- Cooper, Susan. Over Sea, Under Stone. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1965.
- Cooper, Susan. The Dark Is Rising. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1973.
- Cooper, Susan. The Greenwitch. New York: Simon Pulse, 1974.
- Cooper, Susan. The Grey King. New York: Simon Pulse, 1975.
- Cooper, Susan. The Silver on the Tree. New York: Simon Pulse, 1977.
Last year, I started out with a series based on Welsh mythology, the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. I love stories based on myths and legends. While I was writing about that series, I thought about this one. The Dark Is Rising Sequence is based on Arthurian legends with some other mythologies in the mix. It is a sweeping tale of the final struggle of the light against the dark. It is an exciting, well written, high fantasy series. It appears on several best fantasy series lists. Once I decided to write about this sequence, I had to locate the books. Unfortunately they aren’t carried in my local Barnes and Noble. I had to scour my Half Price Book store to find them. I consider it well worth the effort. These are excellently crafted books that carry you away to another place and time.
Susan Cooper received a Newberry Honor Medal for the Dark Is Rising and the Newberry Award for The Grey King. I couldn’t write this summary of the entire sequence without giving you some spoilers so stop here, if that is a problem for you. Please take my word for it this is a wonderful adventure. I know I didn’t read this when I was young, because I started with The Dark Is Rising, which was published in 1973 when I was busy in college. I must have discovered it when my oldest daughter did and again when my youngest daughter did. We all loved it.
In the first story, Over Sea, Under Stone, we are introduced to the story of the struggle between the light and the dark for control of the world. Simon, Jane, and Barney Drew, ordinary, intrepid children, have their part to play in this struggle. Theirs is the first quest. During a trip to the Cornwall Coast, they are introduced to this struggle by their Great Uncle Merry. They find an ancient map that leads to an important manuscript and to the grail. These are crucial weapons for the Light’s fight against the dark. They must find a hiding place that is over sea, and under stone. How can they prevail when all their actions are scrutinized by agents of the dark? Can these agents be outwitted? There is intrigue, danger, and excitement in this book. Read along to see how they discern the clues needed to solve this puzzle.
We move on to the second book, The Dark Is Rising. This book provides the title for the entire series. Here we meet Will Stanton, the last of the Old Ones. Will is the seventh son, of a seventh son. On his eleventh birthday, he discovers his special gifts and his great responsibilities (sounds a lot like Spiderman). He must learn from the mysterious Merriman Lyon all that it means to be an Old One. What are his powers? What are his gifts? He learns about the final contest between the Light and the Dark. His quest is to find the Six Magical Signs that will aid the Old Ones in the final battle. Here is a book rich with myth, mystery, adventure, terror, and delight. Does Will prevail? Who is the mysterious, Merriman Lyon?
After Will’s discovery of his heritage and of his quest, we move to book three of the sequence, The Greenwitch. If you’ve read this far, you probably have figured out that both the Drew children and Will were successful in their quests. It really isn’t spoiling the stories for you too much. A lost of exciting things happen to these children in both books, making them excellent reads even if you know the outcome. Susan Cooper can weave a spell around you. In Greenwitch, Will and the Drew children meet. Here we learn the prophecy which has guided them thus far and will do so through this book and the next.
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.
Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long;
Wood from the burning, stone out of song;
Fire in the candle-ring, and the grail gone before.
Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold;
Played to wake the Sleepers, oldest of the old;
Power from the green witch, lost beneath the sea;
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.
Greenwitch opens with Simon, Jane, and Drew discovering that the grail they found in Cornwall was stolen from the British Museum. They are at the museum looking at the display, which had held the lovely grail they had discovered during their Cornwall adventure. The grail came with a manuscript. While the children were able to retrieve the grail, they lost the accompanying manuscript to the sea. With the help of their Great Uncle Merry, they travel back to Cornwall to see if the manuscript can be retrieved. At this point, the trio of children becomes a quartet as Will Stanton joins them. He has grown into his responsibilities as an Old One with training from Merriman Lyon, a.k.a. Great Uncle Merry. Again, agents of the dark are all around them. Although this story has tasks for all of the company, it is quiet, thoughtful, Jane who turns the day.
