Susan Cooper

The Dark Is Rising

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The Dark Is Rising Summary

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The Dark is Rising is a 1973 contemporary fantasy novel for young adult readers by English author Susan Cooper, and the second book in The Dark is Rising Sequence. It is preceded by Over Sea, Under Stone and followed by Greenwitch, The Grey King, and Silver on the Tree. The series, published between 1965 and 1977, focuses on eleven-year-old Will Stanton, who learns on his birthday that he is what is known as an “Old One”—he is destined to wield the powers of The Light in an ancient struggle with the evil force, The Dark. Exploring themes of good vs. evil, the passage of time, fate vs. free will, and what it truly means to be powerful, The Dark is Rising is the best-known book in the sequence and was very popular upon its release. It influenced other book series in the young adult genre. It received a Newbery Honor upon its release. A film adaptation, The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, was released in 2007 and was criticized for major changes to the source material, including by Cooper.

The Dark Is Rising begins with Will Stanton awaiting his eleventh birthday. Everyone expects him to be happy with his birthday and the holiday season right around the corner, but he is not. All he wants for his birthday is for it to snow, but it does not look as if that is going to happen. He goes about his chores on the family farm, going to bed on his birthday eve, hoping for snow. When he gets up the next morning, he does not notice if it snowed because something very strange has happened. He can see his family as they go about their morning routine, but when he talks to them, they cannot see or hear him. When he looks out the window, he sees lots of snow on the ground. Forgetting temporarily about the strangeness, he goes outside to play in the snow, where he is approached by a mysterious woman. She offers Will, who has not had breakfast yet, some bread, and he takes it. She then gives him a horse. When he gets on the horse, it takes him to a group of doors in the woods. Will knows something strange is happening, but he decides to take a chance and see where this adventure leads.

Will enters the doors; inside, he meets an old woman and a mysterious man named Merriman. They explain to him the truth—Will is an Old One, meaning he has the potential for mysterious powers, including immortality. He is confused, but Merriman tells Will to concentrate on an idea in his head and make it happen. He thinks of a fire, and one spontaneously is created in the fireplace. Will’s initial skepticism is gone, and he cannot wait to play around with his new ability. However, his new mentors tell him that he must go on a quest for Signs. These are magical sigils that will help him defeat the Dark, an ancient evil with whom Merriman has been in an endless war. Will is practicing his magic for the quest when agents of the Dark attack. The old woman is kidnapped, but Merriman assures Will that she is okay. Old Ones can travel through time and space, so she can escape. Merriman tells Will he will contact him when he is needed. Will is sent back home to his family, who is released from the spell that made Will invisible. Things go back to normal for now.

However, soon the leader of the Dark, The Rider, comes calling. Will learns that the Rider knows his father, and the Rider comes to their house on Christmas. This is right after Will is given a strange carnival mask from his brother Stephen. Will immediately has a feeling that the mask is key to defeating the Rider, so he hides it when the villain comes around. The Rider eventually leaves, not finding what he wants, but he also creates a blizzard that snows-in the town. Everyone gathers at the family manor to stay warm, including Merriman, who gives Will more instructions about collecting the signs. Will has been gathering them in his spare time, but Merriman tells him he needs all six to defeat the rider. As she makes her way back from the storm, Will’s sister is kidnapped; the Rider plans to lure Will out to find her. Will, knowing that this is a trap, follows the Rider. He is nearly killed in the ensuing battle with the villain, but Merriman shows up in the nick of time and helps him escape. They stop along the way to collect the sixth sign, which will allow them to defeat the Dark. They bring the signs and the mask to the mysterious Hunter, an agent of the Light, who is the Rider’s heroic counterpart. The two warriors battle, and the Hunter is easily able to defeat the Rider thanks to Will having collected all the signs and pumping him full of good magic. The book ends with Will and Merriman talking, as Merriman warns Will that more threats will be coming in the future.

Susan Mary Cooper is an English author of children’s books, best known for The Dark is Rising Sequence. She frequently incorporates British mythology into her works. A prolific author, she has written twenty-two children’s books, four screenplays, a dramatic play, two biographies, and two works of nonfiction. In 2012, she won the Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association for her lifetime of work. She has also been honored by the Welsh Books Council.