The Dark Is Rising Sequence

The Dark Is Rising Sequence
Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising - cover from the omnibus edition

The Dark Is Rising is the name of a five-book series of children's contemporary fantasy novels by Susan Cooper, published in 1965–1977, which depicts the struggle between the forces of good, called The Light, and the forces of evil, known as The Dark. The series is based on Arthurian myths and Celtic and Norse legend, and is written primarily for older children and young adults. One of the books won the Newbery medal, and another was an honor book.

The Dark Is Rising is also the title of the second book in the series, whose main character is an eleven-year-old boy who learns that he is an Old One, destined to wield the powers of The Light in an ancient struggle with The Dark. Children, both magical and ordinary, feature prominently in the struggle portrayed in the five books.

In 2005, following the successful motion picture adaptations of other fantasy classics, it was announced that the series was being developed as a major motion picture. The film adaptation The Seeker, which makes significant plot and character changes from the book, was released on October 5, 2007.



Simon, Jane and Barney Drew: The main characters of the first novel, the Drew siblings, are human children who have known Merriman Lyon as their "Great Uncle Merry" for years; on holiday in Cornwall, they get caught up in the battle between The Light and The Dark and join the search for the Things of Power. In the first novel, Over Sea, Under Stone, they search for a grail. They also appear in the third book, Greenwitch, and the last book in the series, Silver on the Tree. A special bond develops later between Jane Drew, the only girl, and the Lady. In the poem featured prominently throughout The Dark is Rising, they are the ones referred to as "three from the track".

  • Simon Drew: Simon is the eldest of the Drews. In Over Sea, Under Stone, Simon and Barney are the two to go into the cave and retrieve the Grail. In Greenwitch, he is jealous of Will because Merriman brought him to Cornwall for "unnecessary" reasons, but eventually warms up to him. He loves sailing and anything to do with ships.
  • Jane Drew: Jane is the middle Drew. In Greenwitch, Jane is allowed to attend the Greenwitch ceremony, and is later visited by the entity, where she receives the code for translating the runes on the Grail. She develops a special bond with the Lady in Silver on the Tree.
  • Barnabas (Barney) Drew: Barney is the youngest of the Drews. He loves King Arthur legends and, although he is quite wary of his talent at first, paints. In Greenwitch, Barney sketches a picture of the bay, which is later stolen by an agent of the Dark, but Merriman recovers it and presents it to Tethys as a gift.

Old Ones: Ancient and immortal, the Old Ones are mystical beings who possess great magical power. They are found in all parts of the world and are of many races and cultures. Capable of performing many seemingly impossible feats, including freezing time and controlling the elements, they serve The Light in the war against The Dark. The Great Lords of the Dark have many similar characteristics and abilities but are not Old Ones. The two factions struggle to determine the destiny of mankind; while The Light fights for freedom and free will, The Dark fights for chaos, confusion and the subversion of man's agency.

Will Stanton: The main character of the second novel, and a major character in all later works, he is the seventh son of a seventh son. His eleventh birthday marks the beginning of his rise to power as the last of the Old Ones. The Dark Is Rising tells how he came to power, met Merriman Lyon, and joined the six signs of the Old Ones to fight The Dark. Will is the last of the Old Ones; no others will be born after him. In Greenwitch, he is invited to come to Cornwall by Merriman in order to help recover the code that tells how to read the runes on the Grail. He later gives Jane a piece of gold engraved with the words, "power from the Greenwitch", which she throws into the sea as an offering for the Greenwitch. In "The Grey King", Will goes to Wales to recover from sickness, where he meets Bran and awakens the Sleepers. In Silver on the Tree, Will travels with Bran to recover the crystal sword Eirias, and helps to vanquish the Dark. Will is the only Old One to remain on Earth afterward, and the only one of the Light's allies who remembers the struggle against the Dark; in this, he is referred to as "the watchman", staying behind to keep watch for any attempt by the Dark to return.

