The Muse, Amused (penmage) wrote in tdir_readathon,
The Muse, Amused

The Dark Is Rising

Here is a discussion post for The Dark Is Rising. Feel free to jump in (or start your own!)

Spoilers for the whole book may appear in comments.
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The Walker is abroad. And this night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining.

How can you not keep reading after that?

I seem to recall finding this book hard to get through the first few times I attempted it. Yet now, I find I like the slow build, which really isn't as slow as I'd remembered after all: something is off, something is wrong, and the reader realizes it just a little bit before Will does.
I'm reading the first chapter right now, and I am amazed once again at how good it is. It builds so subtly; everything seems normal, but is off in such slight ways. Brilliant.

I also love the Stantons--I'm from a large family myself, and I can tell you, that's exactly how it feels--noisy and loud and often annoying, but altogether loving.
The Stantons are one of the best parts about Will's background: a loving, crazy family that aggravate him on occasion, but who love him - Barbara's hug/kiss when he wakes everyone up on his birthday - and whom he loves so desperately that he can't bear to have Paul look at him as a stranger after the incident at the church.

It's just so cool and mashed-together and crazy - and yet adorable.

(I'm not actually re-reading the books, but I've read it so many times over the years that I know the story pretty well.)
I'm not actually re-reading the books, but I've read it so many times over the years that I know the story pretty well.

Me too. =) I even wrote my dissertation (partly) on them. Wheee!
See, I find large families interesting because I never had that experience. Yes, I have a loooot of cousins, but there was just me with my parents. Until of course they took on Hailey, but that was only last year and I was far gone from the house. So, I find the dynamic fascinating..which may be another reason for me to like this book.
See, I find large families interesting because I never had that experience.

Me, too. Only I don't even have any cousins.
Sometimes I wish I didn't have cousins, but most of the time it's okay. My parents were from large families. Dad was one of ten, Mom was one of seven. So, lots of cousins. Still not the same as siblings though. I remember my Aunt buying me Mall Madness for Christmas. It was a "shopping" game. Only, I never had anyone over I just played with the little people in the mall and acted out scenes. Heh.
You know...I think a lot of that could be do to aging/growing up/what have you. Granted, I don't know how old you are, but a lot of books that I read when I was younger are so much easier to read now as an adult. Plus, you already know where the story is going, so you can probably appreciate the slow build a bit more.

This is my first time reading these books. The first twenty pages or so I just read in a random way. Whenever I felt like taking a break from job hunting...when I was in the bathroom (what? I'm a girl who admits to reading in the bathroom...heh)...but after that point I got really into it and had to just sit down and finish it.
I so love Will's family. It seems like most fiction forces an over-used, abusive, non-understanding family on the hero - it's wonderful to see a large, happy family.

This book is like comfort food - I've read it a dozen times and still, on today's re-reading, I'm turning pages eagerly, wanting to know 'what happens next?' because the *way* it happens, and the way it's written is so important. I also didn't remember so many hints to the rest of the story occurring in this book.

The big thing - what really makes these books stick to me more than others, I think - is that I *like* Will. I don't get the feeling he's a good guy because the writer is forcing it down my throat - he gets to prove he's a good guy, with understandable flaws and admirable qualities. I think Cooper did an amazing job mixing ageless wisdom and young boy. It's believable.

Anyway, those are my initial thoughts.

It's our second day of snow for the winter and felt like the perfect day to reread this book.
Wow. Snow already. But, I suppose, that does make a perfect setting for reading this book. I agree that the nice family was a good thing. This is my first time reading this series and so I was actually worried/carrying about what would happen to his family members. It kind of reminds me of the Weasleys.

I really wish I would have discovered these books before now.

I don't think I'll see the movie. After reading this initial book and then watching the previews for the movie I want to vomit.
I don't get the feeling he's a good guy because the writer is forcing it down my throat


Which is fascinating because one of the things I remember bugging me about this book the first time I read it was that while there are reasons Will is good, there are never any reasons the light is good, or that the dark is bad.

I'm still only a chapter in, but am really curious to see if I still feel this way as I read on.
...there are never any reasons the light is good, or that the dark is bad.

