I think what most surprised me about The Dark is Rising over it's prequel, Over Sea, Under Stone, is the drastic shift we have in mood between the two books. The first book reads like an adventure! Thrilling because it's everyday people in an everyday life, doing everyday things that are all tied into something so old and timeless that it could almost be called "magical." It's a story of children being wrapped up in the present day quest for knowledge and artifacts from the days of King Arthur, and there's little to no actual "magic" present. It's a normal book, with a normal beginning, and though many gut-wrenching and anxiety provoking things happen throughout the story as you face each new challenge and "the bad guys," it's still a book that can be considered mostly Fiction. Or perhaps even Historical Fiction.
But when we take a turn into The Dark is Rising, the second book in the series, everything is different. From the very first page you get an eerie sense that there's a power... threatening, looming, dangerous... that's hovering just above you, right behind you, waiting to catch you up when you least expect it. From the very start: all the things that you've known that were normal... are not normal. Strange things, almost frightening things are changing the actions of animals, of Nature all around you. All. Around. You. New knowledge is coming to light in your own family that was never brought up before now... and the effect it has on you is an intimidation that makes you fear what will happen next. You're scared. Things aren't as they should be.
And you have no control over any of it.
In fact, I believe that's the very theme and continual mood throughout the entirety of The Dark is Rising (the book, not the series). Things are happening--not all around you as you might expect, but to you. And you have no choice but to be involved. You're trapped. You're caught. You cannot go back on this, because you're never once given the choice to. You have to just keep moving forward. And that's almost frightening. Imagine... that one scene early on in the book, when you wake up in your house and you look out your window... and nothing you usually see is there. Just a silent, huge forest... leading on into eternity with no possible end. No people. No one. And when you go through your house to check in on your family, everyone's in a sleep you can't wake them from. No yelling... no shaking... nothing will wake them. So you do the only thing you can do: you go outside, where there is one... single... path. And you walk down it. Knowing, knowing... that once you set foot on that path, if you were to stop and turn around now... you would not find your home there at all.
So many scenes like this happen throughout this book. They all come in a myriad of different ways! Different settings, different challenges interwoven, but nothing of what you know is there. Always, always to do what you need to do, you need to be separated from yourself as you knew you, from your life, your family, your friends, your world... to do what is demanded of you. It's a thrilling, incredible concept.
And it all happens to an 11 year old boy by the name of Will Stanton.
Could you, or I, if we were in his shoes, be so strong? So determined? Able at all to do the things he does? Or would we crumble? Would we fail?
That's the amazing thing about this book. And while for the biggest part of my experience, I found myself almost offended by how different this book was from the first, when I came to the end... I was... at peace somehow. Does it make sense? Maybe not so much as you might think. Maybe it makes only too much sense. Maybe it's just that I've grown past the age of a child now, where I can accept things without questioning them. Or, if I question them, it's with my experience coloring it, dulling it from the purer and keener queries of children. But that's the amazing part... You almost don't find a sense of self in this book, inasmuch as you find... a need--of tasks needing to be done, and you, you being the only one able to do them; having no choice but to do them.
For all that that might throw off a lot of its readers, it's a talent that nearly no one... can work with such flawless expertise. The very fact that Susan Cooper can write two books--as a part of the same series, one following right after the other--that are 100% different, that share almost nothing with each other except for one character and one small mention--not even by name--of the last book, is astounding! Where do you FIND authors that can do that now?! Who can accomplish such a feeling of estrangement and duty all wrapped into one piece?! It's the very epitome of talent! It's incredible, because it is so magnificently done. Anyone that can go from the first book to this one and see the range, see the capabilities of this authoress will know: she's amazing. Because so few today can write like her. And much fewer can accomplish the mood and feelings she evokes in you, as wholly and beautifully as she does.
Is she the best author in the world? I doubt there even is such a thing. But she has profound talent, and she has a way of carrying a story so that it's unusual, it's strange, and it calls to you--it brings you in. That in itself is worth the time of reading.
If you've not heard of this series before, begin it with Over Sea, Under Stone. And for those of you who might be a little off-put by the difference between the first book and this one: never fear, and don't throw the series aside. The first two books were drastically different from one another, but they intermingle in the end to create a more potent and awesome story. That's what first drew me in by this unusual series: the fact that it wasn't your everyday "Good versus Evil" babble. This is different. Give it a chance: all the way to the end. It's great for variety, but it's also great in its own right. At the very least, it deserves a shot, for being unique and unlike any other story I personally had and have read that falls under such a complex theme. Good versus Evil, Light versus Dark... a tale of King Arthur... a story rich with folklore you never hear about.
So, what are you waiting for? I'll meet you all in Greenwitch, book three.