The Dark is Rising sequence, Susan Cooper

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Over Sea, Under Stone, Susan Cooper, Scholastic, 1989 (c1965), ISBN 0-590-43320-2, 243pp.

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The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper, Scholastic, 1989 (c1973), ISBN 0-590-43319-9, 244pp.

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Greenwitch, Susan Cooper, Scholastic, 1990 (c1974), ISBN 0-590-43318-0, 131pp.

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The Grey King, Susan Cooper, Collier, 1986 (c1975), ISBN 0-689-71080-5, $2.95, 165pp.

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Silver on the Tree, Susan Cooper, Scholastic, 1990 (c1977), ISBN 0-590-43316-4, 274pp.

I missed reading these as a child, probably because the titles did not reach out to me as being of a fantastical nature, and possibly because of the Newberry Honor status of The Dark is Rising. That’s right, I did not read a book because it had been nominated for an award. At one point, I thought I would read all the Newberry and Caldecot winners, but when I went to work my way through them, I was sorely disappointed. I wanted magic, I wanted science fiction–books like The Twenty-One Balloons–but some of the award winners were serious books on the civil war, or growing up as a minority. I was a serious dweeb back then (no comments from the Peanut Gallery, thank you), and cared only for things strange and mystical. Somewhere in all that, I missed these books by Susan Cooper, ones that I would have embraced back then.

These are the books that make up “The Dark is Rising” sequence, in which the ancient struggle between Light and Dark threatens our world. In the first volume, the three Drew children (Barney, Simon, and Jane) discover a mystical object while on holiday visiting their Great-Uncle Merry. The second volume tells of how Will Stanton discovers that he is one of the guardians of the light, and how Merry helps him understand his place in the endless struggle. The third book joins the Drews and Will Stanton in another battle against the Dark, as well as showing that there are strong forces that are neither also at work in the world. The fourth introduces a very important character, related to the prophecies, and it is Will’s task to awaken the foretold sleepers as well as have this new character join the cause. The final book brings everyone together for series of climactic scenes against the Dark.

Cooper is an excellent writer, and except for some repetition to make sure her point comes across to the young reader, is to be commended for her stale that neither condescends or belittles the intellect of children, while retaining great interest for the adult. I enjoyed The Dark is Rising the most of these five, probably due to Will Stanton’s initiation as a member of the Light being much more interesting then the Drews’ holidays. The most likely comparison for these volumes are to C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” books, but there’s really not enough alike to make that comparison worthwhile. Cooper has created her own world here, and while she uses some of the ancient legends (King Arthur), the world is fresh and inviting.

[Finished June 1997]

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