Show Notes: The Walker Is Abroad

You can listen to the LIVE stream here.

Our Christmas traditions are a wonderful blend of our western culture.  When those values are reflected in literature we want our children to experience them.

The Melting Pot 1.0

Holy, rowan, mistletoe are facets of Germanic and Norse mythology that were transplanted to England with the arrival of the Saxons and again with the Danes.

The Yule Log is also a mixture of Christian and Nordic tradition celebrated during the month of December.  The Twelve Days of Christmas have their origin in part in the Twelve Days of Yule.

For the people of Germania, Scandinavia, and Anglo-Saxon England, understanding the cycles of nature and the sun, in particular, was critical to survival, and celebrating the winter solstice is an ancient pagan tradition …

Yuletide was extended to span a full 12 days and nights, blending several other traditions. The 12 days between the winter solstice and the beginning of the next solar year were considered a sacred period, belonging neither to the old year nor the new year. These are the days of least sunlight and the Celts believed that the sun stood still for 12 days, so they lit fires to conquer the darkness and banish evil spirits.

The Dark Is Rising

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper was published in 1973 in Great Britain.  While it is a fantasy series of agents of The Light, called the Old Ones, and their struggle against The Dark, malevolent 

This is a blending of Christian, Germanic and English mythology.  While the story takes place at Christmas, it is a tale of legends winter solstice,  that are set in a Christian world, with Christian themes and values interwoven with elements of the supernatural. Will’s quest, initiated just days before Christmas, is depicted through his eyes as he must chart a unknown course to complete a series of tasks in order to prevent The Dark from overrunning the world and plunging life into internal misery.  Will is not a Tom Sawyer, he is not a rebel.  He is the youngest in his family, the seventh son of the seventh son.  Unlike many other Young Adult adventures, Will comes from a stable and loving family.  Upon learning of his unique place among the agents of The Light, Will realizes that it’s his responsible to protect his family from his secret while he learns of his abilities as an Old One.

The magic of this book is that it takes places in a farming community near Windsor England during Christmas, where many times snow, wind and dark night is used to great effect to create a sense of mystery and foreboding.  Will learns of the significance of names of roads, valleys, old manor ruins that he took for granted, and the theme that magic surrounds us in everyday life instead of in far away, exotic places, is exciting for children and adults to consider.  In many chapters Will will leave his home, walk in the woods and suddenly realize that things are different, the snow covers what is familiar.  In other scenes Will turns a corner in a familiar setting and is transported back in time to learn about the powerful myths that modern life hide from his 20th century eyes.  This creates a sense of wonder in what is present; it is very different than being transported to a far away academy for young magicians or off to a remote planet.  Ordinary people in Will’s farming community turn out to have a direct role his quest, and some of these people are actually Old Ones like Will.

Depicting an ordinary village in these mysterious terms can inspire the imagination for children to look at their surroundings with a new sense of wonder.  It is very powerful technique that keeps them grounded while allowing their imaginations to paint vivid pictures for them.

John Wayland Smith

The first supernatural being that Will meets on the day of his birthday is John Wayland Smith, son of Old George Dawson, a farmer.  In this strange world that Will awoke to, Smith as his last name states:  he is a black smith. 

John Wayland Smith is derived from Wayland The Smith, a myth from Norse, Germanic and British legends.  Wayland the Smith was enslaved by a king who coveted his skill and who cut Wayland hamstring to prevent him from escaping.  In The Dark Is Rising, Smith represents a neutral character, someone who is not influenced by the Dark

The Walker

Betrayal and bearing a burden is a major theme in this book.  And it shows a level of sophistication for a young adult book.  While the Light are agents of Good, they have regrets, they must do things that have consequences that difficult to bear.  

The Walker, who we are first introduced to as a potential evil character, serves a purpose for the Light at great cost.  The Walker was originally Hawkin, the adopted son of Merriman Lyon, the Old One who is Will’s mentor. Merriman risks Hawkin’s life, which demonstrates that the Light, while agents of good, are not necessarily good.  Merriman’s risk is depicted as a betrayal by the Dark, who lure Hawkin to act as a Judas.  For that transgression, Merriman forced Hawkin to carry the Sign of Bronze for centuries.