Merriman Lyon: Merriman is the first Old One. He and Will Stanton have a special bond as each of them is one end of the long line of Old Ones. It is said that with the birth and coming to power of Will Stanton, the circle of Old Ones is complete. A Friend of the Drew family for over a generation, he assisted Barney, Jane, and Simon in their quest for the Grail, in addition to protecting them until their task was completed; they occasionally refer to him as "Great Uncle Merry" or "Gumerry". It is also implicit that he is the mythical Merlin.

The Lady: The Lady is an ancient figure. While her sympathies lie with the Old Ones, it is not clear if she is of the Light. Enigmatic and powerful, she appears as a friend and mentor to the Old Ones. At one point in The Dark Is Rising, Will Stanton makes a critical mistake during a battle with the Dark. When Will asks about the event, Merriman says that the Lady is beyond their power and that only the Lady can overcome the full power of the Dark and even then at a great cost. This seems to indicate that the Lady is affiliated with High Magic. The sacrifice by the Lady is a critical point in the Story because she is considered a great ally. She appears again at the end, wherein it is suggested that her name is Jana (in Roman mythology, a variant form of Diana) or Juno.

The Black Rider: One of the great Lords of the Dark, comparable to Merriman in power and influence. The Rider is the major nemesis of Will during his many trials. He patronises John Wayland Smith's establishment, where he meets Will for the first time and attempts to bring Will over to the Dark. He is given two names by the humans in the story; Hastings and Mitothin (a name connected with the jötunn Loki, who helps bring about Ragnarok).

The White Rider: Another servant and Lord of The Dark, introduced in Silver on the Tree. The White Rider is an equal to the Black Rider, and despite being feminine in her true form, often affects a masculine guise while attacking agents of the Light. Will Stanton hypothesized that the monochromatic 'color' of the White Rider's robes, like those of the Black Rider, reflected the extremism of their evil—either darkened by their ignorance, or blinded by the brightness of their ideas.

The Walker: A human being who betrayed the Light and was cursed to carry the Sign of Bronze, one of six talismans that repel the Dark, through the centuries until the final Old One claimed it from him. The Walker was once Hawkin, a liege man and foster son of Merriman during the 13th century. His betrayal of the Light stemmed largely from Merriman's willingness to sacrifice his life in order to protect the Book of Gramarye, the secrets of which the human Hawkin can neither possess nor partake of. In The Dark Is Rising his appearance in Will Stanton's town precipitates Will's "awakening" and rise to power. He presents Will with his second sign.

The Sleepers: Ancient knights who served during the time of King Arthur. In The Grey King they are awakened from a mystic slumber by the Harp of Gold, to ride against the Dark during the final battle in Silver on the Tree.

Pendragon: This is a reference to two characters. First, it is another name for King Arthur. It is also his son who, in this series, is the person who is predestined to wield the crystal sword that is vital to the final conflict with the Dark. Bran Davies is his name, brought forward in time by Merriman at the request of his mother, Guinevere, who feared that Arthur would reject Bran as a true son because of Guinevere's affair with Lancelot. Bran is an albino, meaning he has very pale skin, white hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes, but his eyes are an unusual tawny color. Will meets him in Wales during The Grey King, where they wake the Sleepers using the Harp. In Silver on the Tree, Bran and Will travel to the lost city and recover Excaliber. In the same book, it is hinted that he likes Jane, as he tells Will indirectly that he thinks she is pretty.

The rooks: The majority of these birds are servants of The Dark and attract their forces wherever they are seen.

Farmer Dawson: An Old One who lives near Will Stanton and presents him with his first Sign.

John "Wayland" Smith: Another Old One who lives near Will Stanton; he is also a skilled smith. Though he is affiliated with the Light, he aids all who pass in his smithy. It is suggested that he might be the legendary Saxon smith, Weyland, the Saxon equivalent of the legendary elf smith Volund.