Oooh, now THAT is interesting. Because so far the only thing that is bothering me about this book (and granted, I'm only on page 50) is that it's Light Versus Dark, plain and simple, without the attempt at metaphor that most fantasy writers usually stick in. I mean, it's always Light Versus Dark, but the Dark is usually something with a name (like Sauron!) or even a personality (unlike Sauron! ...but like Voldemort, or the White Witch, or any of those classic characters), not just Dark. But your comment just gave everything a whole new layer, and I will DEFINITELY be reading with that in mind.
And heh--I just found thoughts about this in my journal from the last time I read this, where Cooper herself by the last book seems aware of the nature of what she's created with the light and dark, and of the problems therein. (But I'll wait until we get there to link to them.)
Slightly off topic, but Susan Cooper also wrote another book called Seaward, where the two sides were not Light and Dark but Blue and Gold... it may have nothing to do with the situation here, but it is something she has played a bit with before...
I think it's one of the things that adds depth to these books - that Light and Dark are Causes or Ideals rather than representing individuals. They are kind of outside human understanding and feelings. There are times, for example, when the Light can be cruel in an impersonal way - that serving the High Ideal means sacrifice of the small individual. It's well handled and interesting.
It's interesting that you mention that. I'm not sure whether it's because I reread it this time in a very interrupted fashion, but I found it rather more irritating than I usually do that there is no reason why the Light is good and the Dark is bad. Both Light and Dark do things that are not particularly nice to humans, each for their own higher ideals. About the only other thing we have to go on for a reason is that the Light gets associated with pretty music and the Dark is nastily cold. It does become clearer (I think) in the other books, but it really just seems like an arbitrary distinction.

And I never understood what made Hawkin actually choose the Dark, apart from being narked off at Merriman. What did the Dark offer that made it so enticing? Why would anyone ever choose the Dark? For that matter, why would anyone ever choose the Light? I would be quite strongly tempted to tell both factions to leave me the hell alone.
I've just reached the end of section 2, and I'm wondering exactly the same thing. That's about the only thing that's ticking me off so far about this book: I don't know what the Dark IS, just like I don't know what the Light is. They're supposed to be good and bad -- fine, I get that. But why? What characterizes good and bad, Dark and Light, in this book?

I think I'll start a new post for this. Once I finish the book.
The Dark and the Light seem to represent a flux of different associations throughout the books. In The Dark is Rising, the Dark is associated with the cold, the dark obviously, storms and floods - all the inhospitable wildness of nature, but deliberately turned to 'Dark' ends. Sometimes unbearable noise - other times utter silence. Always a sense of malice and terror, like a 'knowing' storm that batters at your door personally. Later Susan Cooper seems to have re-thought what the forces of nature are, and created the Wild Magic. It changes though over time - events such as the invasion of the Vikings, the racism of ordinary Britons when faced with the new immigrants, thwarted human desire, and even modern art apparently all have affinities with the Dark!
When I was a child I thought initially that the Light would be about kindness and other 'good' human qualities. But Susan Cooper was at real pains to show me that the Light was as implacable as the Sun in achieving its ends. (If you've met Herne yet, you'll know what I mean.) Then I thought it was about art, science, creativity, which meant that surely the Dark was all about destructiveness? But no, the Dark can create as well, and they have arts and sciences, or they wouldn't have magic.
The two consistent qualities that I can identify for the Light and the Dark are that the Light appears to favour order, and the Dark, chaos. In human terms, those of the Light appear to be more self-less, to cling to an abstract ideal even when they are allowing someone else to die for the sake of their cause. With the Dark, the focus is on the self, there is little sense of an abstract 'higher goal' except domination, and everything is on personal terms. Personal ambition seems to be the spur for quite a few of the characters we meet from the Dark. The desire to have one's own way over any other consideration seems to make humans especially susceptible. So for Hawkin, having been a faithful servant for so long, the possibility of 'being his own man' and to have something for himself might have been all the temptation required after realising Merriman would let him die. Sensuous, 'simple-seeming' 'witch girl' Maggie can represent many of the things he might have if he goes over. Sending a woman to tempt him and sting his masculine pride is a good move.
Personally, I'd probably want to tell both sides to go to hell myself. But then I think about Merriman flying for the joy of it in the mountains of Wales, and Will and Merriman swimming through the deeps of the sea and I am still very envious.
She does actually mention the Wild Magic briefly in this one—mostly because Herne is of the Wild Magic, not Light or Dark, and the Light just manage to harness Herne's power against the Dark. Though he does seem to have a pretty good time doing it.

