Spoilers: All five books, but BIG ones for The Grey King
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.
I started reading The Dark is Rising Sequence a year ago almost to the day. My best friend had read the novels and she was convinced that I would love them if I read them. I asked for the books two years ago for Christmas and received the third and fifth books in the quintet of books. Obviously, the middle book and the last book would leave me completely confused, so I had to wait another year, while I waited for my friend to find me the other three -- the novels were impossible to find in the rural area of Indiana I live in. So, all in all, I think I waited about two years to read these novels.
I’ve read them a dozen times since then. It took me a day to read them and I was in love with the series instantly. It was not difficult to do. The novels are beautifully written and when you read them, you have the feeling of being swept away. Susan Cooper blends together the past and present effortlessly, and it is obvious that the novels are well thought out and that the characters are beloved by the author. In which case, it is very simple for the reader to love them as well.
My friend who had read the novels and who had gotten me interested in them in the first place was constantly raving about two of the characters -- Will Stanton and Bran Davies. She even wrote a slash fiction between them and had me beta it -- before I’d read the novels or had any idea what was going on with the stories. I spent the course of a year hearing about Will and Bran and how they were soul mates, that they were destined to be together and that it was so obvious.
All of this about a pair of eleven year old boys.
So, I got the novels. Five in all: Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; Silver on the Tree.
I waited impatiently for Will and Bran to appear. And for the first book, they weren’t there. Then in The Dark is Rising we had Will, but no Bran and I demanded to know from my best friend where Bran was. To which she replied, “He doesn’t show up until The Grey King.” That was the fourth book! I was only on the second! So, I sped read through Greenwitch and to be honest, I’m still not really sure what happened in it; I skipped whole chapters -- which wasn’t much of a feat, it was only about a hundred pages long.
And then, I finally got to The Grey King. I was ecstatic. And by the third chapter, I was convinced “these kids are gonna do it!”. To which my mother called back: “Which kids are doing what?”. Within the first thirty-five pages (really, I just looked to make sure) I was in love with the two boys and I had my One True Pairing in The Dark is Rising Sequence. And I wasn’t even in the fandom yet.
And I realise that I haven’t really explained what the novels are about, or *why* anyone should really read them or even care about the boys. I’m going to do that now, and I am going to attempt to do that without spoiling some of the better plot twists. . .the biggest and best one will have to be spoiled, because it’s too important not to. But, don’t be surprised if I skip whole books and only give the summary of the plots. I’m here to talk about Will and Bran, not praise every book individually.
It’s like Harry Potter. . .
And that really is the best way to describe the novels, never mind that they were written thirty years before The Boy Who Lived was even a glimmer in anyone’s eye. The novel is about a boy -- Will Stanton -- who on his eleventh birthday learns he’s the last born of a group of beings whose job it is to keep the Dark from rising and taking over the world.
Together, with three siblings, his teacher and a strange Welsh boy, he sets out to stop the Dark from rising.
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.
The novels blend past and present together perfectly, jumping from modern day (1970’s) England to Britain during Roman rule and back again. It also beautifully blends Cornish and Welsh Arthurian legend together with other ancient Welsh legends and makes the entire thing seem effortless. If anyone has any interest in Arthurian legend, these novels must be read, never mind the subtext and comparisons to Harry Potter. Disregard all of that, read them for the Arthurian legend.
In the first novel, Over Sea, Under Stone, Susan Cooper introduces us to the three Drew children -- Simon, Jane and Barney -- who are visiting their Great Uncle Merriman in Cornwall. Their uncle is an archaeologist who is searching for the Grail and the Drew siblings set out to help him locate it. It is a wonderful book and a lot of fun to read, but when Susan Cooper wrote it, it was meant to be a one time thing. It only became part of a larger series eight years after it was written. (Really, Over Sea, Under Stone was published in 1965. The Dark is Rising wasn’t published until 1973).
