The Dark is Rising

by Susan Cooper
ages: 10+
First sentence: “‘Too many!’ James shouted, and slammed the door behind him.”
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When Kelly at The Written World suggested doing another read buddy read and I found that she had stopped reading The Dark is Rising sequence after the first book (understandable), I suggested reading this one. I’m always up for an opportunity to spread the joy of my favorite mid-winter read. Thankfully, she was willing to go along with me on that. Head over to her blog for the first half of our conversation.

Melissa: I can see that. Perhaps, like you said, it’s a case of not having read the book before, when you were a kid. I do think her use of the mid-winter holidays as the strongest time for the Dark was interesting, if not unique. I thought the arc of the book from mid-winter through Twelfth Night was interesting, as well. As for character, I liked the Stanton family. Will was okay — he was obviously an archetype — but I really liked the whole family dynamic. The craziness, the loudness, the sheer familial presence that they had. And the way that Will interacted with the individual siblings, especially Paul and James. Speaking of the brothers, one of my favorite scenes in the book was on Christmas day when the Dark attacked the church. I thought the use of light and Will’s tender concern for his brother was nice. Merriman was interesting, even though, in retrospect, I’m not sure how much he actually *did*. I thought that it was unclear in this book that he was Merlin, however. I do wish that had been made more clear. There were aspects of the Will-Merriman relationship that reminded me of the Merlin-Arthur one in Once and Future King, which, for me, fed into the whole mythical feeling of the book. Was there anything that stood out to you at all?

Kelly: I liked the idea of the Dark being the strongest during mid-winter. I know that when that time of the year hits it feels pretty Dark out. It makes sense that the terrible things would happen during then; especially considering people get depressed during the holidays. As for the characters, I was not a huge fan of Will. I imagine he would have worked if I had read the book as a child, but I couldn’t relate to him. I did like his family, though, and the family dynamic. It was done pretty well. You got the sense of the large family and making everything work the best that you could, so I liked that. I have to agree on the Arthur connection. I was told it existed, but if I didn’t know it was there I am not sure if I would have made the connection. I guess I was hoping there was more to it, but really there was just a guy with a similar name taking on a child and teaching him skills. It could have been any story. Merriman was a mage, so I suppose there is that connection, but otherwise I didn’t really see it. I was reading your response and saw the word ‘nice’ and it got me thinking of the book as a whole. This is a ‘nice’ book. There is lots of effort to be ‘nice’ to other people and being ‘nice’ about the story. I think that is why I feel it didn’t work well for me. Maybe if I was child, but as an adult it was just too ‘nice’. Does that make sense?

Melissa: Perfect sense. Though I wonder if a lot of the niceness is a result of the time it was written in 1974. I know when I go back and reread books from the 70s, I’m struck with how, well, different they are from the books that are written now. It’s almost as if we had a completely different sensibility back then. Then again, a story is almost as much a reflection on the time it’s written as anything else. There’s much about this book that can be pointed to the conflicts in England and the world in the 1970s (not just the language… the one that struck me was calling a girl a “bird”), rather than it being just an overall fantasy story. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it? I don’t suppose you’re going to bother with the rest of the series then?

Kelly: Yeah, it is the time that it was written in. When I was a kid it didn’t bother me, but as an adult I guess I am into more ‘risque’ writing. It’s the same with say Carolyn Keene. When I was a kid I liked Nancy, but when I go back and reread that series now I find it way too ‘nice’. My reading has just evolved since I was a kid and I am interested in other things, I guess. You are seeing things that I didn’t even think about. I think I went into the book not expecting to like it at all, so I didn’t read too far into things! I might read the rest of the series; I own them all, but I am not in any particular hurry to do so. Hopefully I enjoy our next buddy read better!

Melissa: Maybe I’ll let you choose it next time. 😀

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2 thoughts on “The Dark is Rising

  1. Here via Kelly's blog. I've read two of this series and love them to bits. I'm from Cornwall and the author portrays a Cornish fishing village perfectly and I couldn't help but wonder which one she had in mind. With book two I *loved* the winter setting – such a perfect Christmas read. I think one of the things I liked about the books was the fact that Susan Cooper's writing doesn't talk down to children, it felt very much like adult writing to me. Now I have book three on my list for Carl's OUaT challenge and can't wait to read it.

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