As a child, I always liked the Light better, obviously, though they sometimes had to make hard choices, they seemed to at least care about human suffering. Perhaps that's the difference: Merriman obviously cares a great deal about Hawkin, even if it doesn't stop him from using him, whereas when Hawkin/the Walker has served his purpose for the Dark and failed to get the Signs, he's summarily discarded by the Dark Rider like a sack of rubbish.

Your thoughts on selflessness vs selfishness are interesting, and certainly consistent with centuries of moral teachings across many different religions: being wrapped up in the self is bad, being selfless (whether it's through good works or meditation or transcendence or what have you) is good. This sits fairly uneasily with me these days, having embarked on the process of reclaiming myself as a good thing despite my upbringing telling me that it's a bad thing.

Thinking about that leads me on to think about reclaiming the self after selflessness being a girl's story (or woman's story), and this book is very much a boy's story—the whole series, except for Greenwitch, is very much a boy's story of fulfilling quests and winning prizes and becoming a hero. And, despite Maggie Barnes the apparently stupid but really quite wily witch girl and a couple of other future females (won't give away spoilers though I know you've read them), there really aren't a lot of women in the Dark. Nor the Light, for that matter, the Lady notwithstanding. Being a woman in Susan Cooper's world of Light and Dark isn't quite as depressing a prospect as some others, like Tolkien, but still involves a lot of participating from the sidelines. Autre temps, autres moeurs and all that, but still.
I've been thinking a little about the roles of women in this book too. It seems even among the ordinary humans, the girls aren't as well drawn as the boys. I mean, within a chapter or so, I can tell all Will's brothers apart--they're all distinct from one another--but I'd have to look back to tell you who his sisters are, even though there are fewer of them.
Yeah, the only sister who sticks out is Mary and it's because she's an annoying, self-absorbed prat. Gwen and the other one (yes, that's how much of an impression she makes! I can even remember the dogs' names and not the other sister's!) are completely indistinguishable. And I agree, the brothers are all distinct, even the twins who should be interchangeable if anyone is.

truepenny did a fascinating analysis of TDIR series a few years ago (she has it in her memories, if you're interested); the role of women and lack thereof in the books was something she wrote about a lot, and had very interesting ideas about.
Yes, this is true. Will's sisters are quite blurry, although his mother is pretty cool. I find that I liked The Lady a great deal more this time, perhaps as I'm growing older she seems less remote to me. And the curious symbollism of her on the bier and the hunting of the wren fascinates me.
I seem to remember that TDIR was written at about the same time as The Wizard of Earthsea, which is another book written by a woman about a boy magician, where feminine characters are either absent or representing feminine magic as primitive, selish, and undisciplined: like Serret, and the witch who first teaches Ged. (Serret and Maggie Barnes have quite a bit in common.) Then almost immediately afterwards we get The Tombs of Atuan and Greenwitch as sequels.
When I think about it, it could make sense if less women are 'chosen' by the Light, if the Light is an abstract, an ideal and self-lessness, despite our feeling that women 'should' be self-less. In this world Cooper is drawing, ordinary women are very much about the concrete and physical, such as the skills needed to make a home, or make a Greenwitch. (Or they are of the Wild Magic, as I don't think it's a coincidence that Cooper chose Tethys to represent the depths of the sea to receive the Greenwitch.) This is an old metaphor for men and women - women as the concrete and physical, men as the abstract, women as pragmatic, men as idealists.
Also when I think about it, it's only been our generation that hasn't shuddered at the thought of witches. Through an awful lot of television, movies, books etc., we have come to think more kindly of witches than any other generation before us. Previously, they represented malgnant, selfish, treacherous and undisciplined power, an enemy to other women as well as men. Not surprising perhaps that Le Guin and Cooper both invoke that older cultural memory, given their generation.
*dope slap* Yup. Herne is of the Wild Magic. But as we discussed the other day and I might as well put in here, shaped by the head and the horse he is given to the purposes of the Light.
Also, Seaward is much more about equality between women and men - women free to be bad as well as good, and Life and Death to be equally bad and good as well. It's as though Susan Cooper had done all she could with one set of symbols and turned them around to look at them from another way. I liked the Selkie girl in Seaward very much.
I think part of the point is that light isn't necessarily "good"--they do a lot of things that would be considered bad--and that dark isn't necessarily "bad", they're clearly points of view. But I also think this conversation needs to happen after everyone's read all of them!
(Read on this time, that is. I felt this way through my entire first and second readings. But they were some years ago.)