The Dark Is Rising is the name of a five-book series of children's novels by Susan Cooper originally published in the 1960s and 1970s. The series is written as contemporary fantasy, and depicts the struggle between the forces of good, called The Light, and the forces of evil, known as The Dark. The series is based on the Arthurian myths, with many connections to Celtic and Norse legend and is written primarily for older children and young adults. One of the books won the Newbery medal, and another was an honor book.
The Dark Is Rising is also the title of the second book in the series, whose main character is an eleven-year-old boy who learns that he is an Old One, destined to wield the powers of The Light in an ancient struggle with The Dark. Children, both magical and ordinary, feature prominently in the struggle portrayed in the five books.
In 2005, following the successful motion picture adaptations of other fantasy classics, it was announced that the series was being developed as a major motion picture. The film adaptation The Seeker, which introduces significant plot and character changes from the book, was released on October 5, 2007.
Old Ones: Ancient and immortal, the Old Ones are mystical beings who possess great magical power. They are capable of performing many seemingly impossible feats, including freezing time and controlling the elements, and serve The Light in the war against The Dark. The Great Lords of the Dark have many similar characteristics and abilities, but are not Old Ones. The two factions struggle to determine the destiny of mankind; while The Light fights for freedom and free will, The Dark fights for chaos, confusion and the subversion of man's agency.
Will Stanton: The main character of the second novel, and a major character in all later works, he is the seventh son of a seventh son. His eleventh birthday marks the beginning of his rise to power as the last of the Old Ones. The Dark Is Rising tells how he came to power, met Merriman Lyon, and joined the six signs of the Old Ones to fight The Dark. Will is the last of the Old Ones; no others will be born after him.
Merriman Lyon: Merriman is the first Old One. He and Will Stanton have a special bond as each of them is one end of the long line of Old Ones. It is said that with the birth and coming to power of Will Stanton, the circle of Old Ones is complete. A Friend of the Drew family for over a generation, he assisted Barney, Jane, and Simon in their quest for the Grail, in addition to protecting them until their task was completed; they occasionally refer to him as "Great Uncle Merry" or "Gumerry". It is also implicit that he is the mythical Merlin.
The Lady: The Lady is an ancient figure and one of the great beings of the Light. Enigmatic and powerful, she appears as a friend and mentor to all the Old Ones. At one point in The Dark Is Rising, Will Stanton makes a critical mistake and is effectively caught "out of time". The Lady has to expend considerable effort to rescue him; this severely weakens her, leaving her unable to help them during much of his subsequent struggle. She appears again at the end, wherein it is suggested that her name is Jana or Juno.
The Black Rider: One of the great Lords of the Dark, comparable to Merriman in power and influence. The Rider is the major nemesis of Will during his many trials. He patronises John Wayland Smith's establishment, where he meets Will for the first time and attempts to bring Will over to the Dark. He is given two names by the humans in the story; Hastings and Mitothin.
The White Rider: Another servant and Lord of The Dark, introduced in Silver on the Tree. The White Rider is an equal to the Black Rider, and despite being feminine in her true form, often affects a masculine guise while attacking agents of the Light. Will Stanton hypothesized that the monochromatic 'color' of the White Rider's robes, like those of the Black Rider, reflected the extremism of their evil -- either darkened by their ignorance, or blinded by the brightness of their ideas.
The Walker: A human being who betrayed the Light and was cursed to carry the Sign of Bronze, one of six talismans that repel the Dark, through the centuries until the final Old One claimed it from him. The Walker was once Hawkin, a liege man and foster son of Merriman during the 13th century. His betrayal of the Light stemmed largely from Merriman's willingness to sacrifice his life in order to protect the Book of Gramarye, the secrets of which the human Hawkin can neither possess nor partake of. In The Dark Is Rising his appearance in Will Stanton's town precipitates Will's "awakening" and rise to power. He presents Will with his second sign.
The Sleepers: Ancient knights who served during the time of King Arthur. In The Grey King they are awakened from a mystic slumber by the Harp of Gold, to ride against the Dark during the final battle in Silver on the Tree.
Pendragon: This is a reference to two characters. First, it is another name for King Arthur. It is also his son who, in this series, is the person who is predestined to wield the crystal sword that is vital to the final conflict with the Dark. Bran Davies is his name, brought forward in time by Merriman at the request of his mother, Guinevere, who feared that Arthur would reject Bran as a true son because of Guinevere's affair with Lancelot. Will meets him in Wales during The Grey King.
The rooks: The majority of these birds are servants of The Dark and attract their forces wherever they are seen.
Farmer Dawson: An Old One who lives near Will Stanton and presents him with his first Sign.
John "Wayland" Smith: Another Old One who lives near Will Stanton; he is also a skilled smith. Though he is affiliated with the Light, he aids all who pass in his smithy. It is suggested that he might be the legendary Saxon smith, Weyland, the saxon equivalent of the legendary elf smith Volund.
The Book of Gramarye: An ancient book, it teaches Old Ones about their powers, and through it, they actually experience the use of them. This book is protected by a device similar to a pendulum of a clock, that if touched, will detonate and destroy any human that attempts to gain access to the book. This powerful book is further protected in that it is written in a language that only an Old One can read and understand. It is blasted out of existence by Merriman after Will has read it.
The Doors: A set of carved oak doors that lead out of Time. Old Ones can summon these doors to appear at will to transport themselves through time and space. The doors disappear when the Old Ones pass through them. Their origin is not explained in the books.
