If you joined in the readalong last month thank you and welcome back, and hello to any new readers. If you need to nip back – here’s the link to my post on the first book – Over Sea, Under Stone …
The second novel is where things really begin for many people, it’s the one that gives the sequence its name. There was a gap of eight years between the publication of first book in 1965 and the second in 1973, and for many readers, the first book is a mere curtain-raiser, written for a slightly younger audience. OS,US is, first and foremost, an adventure story and quest, with just a hint of magic. That’s not to dismiss it though, as the book introduces us to Merriman Lyon who also plays a large part in the second volume too. (Remember, I’m reading these books for the first time, I have no idea of where they’re going to end up).
Thus the sense of dislocation was quite strong for me as I opened TDiR as there is no sign of the Drew family at all. We’ve left summer holidays in Cornwall far behind, our new locale is a village in the Thames Valley to the west of London. It’s approaching Christmas and the large Stanton family are getting ready for the yule celebrations. But first comes young Will’s birthday, which is on the winter solstice and before that Will goes out with his older brother James to collect various bits and pieces for his mother. They meet Farmer Dawson who mysteriously takes Will to one side, sending James to the barn for the hay they need.
‘You have a birthday coming,’ the farmer said.
‘Mmm,’ said Will.
‘I have something for you.’ He glanced briefly round the yard, and withdrew one hand from his pocket; in it, Will saw what looked like a kind of ornament, made of black metal, a flat circle quartered by two crossed lines. He took it, fingering it curiously. It was about the size of his palm, and quite heavy; roughly forged out of iron, he guessed, though with no sharp points or edges. The iron was cold to his hand.
‘What is it?’ he said.
‘For the moment,’ Mr Dawson said, ‘just call it something to keep. To keep with you always, all the time. Put it in your pocket, now. And later on, loop your belt through it and wear it like an extra buckle.’
Will slipped the iron circle into this pocket. ‘Thank you very much,’ he said, rather shakily. Mr Dawson, usually a comforting man, was not improving the day at all.
[…] ‘Keep it safe, Will. And the less you happen to talk about it, the better. You will need it after the snow comes.’
This is the first of many strange events that will happen, and the first of a series of talismanic objects that Will will have to find over the coming days. But first the snow comes – a blizzard – and on Will’s birthday he’ll wake up early to a world of deep, white, snow. His family can’t be roused, so he goes off to explore in it before breakfast, having encounters with crows, a black horse, a white horse, an old lady inside the big hall in the village, where Merriman turns out to be the butler.
For Will is special. He’s the seventh son of a seventh son, and he doesn’t know it yet, but he is the last of the Old ones, the Light who will prevent the world being taken over by the Dark. With Merriman as his guide, Will will be shown his innate power, protected by the increasing number of amulets threaded onto his belt. We’ve jumped feet first into a full-blown fantasy! Divided into three parts, ‘The Finding’, ‘The Learning’ and ‘The Testing’, each does to Will as you’d expect and the book moves towards Christmas after a first battle between the Light and the Dark, in which the Dark is driven away – for now!
Yes, it’s Will’s ‘Coming of Mage’ story!
Again, Cooper fills her text with references to the folklore of the area, particularly the legend of the Wild Hunt and Herne the Hunter who are particularly associated with Windsor thanks to Shakespeare, (more on that here when I wrote about Zoe Gilbert’s wonderful Herne-based book – Mischief Acts, and it is instrumental in Garner’s The Moon of Gomrath too).
A lot happens in TDiR; the building of Will, at the ripe old age of eleven (!) into the powerful mage is, of course, the main business, but there are a lot of peripheral things going on in the Light and the Dark. We meet many characters who belong to each side; doubtless some of them will recur, and one character goes from one side to the other – boo, hiss! There is Will’s quest to collect the five amulets mentioned in prophecy that will protect, amplify and focus the Light’s power. In the background is mentor Merriman, moving forward as needed, to direct Will. As in the first book, plenty of the villagers are involved – on either side, but Will’s parents and siblings are outside all of this, just carrying on with their preparations for a huge family Christmas.
Unlike The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe‘s winter that never becomes Christmas (until, spoiler, it does!) there was never a sense that Christmas wouldn’t actually happen here – it would carry on for everyone else – and when the power goes out in the village, everyone congregates at the big house where the festive spirit flows. I did love Cooper’s wintery writing though, the passage when Will wakes up to find that the snow has blanketed everything but the tree trunks poking through, and just the curve of the river Thames visible in the distance was very evocative.
The tone is very different to the first book, and it did take getting used to. The complete change of location and cast (Merriman excepted) made it seem like reading a completely different novel and not the second in a series. For these reasons, I didn’t completely love TDiR, although I can understand why Cooper needed to depart from the pure adventure to give us the story of the powers that lurked in the background at the beginning. I’ll be interested to see your views on the differences between the two books, so if you’ve read them do join in the conversation below.
Next month, Greenwitch. I’ve now read it, and all I’ll say is that I LOVED it. Let that be a teaser for those of you who haven’t read it yet. See you back here around the 24th.
Source: Own book from the TBR. Red Fox paperback, 388 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link
17 thoughts on “#TDiRS22 – The Dark is Rising Sequence Book 2: The Dark is Rising”
Your reaction, Annabel, was pretty much the same as mine the first time I read this, decades after OSUS, and for pretty much the same reasons. However, my second recent read – following a third read of OSUS – brought about a reassessment of the skills Cooper brings to this later tale.
