Another fabulous guest post today from one of my fellow book bloggers/YAckers, Melissa, who's here to tell us why The Dark is Rising is the perfect Winter read.
I never thought much about books being seasonal until a blogging friend of mine, Julie (whose blog is now defunct), mentioned that she reads Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising (the book, not the whole series) every December 21st. The first year she mentioned that, I actually took her suggestion and picked it up. And you know what? It's the perfect book for midwinter.
Lest you have lived in a hole your whole life and not know the children's classic I'm talking about, here's a brief summary:
Will Stanton wakes up on the morning of his 11th birthday, he discovers that he is the last of the Old Ones -- the first one being Merlin -- magical men and women over the ages through Britain sworn to protect the world from the Dark. Over the course of the next couple weeks -- from midwinter to Epiphany -- Will is sent on a quest through time to find the six magical Signs and join them to aid the powers of the Light and turn back the Dark. He will face many challenges, have to search through time and space, putting together clues as he races the rising of the Dark. If he doesn't get the Signs in time, the world will be doomed.
It all sounds pretty simplistic, and in many ways it is. The characters are archetypes, the story slow. But in this case, the writing is so good, so atmospheric, that it makes the book an amazing winter read:
"The snow lay thin and apologetic over the world. That wide grey sweep was the lawn, with the straggling trees of the orchard still dark beyond; the white squares were the roofs of the garage, the old barn, the rabbit hutches, the chicken coops. Further back there were only the flat fields of Dawson's farm, dimly white-striped. All the broad sky was grey, full of more snow that refused to fall. There was no colour anywhere."
The mood that Cooper evokes in the book, the use of the midwinter holidays and the way she incorporates the Arthurian myth are all things that make this book a classic. There are parts that are dark and cold and haunting, enough so that you can feel the chill of the winter night. Then she contrasts it with the warmth and loudness of the Stanton family; one of the more wonderful elements in the book is the sheer familiar presence of the Stanton family, with their craziness -- it's a large family -- and loudness and love. Cooper also uses elements of light: one of is on Christmas Day when the Dark attacks the church. Will and other old ones defend it using Light to turn them back,but there's another element of love as Cooper shows Will's tender concern when his older brother gets caught in the fray.
But the best thing in my book is Cooper's use of Merlin and the Arthurian legends. There's something very ancient about this book (especially, though the others in the series also have this same ancient feel), something timeless. Which makes it a perfect book to read on a cold, snowy winter day.
Wow - Melissa has certainly sold me on this one. While I have the whole Dark is Rising sequence on my shelf, I've yet to actually read them. After reading Melissa's post I'll be moving them up my TBR pile forthwith. If you want to read more of Melissa's beautifully put book musings then please check our her blog, The Book Nut.