The Dark is Rising is the second book in the Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. It was published in 1973.
‘When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back, Three from the circle, three from the track; Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone; Five will return, and one go alone.’ Will Stanton turns 11 and learns from Merriman Lyon, the Lady, and Circle of Old Ones, that he must find six Sign symbols and battle the Black Rider, blizzard and flood.
The Dark is Rising is so different than Over Sea, Under Stone which came before it. This book is all mythology and gets into it so quickly that it’s a bit disconcerting at first. By the second chapter Will is already traveling through time and meeting sinister people and having landscapes blur in and out. The style is also vastly different than Over Sea, Under Stone. The latter is more “British children have adventures with a slight fantasy twist” and The Dark is Rising is more “this is ‘70s fantasy and weird as all get-out.” In addition, the mythology and mechanics are much more pronounced and explained in this book.
What I love about The Dark is Rising is the Fetch Quest. Will searching for the signs and the cool rhyme that goes along with it…I love these types of quests. The search for the Signs is why TDR is probably my favorite book in the sequence, and it’s the one I’ve read the most out of the five (I tend to stop after Greenwitch, for some reason. They do get very weird, maybe that’s why).
I actually found the Dark to be more sinister in Over Sea, Under Stone, possibly due to the juxtaposition between the ordinariness of Simon, Jane, and Barney and the supernatural-ish power of the Dark. But I love the surprise from <highlight>Hawkin, only because I think Cooper does reveals like this very well. In OSUS it was the vicar and then the housekeeper, and here it’s initially Maggie, and then <highlight>Hawkin’s reveal comes and is shocking and wonderful and makes your mouth drop open if you’re not expecting it.
There’s no mention of King Arthur in this book, which actually surprised me considering that the Arthur lore is central to the sequence. Perhaps Cooper just wanted to set up the premise first before diving into that.
I’m a little confused as to Cooper’s attempts to distance the Signs from Christianity, and religion in general. A cross being the symbol of the Signs just makes the fight between Light and Dark all that more significant, in my opinion, without any need to explain it away. I suppose she was just trying to say that the book doesn’t have any significant Christian overtures, even though it totally does…
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
The movement of the great horse changed to a slow-rising, powerful lope, and Will heard the beating of his own heart in his ears as the world flashed by in a white blur. Then all at once greyness came around them, and the sun was blacked out. The wind wrenched into Will’s collar and sleeves and boot-tops, ripping at his hair. Great clouds rushing towards them out of the north, closing in, huge grey-black thunderheads; the sky rumbled and growled. One white-misted gap remained, with a faint hint of blue behind it still, but it too was closing, closing. The white horse leapt at it desperately. Over his shoulder Will saw swooping towards them a darker shape even than the giant clouds: the Rider, towering, immense, his eyes two dreadful points of blue-white fire. Lightning flashed, thunder split the sky, and the mare leapt at the crashing clouds as the last gap closed.
The Dark is Rising is strange, in a ‘70s-fantasy, lots of description type of way. But it’s a wonderful Fetch Quest, and Will is a very endearing protagonist. Although a lot of the Old Ones are pretty flat characters, Merriman is awesome and the Lady reminds me of Galadriel. Cooper continues to surprise with her twists revealing who is really Dark or Light. Yes, these books are weird, but they’re also compelling and beautiful. Onward, to King Arthur and Wales!
You can buy this here: The Dark is Rising