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During the 1960's and 1970's author Susan Cooper wrote five novels charting the magical adventures of eleven year old Will Stanton. As he comes of age Will is recruited into being a protector of a hidden supernatural world. The fantasy novels sees Will embrace this important destiny and with his cousins, friends and adult mentors battle an army of darkness which threatens to overtake and do harm to this beautiful, peaceful world.
These novels were perhaps the 'Harry Potters' of the era and are somewhat equivilent to the modern novels in terms of characterisation and themes. Cooper's novels resonate with a sense of poetry, symbolism and adult drama though and I do find them more of a challenge than JK Rowling's works.
Cooper sets the novels in mystical and isolated areas of England such as Cornwall and Wales, the latter of which is described in great detail in the fourth novel in the Sequence, 'The Grey King'. These areas of natural beauty, untouched as yet by modernity, are perfect locations for the mythical gateways to an ancient other-world. Cooper is particularly brilliant at describing the beauty and wonder of natural landscapes and much of what she writes in this topic is powerful enough to stay with a person forever. In at least two instances the environment becomes a living entity, with the ocean and the mountains breathing and talking and emparting their spiritual wisdom.
The novels have aged very well. The main characters' mode of speech is rather formal and polite but this does represent the manners of the age in which the books were written. There is also an emphasis on close adult supervision of the main children characters, an idea which may be considered old-fashioned by today's youth.
When I was eleven years old I first read the second book in the sequence, 'The Dark Is Rising', which is perhaps the best known of the five collective novels. Many children start with this novel first as it is generally considered to be better than the first novel 'Under Sea, Under Stone'. It also feels more like a stand-alone novel rather than as a themed novel, and as such is easier to read. A movie adaptation of 'The Dark Is Rising', entitled 'The Seeker', was also released in 2007.
In 'The Dark is Rising' Sequence all five novels concerning the adventures of Will Stanton are collected in one large novel. It is quite a hefty book and could quite possibly be offputting to new readers. I would recommend it for anyone has already read one book in the sequence though.
The novels are as follows:
Over Sea, Under Stone:
An absorbing introduction to a special family of children and their 'uncle'. Jane, Barney and Simon discover the lost symbols of another world in the natural world and learn they must join the fight against a host of evil. The story is quite disturbing as the evil often takes the form of ordinary, adult people - friends and neighbours. The children remain in peril from a human-spiritual hybrid and are also unable to control the elements, which are sometimes an enemy and sometimes an ally. A great novel which introduces some of the main players in the enitre chronology.
The Dark Is Rising:
A book which can be read as a stand alone novel. Will Stanton becomes aware of a strange other world and of his inner identity as a master of an other, ancient world. Battling with dark knights on horseback his quest is to discover the whereabouts of ancient symbols which will protect against the rising army of darkness which threatens this old way of life. The novel also introduces a poem by Cooper which gives clues about the outcome of the entire series.
A novel which centres on the character of Jane. This is really the novel that was written for girls about a girl. Jane becomes a heroine in this story as she confronts an entity of the ocean in dreams and reality. The novel brings together the main characters of the last two novels and allows them to build a team relationship in preperation for future battles.
Set in the greenest valleys of Wales, Grey King introduces a new character, Bran, who is part of the lore of the ancient world. The novel conjures up the Welsh culture wonderfully and there is even a discussion between two characters about how to pronounce the language, which is helpful. The writing is stunning in descriptive terms of the landscape of the Tal Y Llyn lake and the Cadir Idris moutains. Cooper has a pantheistic sense of the natural Earth.
Silver On The Tree:
The last novel in the sequence has a coming of age feel about it. The children characters seem older and wiser and now must faced with the harsh realities of an adult world. The novel is sad in tone. Although one battle comes to an end the children are told by their sage: "Although we have delivered you from evil, the evil inside men i at the last a matter for men to control. The responsibility and the hope and the promise are in your hands...". This life lesson is one of many that is an important and inspirational messge for young readers.
The novels have remained my favourite young people's books since I read them as a child and I easily re-read these frequently. I would highly recommend for competent readers of age 10 and above and for children who enjoy sci-fi and fantasy novels. I would also recommend this to adults who may have missed reading these growing up.