Wood, Bronze, Iron; Water, Fire, Stone: a review of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

“When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back;
Three from the circle; three from the track;
Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
Five will return and one go alone.” (pg. 44)
This is the first stanza of the prophetic rhyme that welcomes eleven-year-old Will Stanton onto his quest for the Signs of Light. Will was born the seventh son of a seventh son and his destiny is to be an Old One, but his old soul is newly wakened he has one sign already, one of iron given him by a blacksmith. The sign is one we have all seen before; a quartered circle, split with an equal armed cross.  Will meets Merriman Lyon, whom we’ve already met in Over Sea, Under Stone as the beloved Gumerry, and Will is told he has power beyond his own imagining. “Put out the candle with your mind” Merriman asks of Will. Instead, Will focuses on the fire roaring behind him. To Will’s own shock and amazement, the fire goes out in an instant. The flames are rekindled with a similar thought in a similar moment. This is the wakening of Will’s power.

Will is told that one called the Walker will find him and that he must win from the Walker the second sign. Will is also warned that he will be sought out by the Rider, a minion of the Dark, so to be careful. Do not take unnecessary risks, Do NOT draw attention to himself.

And so a few days pass. Midwinter or Yule approaches. Will has just come back to his own town from completing his holiday shopping. As he walks home from the bus stop along a disused path that the town calls Tramp’s Alley a dead tree branch falls off a tree weighed down by heavy snow. Unable to resist Will uses his new-found abilities to set the limb alight. The dead branch kindles into flame, yet is not consumed by it, much like a burning bush many of us know about. There is no ash, no smoke, the snow does not even melt. And Will meets the Walker. After a contest of wills, the Sign of Bronze is won and placed onto Will’s belt next to the first. Unfortunately, the magic induced fire has drawn the attention of the minions of the Dark. Maggie, a lovely young milkmaid from the neighboring farm who is always asking after one of Will’s older brothers, Max, tries to lure the two signs from Will. Thinking fast, Will calls out to Merriman for assistance and together they banish the witch. Another day or two go by and the Stanton family gear up for Christmas. Their tree and Yule log retrieved, the tree decorated paper chains are made and hung, and lastly Will places holly on many of the windows and doors as a protection against the Dark. On Christmas morning everyone opens a gift, youngest first, and that is Will. He receives a carnival mask from his eldest brother Stephen who is in the service of Her Majesty’s Navy. This is the first time Stephen has ever sent a gift that was both Christmas and birthday for Will. The mask has the quartered circle on it.

Others open their gifts until it is Mrs. Stanton’s turn. Before she can choose which gift she will open, a knock comes at the door. A Mr. Mitothin is at the door, he is a dealer in diamonds and … he is The Rider! Will tries too stop his entry but Mr. Stanton has invited the Rider in and Mr. Stanton is head of house. The Rider says he is dropping off something that Mr. Stanton was unable to take home with him the day before because it was being finished. It is a gift for Mrs. Stanton. A bracelet to match the ring that has been in her family for generations. Later Will realizes that the letter that came with his gift has gone missing.

One by one Will finds the Signs. Like much other fantasy fiction, there is a prophesy rhyme. A poem to tell of things to come. Unlike much other fantasy fiction, it is not repeated so many times you practically have the bally thing memorized by the 100 page mark. (The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Land of Painted Caves) Instead, in 244 pages the poem repeats three times, each time a new four line stanza is added. This book references the grail found by the Drew children in Over Sea, Under Stone, as well as Arthurian myths and Celtic legends. The Hunter, The Wild Hunt, The Yell (or Hell) Hounds, are present and key to Celtic mythology.

Also present is a thought that I feel really helps to gain scope of religion, scientifically as well as in the world of the book. This exchange begins with the vicar after an attack of the Dark on the church.

“ ‘That did the work, didn’t it? The Cross. Not of the Church, but a Christian Cross nonetheless.’ ‘Very old them crosses are, rector,’ said Old George unexpectedly, firm and clear. ‘Made a long time before Christianity. Long before Christ.’ The rector beamed at him. ‘But not before God,’ he said simply…. ‘There is not really any before and after is there?’ [Will] said. ‘Everything that matters is outside Time. And comes from there and can go there.’ Mr. Beaumont turned to him in surprise. ‘You mean infinity, of course, my boy.’ ‘Not all together,’ said the Old One that was Will. ‘I mean the part of all of us and of all things we think and believe that has nothing to do with yesterday or today, or tomorrow because it belongs at a different kind of level. Yesterday is still there, on that level. Tomorrow is there too. You can visit either of them. And all Gods are there, and all the things they have ever stood for. And’ he added sadly, ‘the opposite too.’(pg. 149).”

These simple ideas take the question of God out of the hands of the physicists like Stephen Hawking and place it in realm of so many other mysteries, the realm of Quantum Mechanics. Here in this short book are covered many different grounds; the Seelie court, the Unseelie court, the Wild Hunt, and Quantum Mechanics just to gloss over the high points. A thouroughly enjoyable work of art it is hard to imagine this book being only a Newberry Honors book.

So come with me, and seek the Signs. Our next stop is Greenwitch which lets us adventure with the Drew children once more, and Will is back too.

“When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back;
Three from the circle; three from the track;
Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
Five will return and one go alone.

Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long;
Wood from the burning, stone out of song;
Fire in the candle-ring, water from the thaw;

Six signs the circle, and the grail gone before.

Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold
Played to wake the Sleepers, oldest of the old;
Power from the green witch, lost beneath the sea;
And shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.” (pg 224)

written by Navah Esther Anat Yehudit

If you would like to buy this book, click on the image below:


About MacJew

I am Husband to a beautiful woman, Father to two dogs and two cats. I am dovoutly Jewish. I love to read and write. I am trying to expand my horizons on film beyond the typical Hollywood garbage, so I have been watching foreign films lately. My plans for this blog are to talk about various things that are of interest to me, including Judaism, history, movies, books, et cetera. Anything that comes to mind, really.
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3 Responses to Wood, Bronze, Iron; Water, Fire, Stone: a review of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

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