In the next novel, there is no mention of the Drew children at all, but Merriman does return and we are introduced to a young English boy named Will Stanton, who learns he is the last born of the Old Ones, destined to seek the six magical signs that will enable the Light to triumph over the evil forces of the Dark.
Think of the Dark as a lesser version of Sauron or a less nasty Voldemort, if you’re having a hard time imagining what the Dark is. the Light would be like. . .the Order of the Phoenix, or Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Dark are the bad guys, the Light are the good guys. You want to cheer for the Light. If the Dark wins, it’s gonna be a crappy time for everyone.
In the third novel, Greenwitch, the grail that the Drews retrieved in Over Sea, Under Stone has been stolen and they return to Cornwall to retrieve it. Will comes along as well and the four of them have to work together to get the Grail back. Like I said, I skimmed the book, so I’m sure I missed a bit. All I remember really catching was the Drews didn’t trust Will at first and that by the end of it, Jane seemed to have a crush on Will. And that they got the grail back at the end.
And then, we come to The Grey King, which is still my favourite book and apparently a lot of others’ favourite as well. This novel won The Newbery Medal and when anyone mentions The Dark is Rising Sequence it’s The Grey King that comes to mind. For a lot of people in the fandom, it’s as if the first three books never took place -- fandom starts with The Grey King.
In The Grey King Will is sent to Wales to recover from a severe illness. He has forgotten a lot about who he really is. In the first few chapters, he is just an English boy sent to stay with some Welsh relatives to recover from being very sick for a very along time. Then, while walking along a path in the hills, he comes across a strange dog which forces him into contact with an even stranger boy -- Bran Davies. And Will remembers --he’s one of the Old Ones, he’s in Wales on a quest to retrieve the Golden Harp and Bran is there to help him. And by the end of the novel, we know a lot more about this strange Welsh boy and come to learn that Bran’s destiny is even more tied to the Light and the Dark than even Will himself.
But more on that later. I’m going to spoil the heck out of The Grey King when I actually talk about the pairing.
In Silver on the Tree, Will returns to Wales to visit Bran and the Drew children arrive on holiday. Of course, all of this is just a pretence. They are in Wales because the last battle between the Dark and the Light is about to occur and they must retrieve a crystal sword that is the last thing they need to vanquish the Dark once and for all. The five of them with Merriman fight fear and death in the Welsh hills in a quest that takes them through time and space to complete the mission that was begun in Over Sea, Under Stone.
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.
Alright, now that you know what the novels are about (and aren’t you glad I took the time to tell you about them?), it’s time to talk about these kids whose names are attached to this manifesto.
I have described Will Stanton. Last born of the Old Ones, it is his job to retrieve the things of Power or what-have-you. But I haven’t really described him as a person. I have told you his role in the novels, but not who he is. Will Stanton is the seventh son of the seventh son. (He’s the youngest in a family of seven brothers and three sisters and so was his father.) He lives in a very close-knit, loving family. He lives on a farm and his oldest brother is in the Navy. He has a few school friends when we first meet him, but it is obvious that he is awkward and a bit strange. His family tells him he’s old and it’s obvious that while they love him, it’s a bit strange for them because he is a quiet, self-efficient child in a boisterous family. We first meet him on his eleventh birthday -- the winter solstice -- and that is where his quest begins. Will does not relate well to people, which is brought into the main picture in The Grey King, so I’ll get to that later. It is difficult to describe Will and it is even more difficult for me to describe him physically. The only real description I can find is that he has longish, straight brown hair that he always pushes back using his right hand. So, we’ll leave Will here for now, because it is easier to show who he is by showing what he does.
The Raven Boy
We meet Bran Davies when Will meets him. Bran lives on Will’s uncle’s farm with his father, Owen Davies. Although it isn’t stated explicitly, we are essentially told that Bran has no friends before Will comes to Clwyd (the farm they live on). His father works on the Evans’ farm and Bran has essentially been adopted as another member of the family for Will’s aunt and uncle. He plays the harp -- a man who works on Will’s uncle's farm gives him lessons. Bran does not know his mother and he tells Will his mother is dead and that it’s only him and his father. It seems at first that Bran is just a boy who is on this farm, is the same age as Will and that it is all quite simple that he and Will would meet.