Old Magic: A powerful earthly or elemental magic more ancient than The Light or The Dark, only the Old Magic has the strength that is required to end the struggle permanently. The Dark and Light contest for this power in order to emerge the victor.In the final battle that is described in Silver on the Tree, the Old Magic is used.
Wild Magic: An emotional magic, not as strong as the Old Magic, it first is used in The Dark Is Rising to provide strength to the forces of The Light in the book's final battle. In Greenwitch, we learn that the Wild Magic is equal in strength to both the Dark and the Light, but that it stands apart from each.
High Magic: The most powerful magic, being of the Cosmos. A spell of this type is used by the Old Ones in Greenwitch to be able to communicate with Tethys, the Queen of the Sea, and plead for her help in obtaining the scroll that will help translate the writing on the Grail. In The Grey King, Will Stanton and Bran Davies obtain the Harp of Gold from a place guarded by the High Magic after being tested by a Lord of the Dark, a Lord of the Light, and a Lord of the High Magic.
Small rhyming prophecies serve to guide the protagonists throughout the series. Science Fiction author and filker Julia Ecklar has set these rhyming prophecies to music, and the resulting song won the 1997 Pegasus Award for Best Sorcery Song.
This is one, which is often quoted in parts as they become relevant to the story:
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, water from the thaw;
Six Signs the circle, 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.
This second rhyme only refers to events in The Grey King and Silver on the Tree:
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.
Y maent yr mynyddoedd yn canu,
ac y mae’r arglwyddes yn dod.
(The last two lines are in modern literary Welsh and are translated in the book into English as "The mountains are singing / and the lady comes". The grammar of these lines in Welsh is slightly unorthodox, since with the plural noun subject mynyddoedd 'mountains' the verb should be singular mae, not plural maent (which would ordinarily be used only with a subject pronoun), and the following word should be contracted with it, giving mae’r just as in the next line, rather than maent yr. If the verbal form maent were to be used, the article following it should be y rather than yr, as the following noun begins with a consonant. This appears to be a genuine mistake, and is not a dialect or archaic form of Welsh.)
In this tale, Susan Cooper introduces us to Merriman, a pivotal character for the forces of the Light and also ties him with three young mortal children in a quest by the sea which will lead them over sea and under stone to find a grail of legend to help the Light in its struggle against the Dark.
This story returns to the characters introduced in Over Sea, Under Stone, uniting them with Will Stanton, and involves a quest for magic from beneath the sea.
Jane Drew witnesses the creation of a ritualistic offering known as the 'Greenwitch', and senses both great power and great sadness in it. She wishes that the Greenwitch could be happy, and that wish has important consequences later when it turns out that the Greenwitch possesses something that will unlock the secrets of the Grail.
The Grey King was awarded the 1976 Newbery Medal.
Welsh folklore is an important point in the book.
All of the main characters from the other books in the sequence come together in this book, some meeting each other for the first time, and the current struggle between the Light and the Dark is resolved. All immortal characters except Will Stanton leave the Earth forever. All the mortal characters lose all memory of any dealings with magic and the Old Ones. The Drews and Bran have snatches of something come back to them in dreams, though...
Roger Stanton: The father of the family. He owns a small jewelry shop, and seems to be the main source of income for the family. He is the seventh son of a twelve sibling family.
William (Uncle Bill) Stanton: Roger's older brother, uncle to the Stanton children, and Godfather/namesake of Will. Lives in America (Ohio) with his wife Fran, where they run a successful pottery business. He is the sixth son of a twelve sibling family.
Tom Stanton: Would have been the oldest of the Stanton children, but he died aged just three days, of a lung disease found commonly in infants.
Stephen Stanton (26): Oldest of the Stanton children, he is rarely ever home, and seems to have a very special bond with Will, the youngest, who greatly admires him. He has been in Britain’s Royal Navy for many years, and is currently a Lieutenant.
Max Stanton: Max is the second oldest of the Stanton children. He is tall with long, dark hair (which Will and James claim makes him look like a girl) and is a very good artist. He has a sweetheart, Deb, from his London art school. (She has 'blonde-tresses' and sends him enormous letters in blue envelopes daily.)
Gwen Stanton: Oldest daughter. She is a very good cook. A very sweet girl, sometimes affectionatly called "Gwennie" by her siblings.
Robin and Paul Stanton (17 or 18): The twins.
Barbara Stanton (16): The second of the Stanton girls. She enjoys bossing people round, and her favorite phrase must be ‘Shut up’, because she uses it so often. She is referred in the second book as "Superiour and sixteen".
Mary Stanton (14): The third and last of the Stanton girls and a complainer. Seems to love compliments, and can be very impatient.
James Stanton (12): An ordinary young boy who enjoys teasing his siblings. This is easily illustrated in the scene where he thoroughly enjoys giving Max a good taunt about his supposed “girlfriend”, Maggie Barnes. He sings with Will in the choir.
William (known as Will) Stanton (11): Will is the youngest not only of the Stanton family, but also of the Old Ones, a fact he learns on his 11th birthday. The Old Ones call him "Sign Seeker." He is somewhat stocky, with blue eyes, a round face, and straight brown hair that often falls over his eyes. Will is the seventh son of a seventh son, something not apparent to some who knew the family because Tom, the Stanton's first child, had died as a newborn.