“You were Hawkin, my foster-son and liege man, who betrayed your lord and the Light. So you became the Walker, to walk the earth for as long as the Light required it. And so you lived on, indeed. But we have not kept you since then, my friend. Once the Walker’s task was done, you were free, and you could have had rest forever. Instead you chose to listen to the promises of the Dark and to betray the Light a second time.”

This is very complex picture for children, as here we see that the agents of good can be ruthless when required, and this has consequences.

The Rider

The Rider is the enigmatic leader of the Dark, and his power is vast as he is able to command rooks, storms, snow and foul weather.  Like the Old Ones, he is able to travel through time, and has the ability to blend with humans.  He is as crafty as he is evil, but his quiet demeanor with a ruthless smile is the most chilling aspect that Cooper uses to describe.  Will learns that holly can keep The Dark and their minions from invading his home through the chimney, window cracks as loose doorways, but the Dark uses his charm to endear himself to Will’s family and be invited in Will’s home.  While not a use of over power, the Rider uses his wile to gain access to Will’s home.

The Rider meets Will on his first morning as an Old One, and while John Wayland Smith shoes his horse, he offers to break bread with Will, then extends an invitation to take him on a ride.  The Dark, while effective wielders of magic, must convince Will to make false choices. Much of the book depicts Will in situations of doubt where he must rely on his own courage and wisdom to make correct choices.

Cooper does a very effective job a portraying the Rider and the Dark as a loud swirling cacophony of storms winds, braying hounds of the night, or as troubled souls.  Even their strong holds, the Old Ones can be subject to attack by the dark, for even before a fire, the shadows cast by the flames represent to foot hold the Dark have in the world.  Ever present, even in safe havens.

The Seeker

Will is tasked with the quest acquire Six Signs while he learns to take his place as the last of the Old Ones.  Each time he acquires more knowledge of his abilities to control light and fire, he makes some tragic mistakes, many that put the success of his quest in doubt.  Each Sign, wood, bronze, iron, water, fire, and stone is required for another purpose that remains a mystery to Will until the very end where he must petition Herne the Rider to vanquish The Dark and break the spell of Winter.

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.

Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long;
Wood from the burning, stone out of song;
Fire in the candle-ring, water from the thaw;
Six signs, the circle, and the grail gone before.

Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold,
Played to wake the sleepers, oldest of the old;
Power of the the Greenwitch, lost beneath the sea,
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree

There are scenes where Will interacts with a minister, and this exchange demonstrates a balance the Cooper strikes between fanciful magic stories and Christian values.

He too looked at the Signs on Will’s belt, and he glanced up again, smiling suddenly, an almost childish smile of relief and delight. ‘That did the work, didn’t it? The cross. Not of the church, but a Christian cross, nonetheless.’

‘Very old, them crosses are, rector,’ said Old George unexpectedly, firm and clear. ‘Made a long time before Christianity. Long before Christ.’
The rector beamed at him. ‘But not before God,’ he said simply.

‘There’s not really any before and after, is there?’ he [Will] said. ‘Everything that matters is outside Time. And comes from there and can go there.’
Mr Beaumont turned to him in surprise, ‘You mean infinity, of course, my boy.’

‘Not altogether,’ said the Old One that was Will. ‘I mean the part of all of us, and of all the things we think and believe, that has nothing to do with yesterday or today or tomorrow because it belongs at a different kind of level. Yesterday is still there, on that level. Tomorrow is there too. You can visit either of them. And all Gods are there, and all the things they have ever stood for. And,’ he added sadly, ‘the opposite, too.’


Cooper’s View of Her Work

I had to move away from it [Arthurian legend] because it seems to me that the Arthurian legend is parallel to the Christian story of the leader who dies for our salvation. Whereas what my books were trying to say is that nobody else can save us. We have to save ourselves.

Leave a Reply