#TDiRS22 – The Dark is Rising Sequence Book 5: Silver on the Tree

And so we come to the final book in Susan Cooper’s fantasy adventure series for older children (and adults!), Silver on the Tree, published in 1977. Thank you to all those who have read along with me over the past five months, your company has been much appreciated. You can also catch up with the previous posts here:

When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back.

The final book in the sequence brings all six of the main characters together in the battle to banish the Dark from the world (until next time). The three Drew children, Simon, Jane and Barney, alongside Will Stanton and Bran, whom we met in the last book will reunite with Merriman to play their part in the battle, each having their own tasks to carry out. It also brings us full circle to the end of the year at Midsummer’s Eve. (See Chris’ wonderful post about the role of the quarter days in this sequence of books here).


The majority of the novel is given over to the last quest for Will and Bran to get the crystal sword, for which they will need to travel using the Old Magic to the ‘Lost Land’, where they will be guided by bard Gwion (aka Taliesin) through a series of adventures to find King Gwyddno and achieve their goal, which will destroy the Lost Land in the process, but give them the final tools they need to banish the Dark.

There are other elements of time travel, one of which describes how Merriman and Will take the six signs, the belt of amulets Will had collected back in the second book when coming into his powers, to be kept safe, back in time to the Battle of Badon, which in legend was fought by King Arthur, and here represents another time when the Light fought the Dark, banishing them – for a while.

The six reunite with the six signs at the Midsummer Tree in the Chilterns where Bran must use the sword Eirias to cut the silver flower that appears on the tree, which will combine all the magics, High, Wild and Old to bring an end to the current cycle, and despite the best efforts of the Dark Rider to take Barney as hostage, and an unexpected character is revealed to be a Traitor and not a Faithful of the Dark, it ends happily ever after with the Wild Hunt led by Herne the Hunter sweeping through. Bran, having discovered his heritage, decides not to be with King Arthur as he has lived his life in the present. The Drews will have little memory of the magical parts of the year’s past adventures except in their dreams – it is sad, but for the best perhaps, that they have to forget.


There’s a lot to unpick in this final instalment!

Firstly, I didn’t like the visit to the Lost Land part. It felt too Science Fictional and too exotic a location which jarred with the Welsh countryside and the rolling Chiltern hills in the real world. I suppose it is meant to be dream-like, but I was probably searching in my mind for references which I couldn’t get beyond Gwion and Gwyddno? There’s no doubting Cooper’s descriptive powers, but this was my least favourite part of the whole sequence. Cooper does also fall prey to giving Jane a ‘damsel in distress’ moment when she is terrorised by creatures of the Dark allowing Bran to rescue her, and this does give a hint of what could happen between them in the future

The oak and mistletoe ritual depicted by Henri-Paul Motte (1900)

The whole is rich in imagery from the Mabinogion in particular. Gwion is the original name of the bard Taliesin, and Gywddno is the legendary king of a sunken city who becomes Taliesin’s foster-father. There are more Arthurian references, and druidic ones with the Midsummer Tree – with their misteltoe and oak ceremony.

One of my favourite reads published this year has been the absolutely brilliant Mischief Acts by Zoe Gilbert, who took the legend of Herne the Hunter and The Wild Hunt and ran with it all over South London. Her Herne detoured over from Windsor where we remember Falstaff’s encounter with the legend in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Cooper moves him just slightly west into the Chilterns.

I think that’s enough of me prattling on for now. To summarise – not my favourite – but a triumphant conclusion to this gripping series. But which was my favourite from the sequence? I think it has to be Greenwitch, with all its witchy, wise lore, but Over Sea, Under Stone and The Grey King come close. I have a definite appreciation of Wild magic more than the incantatory nature of the High or Old – that feeling that the Wild magic comes from Nature is always strong for me.

I have loved discovering these books for the first time as a sixty-something-year-old. They do have a timeless quality, and of course there is all that embedded scholarship which the child reader doesn’t need to know, but the adult appreciates hugely for the extra dimensions it adds.

If you have read along with me, do let me know what you think. Thank you!

For those who can get BBC Radio, you will have a treat from Boxing Day, when a new 12 part radio adaptation of the second book, The Dark is Rising comes to Radio 4 / BBC Sounds, adapted by Robert MacFarlane. I’ll be listening!

13 thoughts on “#TDiRS22 – The Dark is Rising Sequence Book 5: Silver on the Tree

  1. Calmgrove says:

    I’m with you where Wild Magic is concerned, Annabel, but as I’m only about a fifth through this final instalment I shall reserve judgement regarding the Lost Lands! (Suffice to say that more evidence about Cantre’r Gwaelod continues to be unearthed: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-62605682).