Things of Power: The Old Ones have four Things of Power that will be used in the final battle which will allow them to defeat The Dark: the circle of Signs, The Grail, The Harp, and The Sword. They are obtained in The Dark Is Rising, Over Sea, Under Stone, The Grey King, and Silver on the Tree, respectively. Greenwitch is the story of the recovery of the stolen Grail.

  • The Signs: A set of six circles quartered (divided evenly in four sections) by crosses. The six signs are each made of a different material and represent a different element: wood, bronze, iron, water, fire, and stone. When used, the signs have the power to repel the Dark.
  • The Grail: Presumably the source of the Holy Grail legend, it is an artifact of power used by The Light. There are markings on it in a writing called Ogham, which is long lost. It is eventually translated by the Old Ones, thanks to a code held by the Greenwitch.
  • The Harp (The Harp of Gold): A harp that is obtained by Will Stanton and Bran Davies from a triumvirate of the High Magic by answering three riddles. The Light uses it in The Grey King in order to wake the Sleepers in preparation for the final battle. Whoever plays the harp creates powerful music that negates any magic, through the protection of the High Magic.
  • The Crystal Sword: An ancient sword, used by the heir of King Arthur to cut the ripe branch of the midsummer's tree. It is named Eirias; therefore, "blazing", also called sword of the sunrise. In the presence of the Dark, it burns with blue fire.

The Book of Gramarye: An ancient book, it teaches Old Ones about their powers, and through it, they actually experience the use of them. This book is protected by a device similar to a pendulum of a clock, that if touched, will detonate and destroy any human that attempts to gain access to the book. This powerful book is further protected in that it is written in the Old Speech, which only an Old One can read and understand. It is blasted out of existence by Merriman after Will has read it.

The Doors: A set of carved oak doors that lead out of Time. Old Ones can summon these doors to appear at will to transport themselves through time and space. The doors disappear when the Old Ones pass through them. Their origin is not explained in the books.

The Magics

Old Magic: A powerful elemental magic, of which The Light and The Dark are the two opposite extremes.

Wild Magic: An emotional magic, not as strong as the Old Magic, it first is used in The Dark Is Rising to provide strength to the forces of The Light in the book's final battle. In Greenwitch, we learn that the Wild Magic is equal in strength to both the Dark and the Light, but that it stands apart from each.

High Magic: The most powerful magic, being of the Cosmos. A spell of this type is used by the Old Ones in Greenwitch to be able to communicate with Tethys, the Queen of the Sea, and plead for her help in obtaining the scroll that will help translate the writing on the Grail. In The Grey King, Will Stanton and Bran Davies obtain the Harp of Gold from a place guarded by the High Magic after being tested by a Lord of the Dark, a Lord of the Light, and a Lord of the High Magic.


Old Speech: This is the spoken form of the ancient language of the Old Ones. When an Old One comes to power, this language is used instinctively by the Old One when speaking to members of The Light or The Dark. Will Stanton begins to do this without even realizing it. When an Old One speaks the Old Speech in front of a normal human, it will sound like gibberish. Some agents of the Dark, such as The Rider can also speak Old Speech, but with a distinctive accent which gives them away to the Old Ones.


Small rhyming prophecies serve to guide the protagonists throughout the series. Science Fiction author and filker Julia Ecklar has set these rhyming prophecies to music, and the resulting song won the 1997 Pegasus Award for Best Sorcery Song.

This is one, which is often quoted in parts as they become relevant to the story:

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 greenwitch, lost beneath the sea;
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.

This second rhyme only refers to events in The Grey King and Silver on the Tree:

On the day of the dead, when the year too dies,
Must the youngest open the oldest hills
Through the door of the birds, where the breeze breaks.
There fire shall fly from the raven boy,
And the silver eyes that see the wind,
And the light shall have the harp of gold.

By the pleasant lake the Sleepers lie,
On Cadfan’s Way where the kestrels call;
Though grim from the Grey King shadows fall,
Yet singing the golden harp shall guide
To break their sleep and bid them ride.

