Sunday, October 28, 2007

"Our aspirations are wrapped up in books..." -Belle & Sebastian

So here it comes, with out further ado: My long promised essay/review about Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising.

In order for me to write about this book intelligently I have to tell where I was in read it the first time.

I was in sixth grade, which was my 11th year (critical for reasons to be talked about later). My parents were divorced and I had just spent a year living in Kentucky with my grandfather. I moved back to my hometown in New Mexico and felt like an outsider. A girl that I knew named Sarah Howell (I think that was her name, she moved on to Nebraska and I don't think I ever saw her again) recommended that I read The Dark Is Rising while I was at a book fair at school.

I did not tear through it. I bought the first one started reading it, put it down, started reading it again, put it down, then towards the end of sixth grad I hit a period where I felt so alone that my only solace was this book.

The book is about eleven year old Will Stanton who discovers on his eleventh birthday that he is the last of the Old Ones, servants of the Light who wage constant battle against the Dark. The story is many things, but first and foremost it is a great representation of what it feels like to be on the verge of young adulthood. I think that I started puberty when I was nine or ten and by the time I was eleven I had grown three inches, lost all my baby teeth and started wanting to be in love for the first time. I related very well to Will Stanton's constant battle of self definition.

One of the great recurring themes in the book is Will's coming to terms with the fact that he is immortal so while he feels like an eleven year old boy he is in fact ageless. There are confrontations throughout the book where Will has to come to terms with his agelessness. And there are times when he draws on this limitless knowledge that he has. He knows things about his home in Buckinghamshire because he has lived through them in previous times.

Along those lines, the thing that Susan Cooper's book did for me is to shape my desire for knowledge about history. I can remember reading a chapter where Will acquires one of the Six Signs on a road called Tramps' Alley. During confrontation with a witch named Maggie, The Walker and Will we learn that the road is actually a road of great power, one of the Old Ways and was actually known as Oldway Lane. This is a device that some English authors employ very well and it always intrigues me.

England is a country that has always seemed ageless to me, one of the side effects of this book, and I love it when writers try to evoke that agelessness in their stories. Recently a Neil Gaiman story called Neverwhere did it for me. This was the first though.

There are other things that I love about the whole series of "Dark is Rising" books. Principally there is the delicate weaving of Arthurian Legend into the overarching story line, but there is also a healthy dose of paganism in the stories. Things like oak, fire, water and stone are given a place of special importance in the story and I remember loving the thought that there is something else driving the world.

Second on my list of things that I loved is Merriman Lyon, he enters the story as the oldest of the Old Ones and he is both caring and callous, he is dangerous, powerful, and distinctly not human. His actions are other worldly. Someone who is jaded by the ability to jump randomly back and forth in time at his will. But he is not all powerful. He still has limitations and that is where the story draws in the aspirations of an eleven year old boy. During the year that I lived with my grandfather I developed a real sense of what a young man is capable of doing. And I imagined Will's quest as being something that only a young man could accomplish. Someone who wasn't jaded.

I am hesitant to talk to much about the specifics about the story, because I think that a reader would draw different things from each situations so I will close with this.

The thing that Susan Cooper's books did was make me want to be willing to see the world in a different light. To see a significance to a murder of crows or the name of a street or town. It showed me that there is meaning to things and that with a little imagination you can find it.

If you haven't read the books, start with The Dark is Rising. It is a wonderful story. It holds up and I would put its age limits at 11 to ageless.


Blogger Nicky said...

Nice review. I kind of relate to your affection for this book; it is similar to the way I felt about Alice in Wonderland, although they are two very different books. Alice was a book that I, too, read when I was about the same age as the protagonist, and the discoveries she makes and journey she embarks on intrigued me in the sense that she asked questions I wanted to know the answers to, too. She had to relate to and make sense of an adult world that made no sense to a child's eye. She was beginning to solve problems and take an interest in the world around her, and it stuck with me. In the same way, too, as you described, reading Alice was what brought me my fascination with England as a country and historical place.

Funny how a single book, especially one that many could see as a "throwaway" since it is intended for children, can be so influential to a person.

10/28/2007 08:54:00 PM  

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