    I’ll thank you more fully when I’ve completed this last novel so I’ll just say thanks so much for steering this through the months, I’m so grateful for the excuse – if excuse were really needed! – to work my way through the sequence. And there’s the Macfarlane podcast to take us through the rest of Yule!

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Thanks so much for running this readalong, Annabel – it’s been a real blast! Interestingly, although I remembered some cruclal plot elements I had almost completely forgotten the Lost Land sequence, though I did enjoy it very much. I thought Cooper pulled together all her strands wonderfully here and I’ve loved revisiting this series. As a sixty-something myself, I think it’s better than a lot of books supposedly written for adults…;D

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I’ve always maintained that the best children’s literature is ageless; this series is another that confirms that. Thank you so much for joining in.

  3. hcethatsme says:

    Thank you again, Annabel, for this read-along; I’ve enjoyed it tremendously. Of the five books, I think Greenwitch was my favorite as well. I liked Silver on the Tree very much as a fitting conclusion to the series. I hear you about the Lost Land feeling SF-ish. I relaxed into the sort of bagginess of TDiR as a whole – it’s got a bit of everything and it doesn’t always fit together (and much of it would have gone over my head as a young reader), but the sweep is impressive. I wasn’t convinced by who turns out to be of the Dark in this one, but the twist led to some genuinely moving reactions.

    A quote that resonated: “The Dark can only reach people at extremes – blinded by their own shining ideas, or locked up in the darkness of their own heads.”

    And another that captures the real, non-fantastic darkness the books touch on: “What do you know of the weight that drags down a king who has failed his people, an artist who has failed his gift? This life is a long cheat, full of promises that can never be kept, errors that can never be righted, omissions that can never be filled.”

    The Welsh setting makes me want to go back to one of my very favorite series, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. Another read-along? It has a lot of humor, which TDiR certainly didn’t. I guess that’s one of the reasons it felt more adult than I expected; very dark and very serious.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Thank you for joining in!
      I get what you say about the moving reactions when a dark convert was revealed. It leads to that very moral decision for the greater good ignoring personal pain. (I was a bit glib in my review comparing it to the reality TV show that’s just finished on the BBC, The Traitors, which was morally fascinating!).
      I’m ashamed to say I’ve never heard of The Chronicles of Prydain – I shall have to look them up.
      Thanks again and Merry Christmas.

  4. Lory says:

    I actually liked the Lost Land sequence best in this one … go figure! I agree that Jane got a raw deal though, and the Lady could also have been given much more to do than just conveying a cryptic message and disappearing again. However, I loved rereading this series and thank you once again for hosting this. A Prydain readalong would be fun, too; it’s been ages since I read those, and they would continue the Welsh theme. Chris floated the idea of reading Ursula K LeGuin’s Hainish novels and I think we are going to give that a go. So many books…

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Thank you so much for joining in with the readalong. Much appreciated.
      With the Lost Land sequence, I was obviously concentrating too hard on where her ideas came from rather than enjoying the journey. After her main role in the third book, I agree Jane was hard done by!
      If I continue to read some children’s books, they’ll have to be ones I own already. So if you and Chris do LeGuin, I’ll enjoy reading your posts – actually I’ve never really got on with her, and Prydain is a new name to me too.

      • Lory says:

        It’s good to focus on books you already own – I should do more of that too! (The Hainish novels are not children’s books, anyway.) We’ll see what transpires this year, it’s certainly been a wonderful journey this time.

  5. Liz Dexter says:

    A lovely review and I’ll watch out for that Lost Land bit when I get to it and see what I think! I enjoyed reading the first two between Christmas and New Year and hope to read the rest this month – I’ll do a review of all five together I think. I’ve so enjoyed seeing everyone else reading along and reading their own blog posts or comments!

  6. CLM (@ConMartin) says:

    You did a great job covering the plot of this one, Annabel. So much was going on that I sort of gave up. There were definitely two important things about Bran you brought up that I did not mention: one because I thought it was a spoiler – that he chooses not to stay with his father (on the one hand, aren’t things about to go very badly there, but how could you say no? He must not have read Harding’s Luck) and the other I forgot until you mentioned it, his growing interest in Jane and doesn’t he call her Jenny, which is his mother’s nickname?! Maybe he and Jane can reunite in a few years like the end of Carrie’s War.


    I did not enjoy this nearly as much as the others and felt it dragged in the middle. Also, while I don’t dislike riddles, we already had some in the previous book. I own this series and more or less read them as they came out but I am fairly sure I had never done a compete reread so thank you very much.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Well I did post a spoiler alert… He did call her Jenny, you’re right. I certainly enjoyed books 2 and 5 the least – the ones with the Old and High magic. They had less adventure which still appeals to the child in me.

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