A Newbery Honor book in 1974, The Dark is Rising was one of my favorite books as a child. It held up well on re-reading it as an adult. Surprisingly dark for a children’s book (possibly what attracted me when I was younger), the story features betrayal by loved ones, betrayal by enemies, and actions that must be taken despite realizing that their consequences will be dire.
I did have a few frustrations with the book, though. As a kid I remember Will as being a hero-type who braved all odds to recover the signs. But on re-visiting the novel, I am struck by how passive he is. Of the six signs only one (the one carried by the Walker) comes as the direct result of his deciding he wanted a sign and moving forward to get it, and even then he only manages to keep it through Merriman’s intervention. The iron sign he gets as a birthday present (no effort), the wood sign he is told and shown specifically where to get it and has no problems in doing so, the stone sign, fire sign, and water sign all appear out of nowhere when Will is trying on various occasions to hold back the Dark. While his holding back the Dark is technically effort, it doesn’t really count, because it’s self-defense. His taking defensive action has nothing to do with specifically seeking the Signs.
I did not, as some other reviewers did, have a problem with the fact that Will never really questions any of the amazing things he learns or does, because I can write it off as being an integral part of his being an Old One that he recognizes the truth in what is said as soon as it is revealed to him.
In looking at other reviews of this book, I see a lot of people commenting that for a book about Good versus Evil we never see the Light doing anything particularly kind or good (quite the opposite in fact!) I would argue that the book isn’t about Good and Evil, it’s about Light and Dark. That’s not just a petty word difference, it’s about the ways in which our culture has come to polarize Good and Evil, so that each side is completely unlike the other. The Light is well aware that their actions can cause misery or death, but they are prepared to sacrifice other people for the bigger picture. It’s their intentions that reflect them, not their actions. A Light ally is defined as one who does not act out of revenge or malice, while those of the Dark do. I liked that going to the Dark is a matter of choice, but I would have liked to see more insight into why the bad guys made that choice. We can sort of understand, or at least empathize a little, with Hawkin, but what about the Witch Girl or the Rider?