I have been informed by reliable witnesses of unimpeachable character that The Dark Is Rising is a timeless classic of young person’s literature. So, of course, it was necessary for me to read it.
I regret that I found it so late in life. I think, had I been 9 or 10 or 11 (like the main character), I would have loved it. Unfortunately, I now find myself reading it from an adult’s eyes with an adult’s expectations for narrative and story.
It’s a standard fantasy coming-of-age quest story. Young boy finds himself the heir of a magical heritage. Young boy must go on a quest. Young boy saves the world. We’ve all read it thousands of times. It’s a nice and comforting structure: you know what you’re getting.
The Dark Is Rising builds on that by going further to try to create a modern myth. Will’s quest (for Will is the name of the young boy who comes of age and has to save the world) is filled with Capital Letters to signify things that are important from beyond time. This can be a convenient shorthand, but The Dark Is Rising takes it to an almost comical level. Every time Will turns around, there’s five new proper nouns proclaiming that he is on a Very Important Quest indeed.
Speaking of that Quest, it’s much too long for the book. In only a scant few hundred pages, Will goes from learning of his Destiny to finding all the lost Objects to learning his Magic to wakening That Guy to vanquishing Evil. Throw in Christmas celebrations, family drama, and other things in an attempt to make it relatable and it just gets silly. Will moves from one object of his quest to another as if he were hastily crossing off items on a checklist instead of saving the world (and himself) from mortal peril. It’s all so breakneck that you never feel that Will is in any actual danger: the schedule just wouldn’t allow it.
That said, I think I would have liked this very much as a kid. The characters are likeable enough. The main villain of the piece is obviously malicious without being scary. And everything ends up well with a healthy help of magic. Plus, I’ve always been a sucker for hidden power and destinies. I still kind of wish that I will one day find out that I’m secretly a wizard. ::crosses fingers::
So, The Dark Is Rising: it is what it is. A mad romp of magic and danger throuh England at Christmastime. I suspect it will one day find it’s way into my nephew’s stocking as he gets a bit older. Mostly, I’m just a tad unimpressed. But, I think that has more to do with me and my expectations than the book itself which is what it aims to be: a fun fantasy adventure aimed at kids.
And I think it does *that* very well.