The Grey King

Style: Outstanding

Attitude: Unobjectionable

In Brief: Atmospheric story, merging everyday and magical worlds; everyday friendships amidst mysterious events

Cover of The Grey King

Author: Susan Cooper

Series: The Dark is Rising

Publisher: Puffin

Published in: 1975

Age Range: Pre Teens

Period: Contemporary

Setting: Wales

Genres:  ArthurianMagic


  • Will Stanton is sent to relatives, the Evans, in Wales to recover from Hepatitis; there he will face the greatest of his enemies and make lasting allies.
  • Bran Davies is the adopted son of Owen Davies, worker on the Evans farm. He is marked out by his lack of colour, but also because of his true parentage.
  • John Rowlands is an ordinary man but who understands the battle between The Light and The Dark and who throws his lot in with The Light on account of his love for Bran.
  • The Brenin Llwyd is the greatest of the Lords of the Dark, guarding his fastnesses in Wales to prevent the Old Ones from claiming the objects which give them the advantage in the battle to come.


Will Stanton has a bout of hepatitis and is sent to Wales to recuperate. There he meets Bran Davies, an albino with a dog called Cafall and slightly mysterious origins. As Will's lost memories return, he remembers the quest he is on, to find the Harp of Gold, one of the objects which will give power to The Light in their climactic approaching battle; and he comes to realise the part which Bran will play in that fight.


This book carries an atmosphere with it like no other in this series. It is a story which fits its bleak setting of North Wales completely. The characters are drawn precisely, if loosely in the case of some of the more background characters.

The story produces an almost seamless mixture of the everyday and the mystical; Will helps John to herd sheep, and reveals to him the quest he must follow. Bran reveals that he was warned by Merriman of Will's arrival, and engages him in friendship by teaching him how to pronounce Welsh. When tragedy hits Bran he at first rejects Will and all he stands for, but later returns to help him, both for the quest's sake and for the sake of their friendship.

The plot is episodic in places, but the story nonetheless has a unity and an atmosphere which compels, and once more the legendary aspects of the story fit perfectly within it, giving it depth, rather than appearing as surface shine.

Rhys turned the car inland, towards the mountains, and almost at once Will had a strange new feeling of enclosure, almost of menace. The little road was narrow here, like a tunnel, with its high grass banks and looming hedges like green walls on either side. Whenever they passed the gap where a hedge opened to a field through a gate, he could see the green-brown bulk of hillsides rearing up a the grey sky. And ahead, as bends in the road showed open sky briefly through the trees, a higher fold of grey hills loomed in the distance, disappearing into ragged cloud. Will felt that he was in a part of Britain like none he head ever known before: a secret, enclosed place, with powers hidden in its shrouded centuries at which he could not begin to guess. He shivered.

Will picked a single blossom from a gorse bush beside him; it shone bright yellow on his grubby hand. “People are very complicated,” he said sadly.

“So they are,” John Rowlands said. His voice deepened a little, louder and clearer than it had been. “But when the battles between you and your adversaries are done, Will Stanton, in the end the fate of all the world will depend on just those people, and on how many of them are good or bad, stupid or wise. And indeed it is all so compicated that I would not dare foretell what they will do with their world. Our world.” He whistled softly. “Tyrd yma, Pen, Tip.”

Carefully he picked up his loop of barbed wire, and with the dogs following, he walked away beside the fence, over the hill

Saturday 19th July 2003