‘The snow lay thin and apologetic over the world. That wide grey sweep was the lawn, with the straggling trees of the orchard still dark beyond; the white squares were the roofs of the garage, the old barn, the rabbit hutches, the chicken coops… All the broad sky was grey, full of more snow that refused to fall. There was no colour anywhere.’
The Dark is Rising opens four days before Christmas. Our hero Will Stanton is waiting for his eleventh birthday and the snow that will just not fall. When they do come he finds himself flung out of his chaotic, comforting home into a sort of dream space where the mysterious ‘walker is abroad’ and where good must triumph over evil.
It sounds like standard fantasy fare, but Susan Cooper renders the Buckinghamshire backdrop in a vivid, hyperreal way that leaves you constantly unsettled. In her new introduction Cooper says she wrote the book after she had moved to America and was suffering from homesickness. Her friend J.B. Priestly consoled her, ‘You will find that you write better about a place when your are away from it.’ It’s that memory and distance that gives Dark is Rising its peculiar dreamlike quality, one that matches the Christmas season with its ever present sense of nostalgia, perfectly.
The illustrations to this grand edition by the Folio society are by Laura Carlin, who did such an amazing job with Ted Hughes’s Iron Man. Her drawings mirror the text beautifully, combining the threat of the outside world with the safety of Will’s home. The cosy interiors are filled with natural elements, and echoes of wild animals, the exteriors thawed by bright spots of colour.
But if you really want to be spooked, check out the wild illustrations of Alan E. Cober from the first edition. Definitely enough to give you nightmares this Mindwinters Eve.
The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper is published by The Folio Society, £27.95,