When light from the lost land shall return,
Six Sleepers shall ride, six Signs shall burn,
And where the midsummer tree grows tall
By Pendragon’s sword the Dark shall fall.

Y maent yr mynyddoedd yn canu,
ac y mae’r arglwyddes yn dod.

(The last two lines are in Welsh and are translated in the book into English as "The mountains are singing / and the lady comes". The grammar of these lines in Welsh is unorthodox.)

Works in the series

Over Sea, Under Stone

The characters in this book, which was published several years before the others, are younger than those in the rest of the series, and the issues are presented as less cosmic. Overall the book is aimed at younger readers more than the other four books in the series.

In this tale, Susan Cooper introduces us to Merriman, a pivotal character for the forces of the Light and also ties him with three young mortal children in a quest by the sea which will lead them over sea and under stone to find a grail of legend to help the Light in its struggle against the Dark.

The Dark Is Rising

In this book, Will Stanton begins to have strange experiences on his eleventh birthday, just before Christmas. He soon learns he is one of the Old Ones, a guardian and warrior for The Light. He learns that he must help find the four Things of Power for The Light in order to battle the forces of The Dark. The first of these Things of Power is the Circle of Six Signs. This book is the key book for the main character, Will Stanton. It is in this book that he collects the six signs which become the Circle of Signs, one of the Things of Power, by finding the additional five mandala (he has been given one earlier) and uses the completed Circle to ward off the forces of The Dark. The book features elements of English folklore that are especially associated with the Thames Valley with Herne the Hunter making an appearance. This book received the 1974 Newbery Honor.

Quotation: You are the seventh son of a seventh son, Will Stanton. You step through time. One by one, the Signs will call to you. You will gather them and gain the power of the Light. You are the Sign-Seeker.


This story returns to the characters introduced in Over Sea, Under Stone, uniting them with Will Stanton, and involves a quest for magic from beneath the sea.

Jane Drew witnesses the creation of a ritualistic offering known as the 'Greenwitch', and senses both great power and great sadness in it. She wishes that the Greenwitch could be happy, and that wish has important consequences later when it turns out that the Greenwitch possesses something that will unlock the secrets of the Grail.

The Grey King

In this book, Will is sent to Wales to recuperate after an illness. Here he meets Bran, the Pendragon son of King Arthur and befriends him. He must also awaken the Sleepers to fight the Dark.

The Grey King was awarded the 1976 Newbery Medal.

Welsh folklore is an important point in the book.

Silver on the Tree

All of the main characters from the other books in the sequence come together in this book, some meeting each other for the first time, and the current struggle between the Light and the Dark is resolved. After the Light wins the battle, Bran is offered a chance to rejoin his father, but chooses to give up his immortality to stay with his friends. All immortal characters except Will Stanton leave the Earth forever. All the mortal characters lose all memory of any dealings with magic and the Old Ones, though the Drews and Bran have snatches of something come back to them in dreams.


Nearly all the locations mentioned in the books are based on real places. Over Sea, Under Stone and Greenwitch are set in Trewissick, which is based on a village in southern Cornwall called Mevagissey. Susan Cooper used to visit Mevagissey as a child. The Dark Is Rising is set in the part of Buckinghamshire where Cooper grew up: Huntercombe is based on the small village of Dorney and the Great Hall is Dorney Court. The Welsh setting in The Grey King and Silver on the Tree is the area around Aberdyfi, the village where Cooper's grandmother was born and where her parents lived.

Film adaptation

A movie adaptation, called The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising, was a joint venture between 20th Century Fox and Walden Media. John Hodge wrote the screenplay, and the film was directed by David L. Cunningham and produced by Marc E. Platt. Ian McShane played the role of Merriman Lyon while Alexander Ludwig played the young Will Stanton as an American. Frances Conroy and Christopher Eccleston (as The Rider)[1] also star. Filming began in February 2007 in Bucharest, Romania. The film was released on October 5, 2007 for the U.S. and the U.K. It was not highly successful.

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