When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back;
Three from the circle, three from the track;
Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
Five will return, and one go alone.
I am finally ready to talk about The Dark is Rising.
Book 1: Over Sea, Under Stone
The most youthful in character of all the books, this is something of a romp through Cornwall with three meddlesome, determined children. It's enjoyable, and the sense of place, the way Cornwall is written, I felt as if I knew it intimately. Seeing pictures, like this one, affirmed what I suspected: Susan Cooper can write locations tremendously well. It looks just as I imagined.
The three Drew children are all quite believable, and I absolutely loved the sweetness and introspectiveness of the youngest, Barney. Not all of the characters are quite fleshed out enough, and the mysterious Great-Uncle Merry held my suspicion throughout the book. I was sure I knew who and what he was, and I was wrong. So, good and evil blurred a bit. And the ending was too convenient, too neat.
Book 2: The Dark is Rising
There is a reason this book has won awards. Nearly a complete departure from the previous book, it is different in tone and writing style. It follows Will Stanton, a boy turning 11, as he discovers that he is the last of the Old Ones. He is to fight against the Dark, destined to find and bring together items of power to enable the Light to win the battle.
What I loved about it is terribly hard to put into words. There is a real sense of nobility and wisdom in Will and the others of the Light. It is difficult to explain, but it is one of the main reasons these books captivated me. Something about having to face and overcome great challenges, and finding in oneself the latent ability to do it. Will's departure from his family, from his childhood, is striking and sympathetic, and his growth into an Old One is astonishing.
Book 3: Greenwitch
The Drew children return, on a short vacation to Cornwall. They meet up with Will Stanton, and since this story is primarily told from the perspective of the Drews, their unfavorable impression of Will, as they were unaware of his being an Old One, was quite funny. Of all of the books, this one was the hardest for me to visualize.
The events, particularly surrounding the Greenwitch itself, were so abstract and mystical that I could not picture most of it. My memory of it is confused. But the end, with the three Old Ones memorizing a very important series of phrases, carried that unnameable quality I tried (unsuccessfully) to describe above.
Book 4: The Grey King
This was the beginning of the end for me. The point of no return. This book secured my attachment to the series.
Set in Wales, so vividly portrayed that when I saw this picture of Craig yr Aderyn (Bird Rock), it was quite familiar. It even has sheep grazing below. You can practically see Cafall running through the field.
But the landscape was only part of the charm.
Will is recovering from an illness, and he is sent to his uncle in Wales to recover. There, he meets
You can do this, Jenn.
Yes. I'll explain that later.
He meets Bran Davies, a very unusual boy. He is an albino with golden eyes, a lonely and vulnerable boy who has suffered great losses. Bran is among my favorite fictional characters, ever. I have never felt so endeared to a character.
Whereas the second book was largely fantasy, so much of what happens here is rooted in human experience, it hardly seems like fantasy at all. Much of the book is about loss, unraveling secrets, and the nature of the Dark, how it may work through people without their knowledge. The pain and the struggles are vividly, achingly portrayed.
The Dyfi Valley
I want badly to learn Welsh and to visit Wales. I found out that Robert does, too, because of this book. I read it and listened to the audiobook as well just to see how well the words were formed in my head. From Tywyn to Llyn Mwyngil, I was too far off the mark to confess. I don't know why the Welsh even use the same letters if they aren't going to pronounce them the same way. It sounds absolutely lovely, though it looks on paper nothing like the way it sounds.
This book is also deservedly medaled.
Book 5: Silver on the Tree
The last and the hardest to read. It is the most complex, following the Drew children, Bran, and the Old Ones as they prepare for the final confrontation with the Dark. Again, some parts are so abstract that they're hard to visualize. But at its core it is a deeply human and lovely book, and that is ultimately what made it hard to read.
That picture is the Bearded Lake, where one of my favorite parts is set. Susan, the middle Drew, finds herself completing an arc begun in Greenwitch, meeting a fierce challenge by the end of it. Each character is individually confronted by the Dark, and each discovers something of themselves through it.
I'm going to skip to the end, because I'm impatient. I won't give anything away, though. I believe it's crucial not to know exactly what will happen.
What is revealed throughout this book is the nature of the Dark and the Light, and how humans fit into all of it. And at the end Bran makes a devastating choice. Not devastating because it's negative -- here is where I will fail in trying to explain -- but because it is right, so correct and good that it is actually painful. Impossible to describe. All of it, all of what happens in all five of the books, each quest and magic object and mystical location, every revelation and loss and betrayal and success, all of it culminates in, and is surpassed by, that moment.
After I finished it, I felt rent apart. I carried it for several days, and I could not think about the ending, about Bran or the Light without feeling the pain of it. I definitely could not talk about it.
I often use the word 'edifying' to describe books that tell something of what it means to be human and end up favorable on the balance, that pass on a recognition of the beauty and worth of people. This book is something more than that, and I can't say what it is. It transcends 'edifying.'
If it seems like I'm speaking excessively, it's because I'm hoping that what I lack in eloquence will somehow find expression through tautology. (Some things are easier to describe than others, I guess. There's a word like 'tautology' but not one that explains what I felt at the end of a book.)
I cannot think of any other work of fiction that has had such an impact on me. To say that I loved it is probably redundant at this point.
Ond rwy'n ei wneud, yr wyf yn eu caru ddwfn.