Jan 1, 2009

The Dark is Rising and Greenwitch by Susan Cooper

And this is only the beginning of the peril, Will. Through all this midwinter season their power will be waxing very strong, with the Old Magic able to keep it at a distance only on Christmas Eve. And then past Christmas it will grow, not losing its high force until Twelfth Day, the Twelfth Night – which once was Christmas Day, and once before that, long ago, was the high winter festival of our old year.

The Dark is Rising, the second book in the sequence of the same title, introduces a new protagonist. The story opens on Midwinter’s Eve, a day before Will Stanton’s eleventh birthday. Will is a seemingly ordinary child, one of nine children in a happy family. However, his eleventh Midwinter brings him an unexpected revelation about himself. He meets a man by the name of Merryman Lyon who tells him he has a role to play in the struggle between the forces of the Light and the Dark. In the middle of the worst snowstorm seen in years, he will have to keep his family, his village, and the world at large safe from the Dark.

I’m so glad I read this around Midwinter and Christmas. It really couldn’t have fitted the mood of this time of the year better. The Dark is Rising is much darker than the first book in the sequence, Over Sea, Under Stone. I think my favourite thing about it was how well it evoked the wintertime mood, as well as this feeling of…ancientness. Of things much older and stronger than we are, things that make humans feel helpless and small. Like a merciless winter.

I also love Susan Cooper’s use of mythology and folklore. The story is full of little bits of lore – the Wild Hunt, the Hunting of the Wren, and of course, Arthurian myth. They all add to the incredibly cool mood I was telling you about.

And plus, Will Stanton is such a great character. I now completely understand Fyrefly’s crush on him. You’d think that a child who is simultaneously immensely old would be difficult to pull off, but Will never ceases to be fully believable – both as a little boy and as something more.

The Dark is Rising is my favourite book in the sequence so far. And although I also expect the others to be good, I’ll be surprised if any of them manage to surpass it.

On to Greenwitch:
As Jane looked at the huge image that they had made, out of leaves and branches, she could not understand their lightness. For she knew suddenly, out there in the cold dawn, that this silent image somehow held within it more power than she had ever sensed before in any creature or anything. Thunder and storms and earthquakes were there, and all the force of the earth and the sea. It was outside Time, boundless, ageless, beyond any line drawn between good and evil. Jane stared at it, horrified, and from its sightless head the Greenwitch stared back. It would not move, or seem to come alive, she knew that. Her horror came not from fear, but from the awareness she suddenly felt from the image of an appalling, endless loneliness. Great power was held only in great isolation. Looking at the Greenwitch, she felt a terrible awe, and a kind of pity as well.
This book takes us back to Cornwall, the setting of the first book, and it also reintroduces its protagonists, the Drew children. Will is still here, though, as is of course Merryman.

Greenwitch is the shortest book in the series, and what happens in it feels more like a prelude of things to come. But by this I don’t mean I didn’t enjoy it.

My favourite thing about it was the whole making of the Greenwitch ritual, which was just incredibly cool. Though quite different from The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch actually gave me a similar feeling. Again we have nature as something ancient and awe-inspiring. This time, that feeling is transmitted now my winter, but by the sea.

The sea, or the sound of the sea, is always in the background, and it feels a little menacing. It’s not that it’s dark or hostile, but it’s not welcoming either. It just is. It’s there, it’s large and it’s older than we are.

While Greenwitch didn’t do as much as its predecessor in terms of moving the plot forwards, we do get quite a bit of character development, especially when it comes to the Drew children. I liked Jane in this book even more than in the first one. She’s sensible and compassionate, and this actually ends up being essential to the plot.

So, only The Grey King and Silver On The Tree left to go. I can tell that this is going to be one of those series I really miss once I finish them.


