• It’s the birth date of Albert Payson Terhune (1872–1942) Gray Dawn; Lad: A Dog.
  • In 1883, Royal Canadian Dragoons and The Royal Canadian Regiment are formed. Read The RCMP Musical Ride by Maxwell Newhouse.
  • It’s Crossword Puzzle Day, in honor of the first crossword puzzle, created by Arthur Wynne and published in the newspaper New York World in 1913.
  • The animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiers in movie theaters in 1937. Read a beautiful edition of the Brothers Grimm version of Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, translated by Randall Jarrell.

Today we celebrate the winter solstice. On the solstice, one of the most appealing characters in classic children’s fantasy celebrates his eleventh birthday. The seventh son of a seventh son, he will be in for some pretty big surprises this holiday season. He learns that he is the last of the Old Ones, the Sign Seeker, who must find and gather the six signs—wood, bronze, water, fire, stone, and iron—to aid the Light in their fight against the Dark. If you have already guessed that our hero Will Stanton stars as the protagonist of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising you are correct. I’ve loved this book since it published in 1973 and have included it in my 100 Best Books for Children. But in rereading the superbly constructed work of fantasy, I think that Susan Cooper tells a story as well as any of the plot-driven writers of today. Suzanne Collins, Rick Riordan, and Stephanie Meyer have nothing on her. From the opening scene to the final page, she keeps readers breathlessly turning pages to see what will happen to Will and his family.

Of course, Cooper does so much more than develop a plot. To begin with, she studied with the master himself, J.R.R. Tolkien, at Oxford and brings her classical British education to her work as a writer. Cooper has spent most of her career, however, in the United States because she married an American. Homesick for her own land, she turned to her hometown of Buckinghamshire for the setting for the Dark Is Rising sequence—and to the myth and folklore of her native England. Cooper’s books offer a unique combination of high British fantasy, based on the legends and stories she knew as a child, woven together into a contemporary, reality-based saga. Five volumes comprise the Dark Is Rising sequence, and readers can begin with The Dark Is Rising, the second in the series, as it makes the best introduction.

When Will discovers that he has been given great gifts, he realizes its cost: “Any great gift or talent is a burden…and you will often long to be free of it. If you were born with the gift then you must serve it.” And so with great danger to himself, not to mention that of his beloved family, he faces the powers of darkness over the holiday season, pulling off one amazing encounter after another. On his eleven-year-old shoulders rest the fate of the world. In Cooper’s universe, characters move between centuries and across time to engage in their epic struggle.

If you and the children in your life have missed this spellbinding story, no day makes a better beginning than December 21. Now an omnibus paperback edition of more than a thousand pages, The Dark Is Rising: The Complete Sequence brings all five books together. Happy 11th birthday Will—I’m so glad we’ve had a chance to get to know you in these spectacular books.

Here’s a passage from The Dark Is Rising:

There were no handles on the doors. Will stretched his arms forward, with the palm of each hand flat against the wood, and he pushed. As the doors swung open beneath his hands, he thought that he caught a phrase of the fleeting bell-like music again; but then it was gone, into the misty gap between memory and imagining. And he was through the doorway, and without a murmur of sound the two huge doors swung shut behind him, and the light and the day and the world changed so that he forgot utterly what they had been.



Originally posted December 21, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Magic, Other Worlds
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Dark Is Rising


  1. Jill Casey says:

    I’m interested in this book for my son who is almost 17. Is it suitable for that age? Do you have any recommendations for books for teenagers? Thank you

  2. Vicki says:

    As Britain experiences snow unlike any in recent memory, I can’t help think about The Dark is Rising. Here we are with the lunar eclipse and snow falling … it pulls the story close. The Dark is Rising is my all-time favorite book, a “perfect book.” Happy Birthday, Will Stanton.

  3. Anita says:

    Jill: For a 17 year old, I would recommend the books by J.R.R.Tolkien, Susan Cooper’s mentor. A couple of years ago, I wrote 500 Great Books for Teens; it has lots of suggestions for your son, divided by areas of interest. You should be able to find it at a library in your area.

  4. What separates the great ‘The Dark Is Rising’ from the not so great fantasy books is its feeling of authenticity and sense that the author is imparting some esoteric wisdom without letting it get in the way of the fast paced story telling. Vicki’s comment makes me want to read The Dark Is Rising again – maybe now is the time.

  5. Lynn Rutan says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you about the classic nature of this book and series. I have reread it almost every year and think it has held up wonderfully. I always think I’m just going to re-read the first one and of course that is simply impossible. The minute I finish this book I have to immediately start the next in the series until I have gobbled them all up yet again. My grandsons and I are reading the series together this year and it gladdens my heart to see how much they love it too.

  6. Jill: for what it’s worth, I first read this when I was in COLLEGE and loved it. Granted, I’m now a youth services librarian and ALL my reading tends to be of books aimed at people way younger than me, so I’m not the best example. As long as someone hasn’t got prejudices AGAINST reading books with much-younger-than-them protagonists, this is the sort of book that is just simply A Good Book, no age limits necessary. I DID think the beginning of “Over Sea, Under Stone” (the other possible first book in the series) felt a little babyish to me when I first read it as a teen, but there’s none of that feeling with “The Dark is Rising,” and once he’s read this one, he’ll be hooked… um, probably, anyway.

  7. G.Perry says:

    Of all the Books I read using Anita’s 100 Best Books for Children, the Dark is Rising was one of those I enjoyed most. I found myself flying to the next page, all the way through the book. I’ll put it up right there with The Giver.

    The lady can write.

  8. Joyce Ray says:

    I agree, G. Perry, Susan Cooper can write and she can speak, too! I was lucky enough to hear her speak at an SCBWI conference in NYC a few years ago. She was spellbinding. To prepare for the conference, I read every Cooper book in the library and wondered why we weren’t seeing The Dark is Rising on the screen. It’s a wonderful book. Great choice for this day, Anita!

  9. I’m sorry that I missed this post. The Dark is Rising is one of my favorite books. I pull it out and reread it nearly every Christmas. I love the entire series, but this one is still tops for me.

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