Silver on the Tree is the fifth and final book in the Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. It was published in 1977.
Breaking into the peaceful family world of young Will Stanton, during high summer in England, comes a dreadful warning that the Dark is rising in its last and greatest bid to control all the world. For Will is no ordinary boy, but the last-born of the immortal Old Ones, servants of the Light, immortals dedicated to keeping the world free for men. So the great battle catches up Will, his ageless master Merriman, and the strange Welsh boy Bran, whose destiny ties him to the Light. Drawn into the conflict also are the three Drew children, who are mortal but have their own vital part to play in the story. In a quest through time and space that touches the most ancient myths of the islands of Britain, these six fight fear and death in the darkly brooding mountains of Wales. There Will and Bran are caught into the haunting, timeless Lost Land, to find dream and nightmare—and to achieve the crystal sword that alone can ultimately vanquish the Dark.
Silver on the Tree is the most beautiful of the Dark is Rising books, I think, with Cooper really outdoing herself in terms of description and things happening. There’s a nice, but odd, balance between the mythical happenings in the descriptions and the casual dialogue of the children. There is a fine line in this book between the fantastical and the normal, and Cooper does a really good job of maintaining that fine line throughout the book without making the switches between the two abrupt or out of place.
The Dark is dispatched extremely quickly when we finally get to that process, but it is such an awesome moment that one can almost forgive Cooper for not devoting more time to it. And as always, her “this person is part of the Dark” twists are quite unexpected, merely because the Dark always manages to pop up in places you aren’t expecting them to.
John Rowlands really goes through the wringer in this book, but I love his actions at the end and I love what he has to say about free will and choice, especially when faced with the White Rider.
I talked in my review of The Grey King about the flaws I found in Cooper’s descriptions of the Dark and the Light, and I saw them again in this book. Will explains why half of the Dark wear black and half wear white by saying that “the Dark can only reach people at extremes—blinded by their own shining ideas, or locked up in the darkness of their own heads.” I particularly dislike Cooper’s descriptions of the Dark because it just doesn’t make sense, and yes, I know this is a fantasy and her good and evil can be however she wants them to be, but Cooper throughout the series is too obviously trying to make a connection between the Light and Dark of her books with the good and evil found in the world. And this description of the Dark does not fit reality at all. Yes, the Dark, or its equivalent in reality, does reach people at extremes, but not only at extremes.
Speaking of Cooper too obviously trying to make connections (or in this case, too obviously trying to break them), I mentioned in the second book of my puzzlement about her distancing the Signs from their obvious symbol in Christianity. There are even more mixed messages in this book. At the end of the novel, Merriman states, “You may not lie idly expecting the second coming of anybody now, because the world is yours and it is up to you.” Okay, wow, we get it, Cooper. But how am I supposed to reconcile this blatant statement about the apparent futility of Christians in looking forward to Jesus’s return with Owain’s statement a little earlier on, “Hope does not lie dead in a tomb but is always alive for the hearts of men”? I mean, come on! How can you not see the symbolism in that?? It seems to me that Cooper is trying to distance this fantasy and its (Christian) symbolism from Christianity, but simply cannot completely break the connection even though she tries her hardest.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Jane said, “Will Stanton!”
“Hello, Jane Drew,” he said.
“Oh!” Jane said happily. Then she paused, surveying him. “I can’t think why I’m not more surprised,” she said. “The last time I saw you was when we left you on Platform Four at Paddingotn Station. A year ago. More. What are you doing on the top of a mountain in Wales, for goodness’ sake?”
“Calling,” Will said.
Silver on the Tree is probably the most visually beautiful of the Dark is Rising sequence, and even though I thought too much time was devoted to Will and Bran in the Lost Land and not enough time was devoted to the vanquishing of the Dark, overall the conclusion was very satisfying. I was confused by Cooper’s attempts to bleach the Christian symbolism from her book, especially since she continuously alludes to it herself with the dialogue of her characters, but apparently she had to get her message across even if she contradicted herself doing it.
You can buy this here: Silver on the Tree