And that is actually how I tell people about the novel. “In The Grey King, Will meets his soul mate and they have to find the harp of gold.” Or something like that. But, there are a great number of things that prove that Bran Davies is no ordinary boy and is in fact stranger than Will Stanton himself.
One of the oddities is nothing that is really about Bran, but then it is as well. Bran’s dog Cafall is strange as much as Bran himself is. The dog is pure white with silver eyes. He is a sheepdog, but he is not used by Owen Davies to herd the sheep. Cafall is Bran’s only friend prior to Will’s arrival. And it is the dog himself that brings Will to Bran. Literally. Cafall drives Will towards Bran and when Will doesn’t go, actually takes him by the arm and leads him there. He almost falls down a hill and Cafall saves him from tumbling down. It is plain within the first few moments that this dog is no ordinary dog. And his strangeness is reflected in his owner.
-The Grey King, Cadfan’s Way, p. 23
This boy’s existence and his aiding Will is foretold in a verse that was written a thousand years ago:
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
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.
So, obviously, it’s not quite as much of a coincidence as it might sound like. And it turns out to be even less of a coincidence when at the end of the book, we learn that Bran is not the son of Owen Davies, nor was he even born in this time period. He is the son of King Arthur and Guinevere, brought forward in time by his mother and Merriman to the present time because the Queen did not think that Arthur would accept the boy as his son after Guinevere’s indiscretion with Lancelot. (Okay, it doesn’t actually SAY the part about Lancelot, but everyone knows that’s what they’re talking about, so let’s not split hairs about it. We’re all adults reading this essay, but these are children’s books, after all.) The theory is that Merriman sent her specifically to that time period so that Bran would be there to aid Will when the time came. But, then, there is the verse to consider. There isn’t really anyway to know if Bran is in the verse because Merriman sent him forward or if Merriman sent him forward because Bran is in the verse. Either way, he’s there now, the Pendragon raised in modern times and he is there to aid Will in his quest, which is actually Bran’s quest as well.
Confused yet? Good. Because it’s going to get worse.
It was not very difficult to find evidence for this pairing. I’m not sure if that’s because it’s so blatant, or if it’s because I’m so used to the pairing that it’s all obvious to me. There is also the fact that these are books, so it’s not very difficult to go back and look it up in the novels where the events take place.
But, enough of that, let’s get into the subtext. That’s why we’re here, after all.
These boys are soul mates. And let’s not get too freaked out about this now, because that’s all they are. There is no sexual subtext between them -- they’re eleven when they meet and twelve in Silver on the Tree. So, this shouldn’t be too bad, because even if you can’t see them having sex, it shouldn’t be too difficult to accept that they’re soul mates. And yes, I am going to throw that word around, because it’s the best way to describe their relationship. They are more than friends and even more than what lovers would be if Susan Cooper ever actually wrote them being lovers. The fan fic authors don’t have a problem doing it.
Will is instantly accepting of Bran, there is no awkwardness because of the way Bran looks and the first words out of Bran’s mouth when they first meet is “Are you hurt?”. Of course, this is probably because Bran’s dog almost sent him tumbling down a hill, but let’s pretend for a moment that it was because Bran was worried about Will. Because later on, after Will starts to fall when he and Bran are racing, there is that concern. Will has been sick and is still weak and Bran is annoyed with himself for forgetting that Will is in need of watching:
-The Grey King, The Raven Boy, p.33
Both of these boys are outside of their time, they are old for their years. Who better to understand them than one who is in the same predicament?
One of the things that can be taken as being evidence of Will and Bran’s connection is the fact that Will remembers what he’d forgotten after meeting Bran and Cafall. He’d forgotten it until that moment and then when he meets Bran it comes back to him -- The Raven Boy (Bran) and the silver eyes that see the wind (Cafall). It was destined that they meet, and obviously, whatever the reason, Will needs Bran’s help in this quest. Neither of them could accomplish this alone.
