The Dark Is Rising Sequence Critical Essays

Susan Cooper


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Susan Cooper has written novels and plays for adults as well as for children, but none has achieved more success than the Dark Is Rising sequence, for younger readers, written early in her career. Three of the books have won awards. Over Sea, Under Stone won a competition for a family adventure story held by publisher Jonathan Cape, The Dark Is Rising was a 1974 Newbery Honor Book, and The Grey King was the 1976 Newbery Award winner.

Among the qualities for which the sequence has gained praise is the powerful sense of double reality of ordinary life, on one hand, and of the realm of High Magic, on the other. In part, this comes from the clearly realized setting, recalled from the author’s own childhood, and from the skillful integration of regional legends, such as the stories of Arthur and the drowned lands of King Gwyddno.

The books also recognize the problems that young people must deal with every day, including misunderstandings and disagreements that disrupt even the closest families; hostility and bullying practiced by others of their own age; and impatience, unkindness, and even cruelty of adults too preoccupied with their own concerns to take account of the feelings of others. The results of such problems often are fear, loneliness, and a sense of betrayal that can embitter and destroy. This perpetuates a cycle of darkness that only love can break, a love so strong that it will forgive mistakes and injuries.

This situation finds a striking parallel in the supernatural world, where a struggle is taking place between the Light and the Dark. The latter seeks to gain control...

(The entire section is 672 words.)