The Dark Is Rising Sequence Analysis
by Susan Cooper

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The Dark Is Rising Sequence Analysis

(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 over humankind, using as its weapons fear and deceit. Those who give way to anger, prejudice, and self-centeredness, such as Caradog Prichard in The Grey King and Mr. Moore in Silver on the Tree, become vulnerable to its power, allowing the Dark to grow in strength. Opposed to it is the Light, which endeavors to protect humankind. Although generous and forgiving, the Light can be uncompromising in the sacrifices it requires of its followers. Virtue, after all, is never easy.

The Old Ones are charged with ensuring the preservation of the world from the Dark. At times the struggle may be so close that it leaves little room for acts of charity and mercy, or for protecting a wayward child. Acts of betrayal may have consequences too far-reaching to be overlooked.

Under these circumstances, the young protagonists are expected to assume responsibilities at an earlier age than usual. Their help is needed desperately, and they can be given only limited protection. This leads to a growth in...

(The entire section is 672 words.)