The Dark is Rising Sequence

review by MacBeth Derham

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The Dark is Rising sequence is rather like Star Wars in its theology...there is a balance between the ‘dark’ and the ‘light,’ but the balance is being disturbed, and the ‘dark’ is rising.  The ‘light’ must turn it back.  There are certain symbols of the ‘light’:  A Grail, a harp, a crystal sword, six circles divided by a cross, etc.


In the first book, Over Sea, Under Stone, which starts out beautifully with no heavy foreshadowing of what is to come, three children find a map, avoid the bad guys, and find a grail (not THE Holy Grail, I don’t think).  Their Uncle Merry helps them.  Merry, it turns out, is an "Old One" who lives for centuries.  In fact, he is Merlin of Arthurian legend, we find out in later books.   This first book is recommended without reservation.

The second book, _The Dark is Rising_, is quite dark. Set in winter, the story revolves around the awakening of a new "Old One."  Will Stanton has just turned 11, and his status as an Old One is revealed to him, along with some interesting powers.  This story includes lots of time travel, a bit of "mind control," very evil characters, and mysterious happenings, some of which are not revealed completely until other books in the sequence. The role of the ‘light’ and ‘the dark’ is now revealed to the reader. A church (Anglican, we must assume, as the story is set in the UK), is a place of ‘light.’  So far, so good.  But there are some troubling passages.  In the church, during a conversation with the Vicar, the Old Ones (people of ‘light’) mention that the Cross as a symbol of power is older than Christianity.  The vicar counters with, "But not older than God."  The author tells us that the Old Ones remain silent on that point, so as not to offend the Vicar. The reader must wonder what their silence means.  As a read aloud, you can skip that line, and the whole book is much better without it.  Do we pass on the whole book because of one line?  It's up to you.

In Greenwitch, there are many pagan references.  It is a tradition in Cornwall for the young girls and women of the area to make a "green witch" out of green boughs, and send it to sea, off a cliff, with their wishes for a prosperous year.  In this story, the Greenwitch is a real entity—an entity of chaos.  There is also the sea goddess "Tethys"—neither of the ‘dark’ nor of the ‘light.’  The Grail is stolen and retrieved, and there is a bit of "mind control" used by both the ‘dark’ and ‘the light.’  Libby (11 at the time she read it) did not care for this one at all. The other books may be read without it, though; the reader will not miss anything important.

The Grey King, which is very good, includes time travel, Welsh history and language, shape-shifting animals, mind control, real evil, death of a beloved pet (very tragic and unsettling), unrequited love, and Guinevere.  I really enjoyed this one, and I think you can read this one without having read Greenwitch.  There is no specific reference to God, but there is some discussion of faith.  The Grey King won the Newbery Award.  Recommended.

The last book, The Silver on the Tree, is very strange.  It takes place in the lost country—almost like Atlantis—and addresses—at length-- the issue of despair, in a similar fashion to Tolkien’s Theoden of Rohan.  It is quite confusing at times (for the characters, too), and is only saved by the relationship between the characters.  King Arthur finally shows up (more time travel), and all is set right. 


Overall, the books are very well written.  The sentence structure is strong, as is the vocabulary.  Between the child-characters, the sense of right and wrong are quite good.  But the ‘dark’ and ‘light’ are not held to any standard when it comes to their own purposes.  Morality is convenient for them, and the end does justify the means on both sides.  I do recommend the books, but only for the well-formed.  I think most homeschooled Catholic kids are well-formed, and can read the books.  After all, you’ll be there in case any issues are raised, and there won’t be a classroom full of moral relativists debating the issues with your kids!

© 2004

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