No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, December 21, 2017

2017/100: The Dark is Rising -- Susan Cooper

Then he was flying again, at large in the blue-black sky, with the stars blazing timeless around his head, and the patterns of the stars made themselves known to him, both like and unlike the shapes and powers attributed to them by men long ago. The Herdsman passed, nodding, the bright star Arcturus at his knee; the Bull roared by, bearing the great sun Aldebaran and the small group of the Pleiades singing in small melodic voices, like no voices he had ever heard. Up he flew, and outward, through black space, and saw the dead stars, the blazing stars, the thin scattering of life that peopled the infinite emptiness beyond. And when he was done... he knew the mystery of Uranus and the despair of Mercury, and he had ridden on a comet's tail. [p. 105]

Reread, with the intention of joining in with the seasonal read-along: in the end I didn't, but wallowed in fond memories, tinged with a wistful sense of 'if only real-world evil were that simple'.

The Dark is Rising opens on the day before Will Stanton's eleventh birthday: it's midwinter, nearly Christmas, and he is a happy, normal, excited boy. Then the Dark comes looking for him -- and so does the Light, for he is the seventh son of a seventh son (something he didn't realise, his mother having omitted to mention a sibling who died young), and he has a duty to perform.

You can't say no to the Light. "If you were born with the gift, then you must serve it, and nothing in this world or out of it may stand in the way of that service, because that is why you were born and that is the Law," says Merriman Lyon, his mentor [p. 43]. And the Light is not always kind to those who serve it: a subplot concerns a Light-allied human, once Merriman's servant, who turns to the Dark when he realises that Merriman would willingly sacrifice him in service of the Light. In a way, that's worse than the Dark, who 'cannot kill those of the Light'.

There are other elements that I read differently now than when I first read this book as a child. Back then, I was charmed by the sense of island-nation Englishness: now I find chilling echoes in a mention of invaders 'attacking [Will's] island country, bringing each time the malevolence of the Dark with them' [p. 106]. And there is something improbably cosy about the terrible snowstorms that cripple the country (the London docks shut down, the transport network crippled).

But there is such beautiful writing here, such lovely imagery: that's what I remembered before I started my reread, and that's what I'll continue to remind myself of, when this old favourite seems tarnished by my own adult experience.

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