The moment that struck me as the thing that was blaring that Will loves Bran (and most of the novels come from Will’s point of view, so most of it is going to come from Will) was something that happened after Bran and Will encounter Caradog Prichard -- a man who does not like Bran because of the way Bran looks. (Well, that’s what Bran thinks, it’s actually a lot more complicated than that, but let’s not give away any more of the plot than we have to.)
They are discussing the fact that a lot of the people are afraid of Bran because he’s albino. They think he might be evil, one of the little people, etc. It gets into Welsh legends; and it would take too long to explain in this essay, besides, the point is not what Bran says, but Will’s reaction to what he says:
- The Grey King, The Raven Boy, p. 34 - 35
And this is after they’ve only just met. Twenty minutes after they’ve met and Will is already wanting to protect and stop Bran from feeling any kind of pain.
Something else that comes to mind. . .but which I only just noticed as I was planning to talk about something else entirely is that Will and Bran tend to touch each other an awful lot. They stand really close to each other and it’s to each other that they speak, very rarely do you see them interact with someone without the other nearby.
Will looked at him and said with sudden naked honesty, “I don’t know what to make of you.”
“I know you don’t,” Bran said, a quirk of a smile twitching his strange pale face. “But you’re going to need me all the same.”
- The Grey King, Fire on the Mountain, p. 54
The two boys are constantly concerned about what the other is thinking or feeling, they are almost eerily aware of each other. There are many scenes throughout both The Grey King and Silver on the Tree in which they seem to be only concerned with the other. An almost pre-occupation exists throughout their interactions with each other and the people around them.
- The Grey King, Bird Rock, p. 63
Later on in the same chapter, after Will has spouted off something that only he really understands, this occurs:
“It doesn’t matter,” Will said.
-The Grey King, Bird Rock, p. 65
Of course, this may have just been Bran’s upbringing coming into play, but then again, he does not extend this kind of reaction to any adult around them. He apologises to Will frequently throughout The Grey King and Will is constantly concerned with Bran in Silver on the Tree.
So, this is really where I should get into Silver on the Tree, but before I do that, there is something I alluded to earlier that needs to come into play right now, because it says something about the way Will interacts with others and says something about the way the outside world perceives Will and Bran’s interaction.
Bran’s dog, Cafall, is shot by the aforementioned Caradog Prichard.
- The Grey King, Eyes That See the Wind, p. 85
And later on, Will is desperate to find something to say to his friend.
- The Girl from the Mountains, The Grey King, p. 93
And Bran’s reaction to what Will says to him. . .which I don’t really want to type out, because what Will said is not so important as the fact that it’s the wrong thing to say, but Will says it anyway.
It’s Bran’s reaction to it that’s important, just like it was Will’s reaction to Bran’s words earlier that was important:
- The Grey King, The Girl from the Mountains, p. 93
It may just be my brain and the way I was perceiving the characters, but there is a feeling to this scene between them that is not your typical fight between friends. There is an intimacy and a pain involved in it that is evident from both sides that you don’t usually get between two eleven year olds when they are angry or hurt. It has a feeling of something much deeper; it’s almost as if one feels betrayed and the other knows it. Will doesn’t argue back, or even consider hanging around to try to convince Bran, he just resignedly walks away when Bran dismisses him.
After the death of Cafall, several of the adults respond to the fact that Will and Bran are not speaking to each other. These two boys have been inseparable since they met, and suddenly they aren’t around each other. Owen Davies says, “Yes, you could help him, I believe.” And then Will fails to do that, when he says the wrong thing, causing Bran to become even more upset and sending Will away from him.
After Will has left Bran and is talking to John Rowlands about Bran, John tells him that Bran may be glad to have Will with him very soon. And later, when Will is preparing to go with John Rowlands to hide one of the farm’s dogs from Caradog Prichard, Will’s aunt inquires about Bran as well. She asks if he and Bran have had a quarrel and when Will tells her about Bran being upset over losing Cafall, she says:
- The Grey King, The Pleasant Lake, p. 113
These people are not responding to the struggle between the Dark and the Light. They know nothing of it, all they see is that these two boys who had become fast friends are suddenly distressed and not speaking to each other.
