farmer down the road…
Third, and most significantly, The Dark Is Rising really reminded me of Madeleine L’Engle. Both she and Susan Cooper published their most famous books around the same time (the 1960s and 1970s). Both authors write about special children in warm, well-adjusted, close-knit families. In both The Dark Is Rising and L’Engle’s Time Quartet, there is a cosmic battle being waged between Good and Evil, but it’s not very clear why or why Good is Good and Evil is Evil. The protagonists are sort of swept along in events they mostly don’t understand, guided along the way by mysterious adult figures who speak cryptically of a vague, larger context. Also, Cooper and L’Engle both draw on various mythologies to enrich their worlds.
The Dark Is Rising felt like an older kind of fantasy for children (which it is), a kind that I find in some ways unsatisfying. Will never seemed to struggle to master any of his new powers. He would be attacked by some force of the Dark and manage to overcome it just by holding up his collection of Signs. As for the Signs themselves, they just kept getting dropped into his lap. He doesn’t have to solve any puzzles to find them; he hardly even has to seek them out. He also doesn’t seem to direct much of the action. Old Ones just keep showing up and telling him, or taking him, where he needs to go next. On the other hand, I gradually found myself really enjoying the book, especially Will’s relationship with his family. Of course, it might just have been all the snow.