Other Reviews:
Epiphany (The Dark is Rising)
Epiphany (Greenwitch)
Working Title (The Dark is Rising)
Working Title (Greenwitch)
Words by Annie (The Dark is Rising)
Words by Annie (Greenwitch)
Saving My Sanity (Greenwitch)
You Can Never Have Too Many Books
Once Upon a Bookshelf

The Emerald City Book Review

(Let me know if I missed yours.)


On a completely unrelated note:

Sir Terrence of Pratchett: Knight of Awesome


34 comments:

  1. Sir Terry Pratchett: totally made of awesome, and completely deserving :)
    I read The Dark is Rising Sequence over and over when I was a youngster. I'm pretty sure I could still recite the poem by heart, too.
    It's sort of on my re-read list for the year. :)

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  2. oh good! this is sounding good and I have this set in my tbr pile..!!
    Thank you nymeth!

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  3. I have only read the first book in this series. I really should try and remedy that this year!

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  4. Here you go kicking off the new year with another damn tempting review :p And I totally love the Pratchett news!

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  5. Glad you enjoyed the series so far! :] Thanks for the wonderful news on Sir Pratchett! He really does deserve the honor.

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  6. I've just added this series to my list. Nice review.

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  7. Very cool about the knighting. I wonder if they rushed that through.

    Was The Dark is Rising made into a movie? I think my son and I saw it and I kind of hated it, but you know the t-shirt sentiment . . . Don't judge a book by its movie. :)

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  8. Knighted...how totally cool is that?!!

    You're making me want to read this series more and more and more...

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  9. I like The Dark is Rising less than I did Greenwitch, mostly because in Rising I was wised up to the helpless female approach to Will's triumph. I'm afraid I notice those things constantly; it's very distracting. I like Greenwitch more because of the focus on woman's work.

    However, Rising-the-book will always beat Rising-the-movie.

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  10. This sounds like a good series, Nymeth. I especially like what you said about the author adding in bits of mythology and folklore. I'll have to look into this further. Thanks for another great review.

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  11. Another great book! Thanks for the review!

    I read about Pratchett's knighting earlier this morning from another book blogger from Malaysia. Totally cool!

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  12. I just started Over Sea, Under Stone yesterday night, and am now REALLY looking forward to getting into this series!! Thanks so much for awesome reviews on these books! :)

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  13. Thank you for stopping by my blog! I've added you to my reader and I look forward to hearing from you again :)

    - Lu

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  14. This is another series I haven't gotten around to reading! I saw a but of the film and was not impressed but reviews like this are inspiring me to try them!

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  15. I really should reread and continue this series some day. I read the first two (I think) when I was a kid and never did complete the series. I think she's writtem more since I read them way back when anyways. Maybe I'll get to them this year.

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  16. I read and really enjoyed 'Over Sea Under Stone' a few years back but stalled on The Dark is Rising, I'm thinking it might be about time to give it another go at some point this year.

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  17. Sir Terry Pratchett! Awesome isn't it?:)

    I still haven't read this fantasy classic, I'm glad you liked these books, I might get around the first one this year...

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  18. Oh I love the Dark is Rising and Will is one of my all time favourite characters! I read somewhere that my other favourite Will (from His Dark materials) is named for him.

    Enjoy the rest of the series

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  19. I found your blog on Alessandra's Out of the Blue blog, and I am in love! Great blog, I will now add you to my blogroll.

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  20. I have this series and am really looking forward to getting around to reading them. You are not helping by singing their praises! I will bear your comments in mind about reading the secnd book around winter though thanks.

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  21. One of my favourite childhood books which I've just re-read ;0)

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  22. Maree: Isn't he? :D I hope you enjoy the sequence just as much the second time around.

    Deslily, I think you'll enjoy it!

    Kailana: Yep :P So far, I think they get better after the first book.

    Chris: Can you think of a better way to kick off a new year? :P

    Orchidus: I thought the news was fun, and I was glad to hear him say he did too!

