The Dark Is Rising series readalong has reached its end, with the final volume in the series, Silver on the Tree. Although the book takes place at midsummer, it seems strangely appropriate for me to finish reading it on the winter solstice, when The Dark Is Rising begins. (I can’t help thinking of that as the first book in the sequence, and Over Sea, Under Stone as sort of a prequel.) Dark and Light come together at both these times, and reveal their hidden kinship.
With this book, author Susan Cooper shifts from the less-magical, more real-world atmosphere of The Grey King to bring back the numinous quality I love so much in her writing. So much so, in fact, that it’s almost too much — it seems as though with this last book she’s trying to pack in as many ideas and images as possible. Some of these, she reveals in the introduction to my Folio edition, came from her own dreams, and many passages have a dreamlike quality.
That can be bad as well as good; there is a tendency to fly about from one scene or character to the next, in a somewhat ungrounded way. We go from Will Stanton’s Buckinghamshire home, where there has been a mysterious invasion of bloodthirsty black minks, to the mountains of Wales, bringing Will together with his new friends Bran and the Drew children last seen in Greenwitch, now conveniently on a family holiday, to the Lost Land long swallowed by the waves where Bran and Will have to recover the silver sword of the Light … and that’s just the beginning. There’s also a timeslip into the past of Wales, visions of earlier risings of the Dark, glimpses of ancient Welsh heroes, a mysterious train that turns into a boat, a swoop back to the Chiltern hills of Buckinghamshire where the Midsummer Tree awaits … I expect you are getting dizzy just reading this.
So it’s not a book to rush through, but is better read slowly, letting each of its settings sink in before moving on to the next. I tried to do that this time, and was rewarded by the gradual unfolding of a rich palimpsest of beauty, mystery, danger, and awe. In the end, there is a beautiful envoi from Merriman, letting us know that though the magic of the Light must recede, there is still an adventure to be lived by each one of us:
–For Drake is no longer in his hammock, children, nor is Arthur somewhere sleeping, and you may not lie idly expecting the second coming of anybody now, because the world is yours and it is up to you. Now especially since man has the strength to destroy this world, it is the responsibility of man to keep it alive, in all its beauty and its marvellous joy…And the world will still be imperfect, because men are imperfect. Good men will still be killed by bad, or sometimes by other good men, and there will still be pain and disease and famine, anger and hate. But if you work and care and are watchful, as we have tried to be for you, then in the long run the worse will never, ever triumph over the better. And the gifts put into some men, that shine as bright as Eirias the sword, shall light the dark corners of life for all the rest, in so brave a world.
I always found it sad that the children had to forget all that they had been through, and remember it only in dreams. And I also had a hard time understanding why Bran’s choice, to enter the mortal world and leave his legendary father, who was going out of Time to live “at the back of the North Wind,” was the right one. As a child myself, I would have wanted to remember, and to make that journey.
But now, I think perhaps I can feel that in my own dreams, in all of our deeper knowing, we are still connected to that adventure and that journey. Perhaps it is right to forget, in one sense, while we are trying to bring that brighter, better world into being within our own. And as I have grown to adulthood, I have been given opportunities to perceive that brightness shining forth from certain human beings, so that I no longer long to leave the earth in order to find it. I know that light is here and that we can see it, when we “work and care and are watchful.”
I know for sure that reading these books made that quest a part of me, and that it will shine as long as the stars in the sky. Thanks to all who participated in this readalong, for giving me a chance to remember the good fight, and to resolve anew to carry on with it, in this time of darkness.