While the magic was still as illogical as before, much as events are in a dream, the pacing of crises alternating with some resolution and respite I found more artful and almost symphonic. In fact I’d be interested in how much (if at all) Cooper was influenced by Masefield’s The Box of Delights, where the magic – as well as being set in the snowbound Christmas season – was explicitly more dreamlike.
Anyway, great review, and I’m now eagerly anticipating revisiting Greenwitch, the most recent of my TDiR reads!
Yet another children’s classic I’ve never read to add to my list in the Masefield. In TDiR, I saw the magic as happening in bubbles, existing outside/inside the normal world, when they pop coming back into everyday reality. I like your symphonic analogy – the three parts of the novel are symphonies, the six talismans have their own themes etc.
Yes, this never worked as well for me as the first book; I’ve never been a huge fan of high fantasy and so I haven’t returned to this one.
I’m with you on the high fantasy. But I do adore folklore and what I’d call Earth magic though! Luckily the third book has a better balance…
It’s interesting how we have the opposite reaction based on the book we read first. I preferred this one, probably also because it just had more magic in it. It isn’t the strongest though in many ways. Cooper grows as a writer through the series I think.
Fascinating isn’t it! I think I’ve been HP’d out with wizards throwing spells etc at each other to enjoy the magical aspects of TDiR fully.
I believe I read this one first the first time I read any of them (weirdly, as I’d have read it in about 1980 or later so both were very much out!) so I loved it and then found OSUS when I started to read them as a series. I don’t like Proper Fantasy in different worlds but have always loved the link to existing folklore and the clever way it’s woven in (more of that to come) both overtly and subtly. I thought you’d like Greenwitch so I’m glad I was right there!!
I’ll save my thoughts about the marvellous Greenwitch for next month! I tend not to read pure fantasy these days, so reading this volume in the series for the first time was going against the grain so to speak – but bring me folklore and more of it, I love those aspects.
Interesting response, Annabel! I’m re-reading, thought after a long time, but although this is a shift from the first book I didn’t mind. I think it’s such an evocative read, and the use of myth and folklore is wonderful. Very keen to get on to Greenwitch soon!
I agree that if you read Over Sea and Dark is Rising close together the distinctly different approaches are puzzling. I somehow think the former was influenced by Cooper’s childhood favorites and the latter more influenced by Tolkien (she says somewhere everyone at University had read The Lord of the Rings, but not Narnia). Also, Cooper changed her mind about what she planned to accomplish and liked Merriman enough to want him in her story.
There was a lot I did not remember about this book – that it was set around Christmas and that it was located near the Thames and not far from London. Also, not only did Will not know he was an Old One, he did not even know he was the seventh son of a seventh son, which was what I most remembered about the book, other than the conflict between Light and Darkness. I’ve read enough fairy tales that if I were the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter (instead of the eldest daughter of an eldest daughter) I might be *expecting* some kind of adventure. Will did not know about a brother who had died, so he thought he was one of six boys. Just a small thing but interesting!
Here is my review:
Also, I found the witch-girl very creepy and wondered if her crush on Will’s brother was just a ploy to keep an eye on the Stantons or if she had not been corrupted at that time.
The point you make about Will not knowing he was the seventh son etc at first is a good one, and does give gravitas once he finds out. The witch girl was definitely creepy but the housekeeper in OSUS was creepier (a hint of Mrs Blalock from the Omen there I thought!)
I wasn’t sure if I had read this one – no, completely new to me. I really enjoyed it, but what a 180 from OSUS, and I agree, it doesn’t feel like it’s the same series. Even Merriman seems like a different person because the tone is so larger-than-life mythic and very, very dark (I thought OSUS was dark but it’s a summer at the seaside in comparison, literally!) I wonder what I would have thought of it as a child. The reveal of Will as an Old One might have been alienating – as Chris said in his review, he is “more distant and less knowable” than the Drews, and once he acquires the knowledge of Gramarye he’s not really a child protagonist anymore, is he?
The most fascinating aspect to me was the irrelevance of Christianity, most notably in the scene at the church where the rector is pathetically unable to muster resistance to the Dark, or even fully recognize it (although he does mention exorcism). Since I thought of the Grail as a specifically Christian object, that was confusing to me – but maybe I’m wrong? Wikipedia indicates that even in the earliest reference (Chrétien de Troyes) it held a communion wafer. But perhaps in Cooper’s mythology it’s a syncretic object, as the crosses on the Signs seem to be.
I was strongly reminded of the wonderful Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix in the way that magic is sort of a palimpsest underlaying (or overlaying) the ordinary world, visible/comprehensible only to adepts. I’m not surprised that these books influenced him. I found this absorbing essay on his favorite childhood books: http://oldkingdom.com.au/author_books.html and added a few more to my TBR list – his tastes overlap almost completely with mine, so I bet I’ll love the few I don’t already know!
Thanks again for starting this, AnnaBookBel. I make the mistake of thinking I’ve actually read or watched things I’m familiar with by reference, and it’s delightful to find them new after all. Looking forward to the rest!
Thank you so much for joining in. I agree totally with your comment about Will”s maturity changing with being brought into the Old Ones. Good point about the grail and the lack of other Christian influence. I hadn’t thought about that at all (compared with Lewis) as it’s folklore that feels way older than the Bible that so wonderfully dominates.
Susan Cooper is known locally for her support of the Christmas Revels performed at Harvard which is chock full of legend, mythology, and everything else you can imagine. I have only attended once as it is such a busy time but it was quite fascinating.