Completed: The Grey King

Cover: The Grey King by Susan Cooper The Grey King
Susan Cooper
1974, England

I’ve been slowly revisiting The Dark is Rising Sequence over the past year and a half or so, inspired to reread this favorite childhood series by my reading of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys. (And after I started my reread, I learned that she was indeed inspired by Cooper’s work.) I haven’t been blogging about these for the most part, but since I’ve included the last two on my 15 Books of Summer list, I thought I’d write up just a little bit.

The series in general–five books in all–is inspired by Arthurian legend, but set in the present day (roughly 1960s/70s, when it was written, though it really doesn’t feel that dated and could equally be now). The first book, Over Sea, Under Stone, was a grail quest, as the three Drew children sought to retrieve the Hold Grail before a group of adult adversaries can. It ends with the Grail in a museum and the tantalizing suggestion that maybe The Merlin has been helping them along the way. And there, I understand, Cooper originally intended to leave it. It was only some years later that she added on the other four books, to round out a series depicting a great battle between the Light and the Dark, a battle ongoing since at least the time of the great King Arthur. The books from this point bounce between protagonists: Will Stanton, the last (and youngest) of the Old Ones, is introduced in book two, The Dark is Rising, where he must search out and retrieve the six signs by Midwinter’s Night. In book three, Greenwitch, the Drews return as protagonists, when they “happen” to meet Will in a small town in Cornwall (the setting of the first book) where they must rescue the stolen Grail back from the Dark.

The fourth book, The Grey King, returns to Will’s point of view. He has been sent to Wales to recuperate after a severe illness. While there, he meets a strange boy, Bran, and Bran’s dog Cafall, and discovers that he will need their help in retrieving a lost gold harp meant to wake the “six sleepers” whose aid the Light will need in their upcoming battle against the Dark. Over the course of the story, Will and Bran will also learn the surprising backstory to Bran’s arrival in Wales and that Bran’s help may be needed for more than finding the harp.

Although commonly classified as fantasy, The Dark is Rising sequence has long felt to me more akin to the myths and legends of long-gone times: of King Arthur, of Brenin Llwyd. Perhaps, in our cynical, rational age, this is a fine distinction. After all, we know that magic doesn’t exist–at least not as defined in fantasy tales. But when I find myself considering what book might most naturally follow next after these, it is the old legends and stories I think of, not more contemporary writers. Cooper, by drawing in bits of stories she only borrows, pushes me towards seeking out stories I don’t yet fully know. And if that is the result of reading one book, to be pushed toward others, I would say that the writer has been successful in their telling.

I read The Grey King as part of my Classics of Children’s Lit project and as #2/15 for the 20 Books of Summer Challenge.

Week’s End Notes (28) – Of Summer Reading Plans

Geber Daisy

It’s been a while. With the end of April’s Children’s Classics Event, I dove into May with a focus on reading rather than writing, so now I find myself with, yet again, a backlog of posts to write—but at least a number of books are finished. I may, however, in the future have to institute a rule that I must write about one book before moving on to the next.

I have been working on some posts related to my Paul Laurence Dunbar reading, actually, but I’m not quite finished, so those will have to wait. In the meantime, I’m succumbing to temptation yet again, but I don’t think this will harm me. At worst, I will have too many books to finish in the fall; I make no promises of actually finishing anything on time, for that is unnecessary stress, when my job provides plenty of its own deadlines.

It’s only just the first week of “unofficial” summer, those June-July-August months when the school children are out of class and those of us still stuck behind a work desk long for the days of unfettered freedom, of long summers and ample reading time. The nostalgia creeps in every year, and every year I am convinced that I might read more than I do any other time of year. Foolish, of course—often work is even more busy in the summer—but an aim nonetheless.

It does seem that we are likely to have an uncomfortably hot summer—already we’ve hit 90 F (32 C) once—and in those temperatures I really am fit for nothing better than reading. So perhaps this year… Optimism springs eternal! With that thought in mind, and tempted by the sight of so many bloggers laying forth their summer plans, I set out mine, perhaps a week late, but a whole summer still stretches forth.

First, the next Classics Club spin. I’ve finished the reading (Pedro Páramo), but still need to write up a post for the last one—only a month or so overdue. Oops. It always gets me to read a book I might otherwise postpone, though, even if at times I finish months late. For this round I’ve only included books I already have on hand, as I’m currently trying to read off my shelves. A few I intend to read this summer, regardless of the spin outcome.

  1. Taming of the Shrew – William Shakespeare
  2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream – William Shakespeare
  3. His Last Bow – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  4. The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
  5. The Iliad – Homer
  6. An Oresteia – as translated by Anne Carson
  7. Fables – Aesop
  8. Aeneid – Virgil
  9. The Italian – Anne Radcliff
  10. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  11. Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell
  12. Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell
  13. The Lusiad – Luís Vaz de Camões
  14. Three Exemplary Tales – Miguel de Cervantes
  15. The President – Miguel Ángel Asturias
  16. The Warden – Anthony Trollope
  17. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
  18. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  19. Suttree – Cormac McCarthy
  20. Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

Then there’s the next Spanish Lit Month coming up in July, hosted by Stu of Winstonsdad’s Books and Richard of Caravana de recuerdos. I’m not sure yet what I will read, but I’d really like to actually finish something this year, as last year I failed abominably and nor did I manage to finish anything on time for Richard’s winter/spring Mexicanos perdidos en México event (Pedro Páramo was supposed to double for that as well…maybe I should save my post on it for July! Hmm…actually, that probably is what will happen…)

15 Books of Summer Button

Finally, I see many bloggers signing up for the 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy of 746 Books. I initially dismissed the idea—I’ve not read 20 books in 3 months since I was in school—but there are options for 10 or 15 books as well. Surely I can read ten! My list is subject to change—I don’t wish to be strictly limited in my reading, if something catches else my eye. But these are the books I most want to read this summer, so it is likely I won’t deviate too much. Also, I’ve included an extra title in case my Classics Spin title is one I’m going to read anyway.

  1. Taming of the Shrew – William Shakespeare
  2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream – William Shakespeare
  3. The Raven Boys – Maggie Stiefvater [reread]
  4. The Dream Thieves – Maggie Stiefvater [reread]
  5. Blue Lily, Lily Blue – Maggie Stiefvater [reread]
  6. The Raven King – Maggie Stiefvater
  7. His Last Bow – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  8. The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
  9. Chronicles of Avonlea – L.M. Montgomery
  10. The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
  11. The Grey King – Susan Cooper
  12. The Farm – Louis Bromfield
  13. Enter Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse
  14. TBD – Spanish Lit Month Book (if not Classics Spin title)
  15. TBD – Classics Spin Book (if not already listed above)
  16. Silver on the Tree – Susan Cooper (if Classics Spin Title is 1, 2, 7, 8, or 14)

I was going to stick with 10, but I realized that quite a few of my books are either YA or plays, so if I actually wanted to challenge myself I needed to bump it up to 15.

Well, I think that should  be quite enough to go on! And what are your bookish plans for the summer?