"The struggle between good and evil. . .goes on all
around us all the time, like two armies fighting. And sometimes one
of them seems to be winning and sometimes the other, but neither has
ever triumphed altogether. Nor ever will, for there is something of
each in every man."
In 1965 Susan Cooper presented the first of her series for young
adults about the literal war of good and evil. Each book is complete
in itself, with tight plotting that leads neatly to the next.
Involving adventures and intriguing puzzles characterize Cooper's
books, which have earned recognition in the field, including a
Newberry Medal for The Grey King.
The first of the series, Over Sea, Under Stone, stands very
well on its own. It is a solid, well written adventure as Simon,
Jane, and Barney Drew and their uncle Merry race through a treasure
hunt with the Holy Grail as the prize (an accompanying manuscript was
lost at the last moment).
The Dark Is Rising introduces 11-year-old Will Stanton who
he discovers that he is the last of the Old Ones of the Light. The
unexpected birthright also brings the unwelcome attention of the
Dark. Helping Will are other Old Ones, lead by Merriman. This book is
the real beginning to the series, and perhaps the strongest.
Greenwitch brings together the Drew children and Will and
Merriman, who is, after all, the Drews' uncle Merry. This time they
need to recover the manuscript lost earlier. Greenwitch is the
weakest of the series. Unlike the others, which present the
characters (and reader) with a series of clues from treasure maps and
prophecy-poems, Greenwitch just happens, without the wonderful
tightness of plot which characterizes the rest of the series.
In The Grey King, a severe illness has caused Will to lose
all memory of being an Old One. Meeting with Bran returns his
memories, and the two boys attempt to "waken the Sleepers," facing
ordinary human obstinacy as well as the supernatural opposition
mounted by the evil Grey King.
With Silver on the Tree Cooper manages the delicate task of
inventing a believable and satisfying end of the battle without being
anticlimactic. Her six main characters once again confront the Dark
on differing levels and times. The Light wins -- all supernatural
influences withdraw from our world. And yet, as Merriman said in the
beginning, the battle is never over:
"Now especially since man has the strength to destroy this world,
it is the responsibility of man to keep it alive, in all its beauty
and marvellous joy."
This review originally appeared in the August 28, 1994 edition of
The Roanoke Times and World-News.
The Dark Is Rising Sequence:
Over Sea, Under Stone. Collier Books, 1965
The Dark Is Rising. Collier Books, 1973
Greenwitch. Collier Books, 1974
The Grey King. Collier Books, 1975
Silver on the Tree. Collier Books, 1977
This review copyright 1994 by Wendy Morris