Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mainstream Author Highlight: Susan Cooper

Last year, I listed Susan Cooper's novel The Dark is Rising as one of my favorites, but I wanted to take some time to highlight more of her books. While not specifically Christian, they are centered around the age-old battle between good and evil, and will appeal to fantasy-lovers of all ages.

Cooper's five-part series, The Dark is Rising, is an excellent example of high fantasy (fantasy dealing with the legend of King Arthur). The series is complex, well-written, and full of surprises. Most appealing to me, as a child, was the concept of Light versus Dark, and the fact we all must choose which we will serve.

Simon, Jane, and Barnabas Drew are ordinary children who become involved in extraordinary adventures. Book one, Over Sea, Under Stone highlights the Drew children on summer vacation in Cornwall. The second book, The Dark is Rising, takes place over Christmas, and is the story of Will Stanton, the seventh of nine children. Will learns, on his eleventh birthday, he is the last of the Old Ones to be born. Old Ones exist throughout the world and are devoted to guarding the Light. In each of the books, the children must race against time to find objects (the Holy Grail, six circles quartered by a cross), to help the Light conquer the Dark forever. The children's worlds collide in books three, four and five, due to their relationship with the mysterious Merriman Lyon. Lyon is uncle to the Drew children, mentor to Will, and first of all the Old Ones.

The books take place in rural England, the Thames Valley, Cornwall and Wales.

Cooper has written many other enjoyable books, including historical fantasies such as The King of Shadows, where a modern boy experiences life with William Shakespeare and Victory, which links a British girl to a sailor on the HMS Victory in 1805.

What I Like: Cooper's writing is lyrical and sophisticated, as well as descriptive. Cooper's beautiful use of words paints pictures and allows readers to enter into the emotions of her characters. She juxtaposes ordinary, family life with the unseen battle between good and evil in a way that resonates with readers.
"Will shrieked. He only knew it afterwards; he was far too deep in fear to hear the sound of his own voice. For an appalling, pitch-black moment he lay scarcely conscious, lost somewhere out of the world, out in black space. And then, there were quick footsteps up the stairs outside his door, and a voice calling in concern, and blessed light warming the room and bringing him back into life again."
Cooper also gives readers a glimpse of how important choices are, even for young people.

What I Dislike: Nothing. One word of caution--the books in The Dark is Rising series get more scary as the series progresses.

Overall Rating: Excellent

Age Appeal: 9 and up

Publisher Info: McElderry, 2007; ISBN: 978-1416949961; Paperback, 1088 pages (entire series), $29.99 (Box set)

Buy it at Amazon.com for $19.79.

Special Info: The Dark is Rising won the Newbery Honor in 1974, and book four, The Grey King won the Newbery Award in 1976.

The conflict between Light and Dark is seen as taking place outside the church, and Cooper portrays people within the church as a mix of good and bad. As such, they are not always effective against the Dark. Also, Old Ones do have magic powers, such as mental telepathy, and the ability to move magically between times and places.

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4 comments:

Heather Matson said...

I read these books as a child and loved them - I was not a Christian at the time. I think, but am not sure, that a reread them after becoming a Christian. I know if I read them today I would still love to read them. They are an excellent read. As a Christian though, there one thing I found disturbing, and I am surprised to not see a comment about this in the review. In one of the later books (please tell me which one!) the church and/or priest is seen as ineffective against evil which is to me a gnostic heresy that I found disturbing - even as a child. I may be remembering wrong here, but I do not think so. At the very least this aspect of the book, where only someone with special knowledge/power can conquer evil, nullifiying the work that Christ did on the cross, bears discussing with impressionable kids, and might need to be avoided by others who might be prone to dabbling in other spiritualities. For what it's worth...

Nicholas Klacsanszky said...

I read the Dark is Rising when in elementary school. Her work pulls the reader into a great imaginary world. It is a book I would want my children to read. Another book that I would recommend for younger readers would be The Thanksgiving Coat by Elizabeth Hoadley: . It is an uncommon story about dealing with poverty during the holiday season, and the care of a more well-off family. Like The Dark is Rising, children should read things that expand their mind.

Pragmatic Mom said...

I LOVE this series. It is great for anyone done with Harry Potter and wanting another series sort of like it.

I posted on it too at http://www.pragmaticmom.com/?p=4410

Percy Jackson + King Arthur = The Dark is Rising Series

Erin said...

Thanks for your comments! It is fun to know people are reading our reviews! I will post a note on the review--I realize I didn't explain the use of magic or the role of the church in the review as well as I could have. :) Thanks again, and God Bless! Erin