The silent treatment doesn’t last long. It only goes on for about three chapters, not even twenty-four hours and you wouldn’t think anything about it, because Will is with his family for most of that time, except that it is painfully obvious that there’s this distress in Will and the people around him keep mentioning Bran, which only seems to make Will even more upset.
While Will is at another farm, Caradog Prichard figures out where the dog is. Bran rides his bike all the way from Clwyd to Ty-Bont. And let’s just say it’s a long way away -- they don’t actually give a number, but it’s apparently far away, because Will is in awe of the fact that Bran cycled all the way from Clwyd.
- The Grey King, The Pleasant Lake, p. 124
And that’s the end of the quarrel. There is no apology, no conversation. Bran doesn’t go looking for any adults to tell them what’s going on, neither of them even think of going to anyone else for help. They simply get up and leave, taking the dog with them to go and hide him somewhere together. Will doesn’t question that Caradog Prichard knows where the dog (Pen) is hidden and Bran doesn’t question why Will is sitting in the middle of the yard while the men have left him alone. They just get up and go.
Then, later while they are hiding with the dog, they find that the Dark knows where they are and what’s going on and that Will has to go somewhere to get something to help them. (I’m not purposely being vague, Will doesn’t tell Bran what he’s going to do because the Dark can hear them.) But Will is nervous about leaving Bran alone; he’s hesitant to leave Bran with the Dark watching and Caradog Prichard on his way, but Bran won’t leave Pen alone and they can’t move him. They actually have something of an argument over whether or not Bran can stay, the warestone (the thing that is making it impossible for the dog to be moved) may be able to cause Bran harm and Will doesn’t want him to stay there alone when Will can’t help him. But Bran won’t go. Once he’s sure the stone can’t kill him, he refuses to leave the dog. So, Will has to leave, promising he’ll return as quickly as possible. It’s actually a very cute scene and it again shows some of the caring between them. Will is afraid for Bran’s safety, but Bran has faith in Will.
And later, while Bran is alone, the Dark actually tries to get Bran to turn against Will, filling his head with the idea -- again -- that it is because of Will that Cafall is dead. It doesn’t work this time -- it had been tried before but it didn’t work. But, it’s the fact that the Dark is working so hard at separating them that strikes me. They have to be separated, because together they’re too strong.
When I started writing this, I’d planned on dividing the essay up differently, I’d meant to divide it into something akin to categories of subtext. Instead I’ve somehow ended up dividing it into chronological order. So, I suppose I’ll just plod right along into Silver on the Tree.
I’ve talked about some of it already. The interaction and intimacy between Will and Bran is screaming from the very beginning. I’ve talked about them being tuned into each other and about other people’s reactions to them, so I’m essentially just giving more evidence of the same thing.
The books are nothing, if not consistent.
There is a scene towards the middle of Silver on the Tree that is again a sign of the connection between them. And I have actually seen other people quote this scene, so I know I’m not the only person who sees it.
Will and Bran have just rescued Jane from a lake monster -- don’t ask -- and as they are standing by the lake, they suddenly realise that they have ended up exactly where they are supposed to be.
They are standing by the lake, surrounded by the Drews and Will has this reaction:
“Bran?” he said. “Bran? Do you feel it -- do you --”
- Silver on the Tree, Afanc, p. 102
I mentioned before that Jane seemed to have a crush on Will. There is a strain in the interaction between her and Bran. Throughout quite a bit of the novel, she and Bran are arguing with each other -- about and around Will. There is a jealousy between them both that is obvious; they are both rather attached to Will and neither of them responds well to this stranger showing up and affecting their every movement. And the fact that Will is constantly at Bran’s side probably doesn’t help much in the long run. It is Will and Bran who go off to actually retrieve the crystal sword, leaving the Drews behind. And when it is time for them to meet Will and Bran after they have retrieved the sword, Jane goes off on her own to do it, leaving her brothers behind. It doesn’t work, because Simon and Barney come and find her before the boys return, but she is determined that she is the one to meet them, not her brothers.
