This third book in Susan Cooper‘s series, The Dark is Rising, brings the three Drew children back to Trewissick with Great Uncle Merry. This time, they are joined by Will Stanton who comes with his uncle, who is visiting from the U.S. The grail the children found last summer, and presented to the British Museum, has been stolen, along with a few other Celtic items of lesser value. The children need to help retrieve it before the powers of the Dark can use it to help them defeat the Light. One of the tokens the Dark must retrieve centres around the ceremony of the Greenwitch, an ancient rite that only the women of the village take part in until the fishermen come at daybreak to push the green witch the women have crafted over the cliff into the deep. Jane, the only one of the visitors allowed to observe the making of the Greenwitch, senses a deep loneliness in the figure, and is able to make a connection of sorts with it, a vivid connection which allows it to send visions into her dreams.
There is an antagonistic artist with long, dark hair, and a foul expression on his face, hanging around the town, painting aggressive abstract pictures. He kidnaps Rufus (Captain Toms’ Irish setter from the first book), steals Barney’s sketch of the harbour, and lures Simon and Barney to a caravan in the woods just a bit outside of town. He manages to cast a spell on Barney without realizing that he has not managed to include Simon in it. Here is an excerpt:
The dim light in the caravan could not dull the glow that came from the grail; yellow it blazed like a fire before them, warm, glittering. Simon said softly, “It’s all right. Not a scratch on it.”
A cold voice from the shadows said, “it is in good hands.”
Abruptly they were out of their absorption with the grail and back in the ominous half-light of the painter of the Dark. The man’s blackbead eyes glittered at them from behind the table; he was a surreal pattern of black and white, black eyes, white face, black hair. And there was a deeper strength and confidence in the voice now, a note of triumph.
“I allow you a sight of the grail,” he said, “to make a bargain with you.”
“You make a bargain with us?” Simon said, his voice coming out higher and louder opinion intended. “All you do is steal things. Barney’s drawing, Capt. Toms’ dog. And the grail — it must have been you who stole it from the Museum, or your friends —”
“I have no friends,” said the man unexpectedly, swiftly; it seemed a bitter reaction that he could not help, and for a moment there was a faltering of his cold gaze as he knew it. In the next instant he was composed again, looking down at them both in total self-possession.
. . . . . . .
The painter looked at Barney. He said, “it is very simple, Barnabas Drew. I shall take the cup that you choose to call the grail, and I shall pour into it some water, and a little oil. Then I shall ask you to sit calmly, and look into the cup, and tell me what you see.”
Barney stared at him in amazement. Like a sea-mist a strange idea reached into his mind: was the man not evil at all, but simply off his head, a little mad? That could, he suddenly realized, explain everything the strange paint-er had done; after all, even great artists sometimes did on things acted strangely; think of nutty Van Gogh . . .
He said carefully, “Look at the water, and the oil, and tell you what I see?
Oil does make nice patterns on water, and colors . . . Well, that sounds harmless enough. Doesn’t it, Simon?”
. . . . . . .
The dark man ran some water from the tap into a glass and poured it into the grail. Then he took a small brown bottle from a shelf near the table and added a drop or two of some kind of oil. He looked greedily at Barney. The tension in him sang like a plucked wire.
“Now,” he said. “Sit down, here, and look hard. Look hard, look long. And tell me what you see.”
Barney sat in the chair before the table, and slowly took the glowing golden chalice in both his hands. Though the inscribed gold of the outside was as bright as it had ever been, the inside surface was a dull black. Barney stared down at the liquid in the bowl. In the cold green light from above his head, incomprehensibly shining out from the patterns of the painted ceiling, he wants the thin thin layer of oil on the surface of the water swirl and coil into itself, curving, breaking and joining again, forming islands that drifted out and then vanished, merging into the rest. And he saw . . . he saw . . .
Darkness took hold of his brain like sudden sleep, and he knew nothing more.
This story is full of magic, telepathy, sinister enemies, and strange rites. If foreknowing is forearmed, then the three old ones, Will, Uncle Merry, and Captain Toms, and the three children, Barney, Simon, and Jane, should be able to thwart the efforts of the Dark. The Old Ones wield their powers against the agents of evil, seek the ruler of the sea far into its cold depths, and must recover the lost inscription that will unlock the secret message of the grail.
This is the shortest of the five books in The Dark is Rising, but is by no means the least. The inscription leads the Old Ones to expect the coming trials in Wales where they will face The Grey King. Juniors and teens, alike, will enjoy this adventure. (Adults, too.) * * * * *