15 July 2006

Review - The Dark is Rising sequence

As y'all have no doubt gathered by now, I do enjoy reading children's books despite my advanced age, and Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence is no exception. I have loved these books since I first read them a good 10-15 years ago.

I won't discuss the plot much because I don't want to spoil any of the major revelations (some would be on the order of telling you exactly who the Half-Blood Prince is and what he did), but essentially, the five books (Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; and Silver on the Tree) feature five children who, sometimes separately and sometimes together in various combinations, perform various quests for Things of Power to aid the Light against the forces of the Dark.

I enjoy books that are about the battle between good and evil, perhaps because I (weakly) prefer to think of the battle as being external, rather than an internal battle I must fight each day. It's easier to fight Orcs than it is to fight their greed and hubris when you find it within yourself.

That's part of why I like this particular sequence. But another reason is that I love how Susan Cooper ties together so many myths and legends. She draws from the Matter of Britain, the Maboginion, and countless local legends from Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, and a corner of Snowdonia in Wales, near Cader Idris. The books are so rich in depth that every year or so, I run across a reference to a legend or a myth or even just an old wives' tale that suddenly casts new light on them. For instance, I was looking for something on snopes, and somehow ended up reading about Christmas-related traditions and myths, several of which are referenced in the second book of the sequence. One was that if a red-haired person is the first visitor to your home on Christmas morning, it's a bad omen. I don't think it's any coincidence that the Black Rider, who is redheaded, is the first visitor to Will Stanton's home on Christmas morning.

I wish someone who knows the source material, perhaps a classics professor, would go through and explain all the references. I will admit that it is sort of fun to have new light shed on the books every so often, and I won't be surprised if I'm still learning more about them when I'm forty; but I wonder how much more I'm missing.

Also, I have to go see Cader Idris for myself someday.


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