The Grey King is a quest for aid in the battle between light and dark. Will has been very ill. His illness has robbed him of most of his knowledge of the Old Ones. He is left with this riddle to guide him. Although he can’t remember, it is the riddle from the manuscript retrieved from the grasp of the Greenwitch in the previous book. In this book and the final one, this riddle guides his way. To unravel the riddle and find all of his answers, he will have to find the translation for the last two mysterious lines.
On the day of the dead, when the year too dies,
Must the youngest open the oldest hills
Through the door of the birds, where the breeze breaks.
There fire shall fly from the raven boy,
And the silver eyes that see the wind,
And the Light shall have the harp of gold.
By the pleasant lake the Sleepers lie,
On Cadfan’s Way where the kestrels call;
Though grim from the Grey King shadows fall,
Yet singing the golden harp shall guide
To break their sleep and bid them ride.
When light from the lost land shall return,
Six Sleepers shall ride, six Signs shall burn,
And where the midsummer tree grows tall
By Pendragon’s sword the Dark shall fall.
Ymaent yr mynddoedd yn canu,
Ac y mae’r aglwyddes yn dod*.
In the Grey King, Will’s family sends him to their relatives in Wales to help him recover his strength. Little did he or his family realize that Wales was the next step in his journey. Here he meets the enigmatic, Bran. Is Bran the son of the Pendragon? He is curiously pale. He has tawny eyes, like a bird. At their first meeting Will names him as “the raven boy’ boy from the riddle. Although most everyone else doesn’t know about Will’s status as an Old One, Bran recognizes him immediately. There is something curious about Bran aside from his pale coloring. He has a sort of quiet austerity. Is that due to the nature of his upbringing or his parentage. Will learns that King Arthur and his knights fought the previous great battle against the dark. While they weren’t able to defeat the dark completely, they did diminish the dark’s power and postponed the final battle between the light and the dark. The time is coming soon for the final battle. Will and Bran must work together to find the tools needed in the Light’s fight. At every angle and with every tool that can be mustered, the Dark works seeks to foil their attempts. Finding the Golden Harp and waking the seeker is the quest that Will and Bran must complete. Will Bran meet his father? Are they successful? Do they find the harp and wake the sleepers? Who is Merriman Lyon, who appear mysteriously, when aid or guidance is needed in all of these books.
The conclusion to the sequence is Silver on the Tree. In this book all the players from all the books are present and necessary to the conclusion. Each had his/her part to play. Simon, Jane, and Drew come to Wales for holiday. They are joined by Great Uncle Merry and Will. Here they meet Bran and his family and allies. To start the book, Will has been receiving messages from the Old Ones around the world that they are prepared for the final battle. Is everything ready? Are the weapons and resources gathered? Are all the necessary players in place? The last object of power must be found, a sword, which has been hidden away. Arthur’s sword it what they seek. Will they find it? Like all the other books, Will and his companions must travel through space and time to gather what is needed for the final battle. Here is the epic conclusion to this wonderful series.
- She has always loved reading and writing.
- She lived near London and was not evacuated during the Blitz. Her experiences during that time color some of her stories.
- After graduating from Oxford, she wrote for the Sunday Times. Her boss was Ian Fleming.
- She wrote Over Sea, Under Stone in her spare time in order to win a cash prize. She didn’t win the prize, but she was bitten by the fantasy bug and in time went on to write the other four books in this sequence.
- She married an American widower and moved to the United States, where she still lives.
- She was awarded a Newberry Honor for The Dark Is Rising and the Newberry Award for The Grey King.
- She has been nominated for an Emmy award for the scripts she co-wrote with Actor Hume Cronyn.
If you want to read more about this author, here are some interesting sites to visit.
* The mountains are singing, and the Lady comes.