    Charley, hope you enjoy it :)

    Bookfool: In that first BBC video the interviewer actually asked him if he thought he was only getting it because of his illness! He handled it so gracefully, though. It was indeed, but yes, the t-shirt is right :P I haven't watched it, but I can't say I've heard anything very good about it.

    Debi: "Sir Terry" makes me smile every time. And I think we can agree that's a good thing, yes? :P

    Renay: I think it's good to pay attention to those things! I also really liked that about the ceremony where they made the Greenwitch.

    Literary Feline: As you know I'm a sucker for folklore and mythology and novels that use them :P Susan Cooper does it in a particularly original way, tough.

    Alice: It is, isn't it? :D I think the coolest think about it is that in some ways this is a public acknowledgement that yes, fantasy is literature. Not that public acknowledgements are essential or anything, but it signals changing attitudes.

    Court: Can't wait to hear what you think of them!

    Lu, you're most welcome :)

    Mariel: You'll enjoy it for sure! And yeah, I haven't heard very good things about the film.

    Nicola: Yes, do!

    Bart: I hope it works for you this time!

    Valentina, hope you get to them! And yep, awesome indeed :D

    Alexa: The other Will! I love him to bits too, and I had no idea he was named for this Will. That's so cool.

    Korianne: Awww, thank you!

    Rhinoa: I'm glad to be not helping :P

    The Holistic Knitter: Does it get better every time? I bet it does :P

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  23. This does sound like a good series.
    Great review as always :)
    Now you've made me want to read this too...lol
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  24. The Dark is Rising is by far my favorite book in the series, although the rest are good too. I'll cop to not being particularly familiar with a lot of the mythology that Cooper draws upon the first time I read these books, so I probably missed a lot of the significance, but I loved them all the same.

    And how lucky for you that you read them during the winter - I think I read them during a few bright summer days while I was waiting for the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix! They still made me shiver, though... that scene in the beginning of The Dark is Rising where Will and his brother are being attacked by the birds is one of the creepiest things I think I've ever read.

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  25. Naida: Do, do! You know you want to :P

    Fyrefly: The only reason why I knew about The Hunting of the Wren was because I read The Folklore of Discworld a couple of months ago, and it explains all about that and lots of other English folklore. It was so cool to see it used in the book. I completely agree about the scene with the birds! I seem to be coming across quite a few creepy birds scenes lately, now that I think of it.

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  26. I love it when books suit the season you are reading them in. And Will does sound like a great character.

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  27. these sound really good, great review!
    enjoy the rest of the series ;)
    I always feel so out of the loop...lol. Most of the books you have read and reviewed, i've never heard of. Yet you make them sound great.
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  28. I am so glad you are enjoying this series - it was one of my favorites as a child - and it got me interested in reading more about Arthurian legend, which opened up worlds to me. I'm very much looking forward to reading these to my girls some time soon!

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  29. I'm so glad you liked them! And that you got to read DIR over Christmas. That one book is probably the best one I've ever read that captures a particular season like that.

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  30. Lenore: I love it too!

    Naida: ha, I did that with a few Swap posts recently, so it totally serves me right :P I blame comment moderation!

    Darla D: It's so great how books can do that. Like Nick Hornby so wisely puts it in his Stuff I've been Reading columns, reading generates more reading.

    Megan: Now that I think of it, same here.

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  31. Yes! Thrilled to see these show up on a book blog. I read these over and over again as a child, and I *think* we have them all floating around the apartment somewhere, awaiting the day my son is old enough and interested. :) Wonderful, wonderful series.

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  32. I've only read the first one too (like Deslily) and the rest were supposed to be read last year! Aaagh! I really have to get to them, your review makes me want to do it NOW but i have to finish Middlemarch.....must not get side-tracked.....

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  33. I don't know if you still link on older reviews, but here is my review of the sequence (in the Folio Society edition): http://emeraldcitybookreview.blogspot.com/2014/03/beautiful-books-dark-is-rising.html

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.