‘And none shall stop the Dark from rising!’
Think of this as an alternative Christmas classic. It starts conventionally enough: boy has birthday. Boy told of his unique power as part of a secret, magical brotherhood stretching back into pre-history. Boy understandably surprised. Boy meets destiny. Thus, the plot of The Dark Is Rising. The second in Susan Cooper’s sequence of young adult novels is the best-known (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was also the second of the Narnia series – perhaps these things take time to get into their stride) – and the only reason I picked it up is that two authors I admire (David Mitchell and Matt Haig, thanks for asking) said they had enjoyed it as children. Despite being the right vintage myself, this one passed me by completely at the time. Cooper’s tale follows Will Stanton, who will turn 11 in December, on the shortest day of the year. He has a gift, and like all gifts he may come to hate and resent it: but he is stuck with it. Like the protagonists in the Harry Potter series or Star Wars, Will needs to learn how to use it and may, at times, have to choose between his loved ones and the greater good. Bummer. To triumph over evil, he needs to identify various hidden signs – but the problem is that other forces know what these are, too, and are keen to get to them first. The ordinariness of the 1970s Buckinghamshire setting adds to the book’s appeal. There is a frightening scene of Hitchcockian tension in a church, when Will’s family and friends are – unknowingly – in peril of being blasted beyond time itself. Adults cannot be relied upon (this is a very attractive idea for children, I seem to recall). The mysterious Mr Mitothin, for instance, has inveigled his way rather shockingly into Will’s family’s trust. The tension when he appears at an exchange of Christmas presents is beautifully observed. It all gets a little bit mythical/fantastical, there is very stormy weather, and, as with ITV’s Children of the Stones from the same era (which had the Scariest. Music. Ever.™), there is a sense that this is not over.