Jane is uncomfortable around Bran. And I have seen people interpret this as Jane having feelings for Bran or her being jealous because Will is paying attention to Bran. I read it as her being jealous and uncomfortable of the attention Will and Bran are paying to each other. My brain is quite slash soaked, after all. Either way, Jane mentions several times that Bran makes her uncomfortable, and she is frequently upset with them. There is actually a scene where she gets upset because Will and Bran are constantly on each other’s sides and the Drews are sort of plodding along in their wake. It is true, they are blindly following Will’s lead, and Will and Bran are in constant agreement on what needs to be done.
- Silver on the Tree, The Bearded Lake, p. 82
Now, granted, she’s probably referring to the fact that Will and Bran know about Bran’s heritage and that neither of them have explained to the Drews what Bran is actually doing there. But doesn’t that sound like something you would say if you were trying to make someone make a confession? First time I read it, it hit me that she could have just as easily have been talking about Will and Bran’s interaction.
And this is coming from someone who doesn’t really know them all that well.
I’m not certain how well this essay has turned out. I am operating under the assumption that anyone reading this is already in the fandom and already has this pairing (the entire twelve people who know the novels exist). But I hope that people who read this and who didn’t know the novels existed or who knew they were there and hadn’t read them might now have an interest in reading them. And to those of you who have read the books, but who don’t see where the pairing comes from, I’m hoping that I have given you some idea as to how it can be seen from someone who does see that these two children are soul mates, that they are destined to be together, whether it be as friends or as lovers.
If nothing else, I just hope that it has made someone who maybe didn’t know about the novels or who hadn’t liked the novels become interested in reading the books.
Because they really do deserve the same amount of attention as what the OTHER children’s books about a boy dewin receive.
This fandom consists of about twenty authors and about 200 readers. And I'm not exaggerating, there are very few well-known authors and EVERYONE knows everyone else if you're remotely active in the fandom. This fandom adopts people from the start and is more than willing to accept anyone into it and give anyone a chance. But, because it is so small, it's always possible that some people are going to be rec'ced more than once and don't be surprised if some of these archives consist of authors I've rec'ced individually.
Read "The Dust of Time". It's a WiP, but worth what there is.
Fanfic by ashkitty. One of the greatest authors in the fandom and someone I'm proud to be able to actually call a friend.
The Dark is Rising Fanfiction links
Just some links to different fics. Most of whom I've rec'ced personally, but look through it anyway, because they all deserve a second look. And dear gods, read "Handsome" by Gunbunny if you haven't found it yet.
Shades and Echoes
Six Ribbons by Anne Olson is another of the ones that sticks out in my mind. I've read it a zillion times. You have to read Torn first to get it, but it's beautiful.
Has a lot of LOTR fic on the site too, you have to sift through it, but there's four or five TDiR fics on here. Read "She Shows You a Picture", it's amazing.
The Book of Gramarye
"Harry Potter and the Legacy of the Light". . .I found gramarye when I was looking for an HP/TDiR crossover. Her other fics are amazing and someone who has to be read if you're going to have anything to do with TDiR fandom.
The Dark is Rising
Not much on here yet, as a matter of fact, there isn't anything but The Dark is Rising Slash Archive, but there will be more. It's only a few weeks old.
The Dark is Rising
Just what the title says. Go here, it's a friendly group of the biggest bunch of geeks you'd ever want to meet and they'll welcome you with open arms and answer any question you ever wanted to know.
The Dark is Rising Slash Archive
Just what the title says.
The Lost Land (Susan Cooper's official website)
Ditto on the title thing.
Drabble community run by gramarye.
Just look at the title, pretty self-explanatory.
THE DiR group on LJ. Encompasses all.