The Dark is Rising

Style: Good

Attitude: Take Care → Positive

In Brief: A boy coming to terms with new-found powers and responsibilities; family life; love for music

Cover of The Dark is Rising

Author: Susan Cooper

Series: The Dark is Rising

Publisher: Puffin

Published in: 1973

Age Range: Children+

Period: Contemporary

Setting: Buckinghamshire

Genres:  Growing-UpMagic


  • Will Stanton is, at 11, the youngest of the large Stanton family. He discovers that he the youngest and the last of the Old Ones, born with a special responsibility to protect the world from The Dark.
  • Merriman Lyon is the oldest of the Old Ones who plays a part in every age. He is powerful and wise but tends to stay in the background. Mr Mitothin is the alias of the Black Rider, chief among the Lords of the Dark.


Will Stanton, seventh son of a seventh son, wakes on his 11th birthday to discover that he is the last of the Old Ones, destined to aid The Light in protecting the world we live in against The Dark. In this, his first quest, he must find the six signs, hidden for safekeeping by the Old Ones themselves until he comes to find them. As part of the quest he must acquire the learning and wisdom of the Old Ones. The Dark are all the time trying to prevent him from succeeding in his quest for the Circle of Signs which will assist The Light in this critical battle.


Although second in the series, it is this book which really sets the scene for the reader. We learn of The Light and The Dark, of the Old Ones of the Light, including Merriman Lyon from Over Sea, Under Stone and Will Stanton, whose eleventh birthday starts this story and changes his life. The champions of The Light and of The Dark have an ordinary place in this world in every age.

As throughout this series, Good and Evil are personified in the Old Ones and the Lords of the Dark. Religion is sidelined as something which gives men rise to consider matters of Good and Evil, and therefore merely a focus point for these two warring aspects. The Old Ones and The Dark both use some form of magic or power to control certain things, but its use is restrained and understated throughout.

Will has to live a double life, at once an ordinary son of an ordinary jeweller's family in rural Bucks and one of the Old Ones on a quest for the Circle of Signs. It is the way in which he manages this balance which helps the book so much: his family are very close, with children from Steven, grown-up in the Navy down to Will, the youngest, and the Seventh Son, a fact he only discovers in the course of the story when he learns of the Stanton's first child who died very young.

Music plays an undefined but important part in the story; Will himself is an accomplished chorister, and the rest of the family have various musical talents. The doors which the Old Ones use to move through time have a haunting melody attached to them, and several other moments are made more special, more homely by the use of music. It's one of the things which brings this book a little above the run-of-the-mill boy-with-special-powers story.

From behind him came a sound sweeter than seemed possible in the raw air of the cold grey morning. It was the soft, beautiful yearning tone of the old flute from the Manor; Paul, irresistibly drawn, must have put the instrument together to try it out. He was playing “Greensleeves” once more. The eerie, enchanted lilt floated out through the morning on the still air; Will saw Merriman raise his wild white head as he heard it, though he did not break his stride.

And as he looked down the road still, with the music singing in his ears, Will saw that our beyond Merriman the trees and mist and the stretch of the road were shaking, shivering, in a way that he knew well. And then gradually, out there, he saw the great Doors take shape. There they stood, as he had seen them on the open hillside and in the Manor: the tall carved doors that led out of Time, standing alone and upright in the Old Way that was known now as Huntercombe Lane. Very slowly, they began to open. Somewhere behind Will the music of “Greensleeves” broke off, with a laugh and some muffled words from Paul; but there was no break in the music that was in Will's head, for now it had changed into that haunting, bell-like phrase that came always with the opening of the Doors or any great change that might alter the lives of the Old Ones. Will clenched his fists as he listened, yearning towards the sweet beckoning sound the was the space between waking and dreaming, yesterday and tomorrow, memory and imagining. It floated lovingly in his mind, then gradually grew distant, fading. as out on the Old Way Merriman's tall figure swirled round again now by a blue cloak, passed through the open Doors. Behind him, the towering slabs of heavy carved oak swung together, together, until they shut. Then as the last echo of the enchanted music died, they disappeared.

And in a great blaze of yellow-white light, the sun rose over Hunter's Combe and the valley of the Thames

Tuesday 1st January 2002