In a week’s time, on the eve of the winter solstice, I’ll be starting one of my favourite annual traditions. Winter isn’t my preferred season (late spring/early summer with their young green leaves and revving-up sunshine are far more to my liking), but even I’ll admit there’s something magical about midwinter. It doesn’t have anything to do with my pagan forebears, or with the fact that Christmas comes hot on its heels (...possibly not the most appropriate metaphor), simply that it’s the setting for what is probably my favourite book.
Since I first read it at the perfect age of eleven, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper has occupied my number 1 spot – and is the book I’ve most often returned to. Forget Lord of the Rings, Cancer Ward, Gone with the Wind or War and Peace. Something has regularly drawn me back to read TDIR (and not just that it’s quite a bit shorter than my other faves!). So much so that over the past two (three?) decades, it’s become a tradition to read it just about every year. Starting at Midwinter’s Eve...
That’s not just the date I begin to read. It’s also the title of the first chapter – and the start of the adventure that is about to confront our hero.
Will Stanton is an ordinary boy who wakes up on his eleventh birthday to discover – no, not that he’s about to go to wizarding school, but that he is – well, perhaps that would be telling. After all, you may not have read this classic children’s fantasy book, steeped in the Arthurian and other legends of the British Isles, which was one of the major influences on J. K. Rowling, creator of that other famous eleven-year-old hero.
First published in 1973, The Dark is Rising has also been a major influence on my writing. And for me it’s the quintessential Christmas book, even leading to the development of certain Christmas traditions within my own family.
The main tradition related to it, though, was my own private one – at least I thought it was. Virtually every year, I read the book day by day as the action unfolds. From the opening scene in the growing dusk of Midwinter’s Eve, through the glistening-white snow-covered morning of Will’s birthday, to the Stanton family’s ‘solemn rituals’ of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and the dangerous rising of the Dark through to the Twelfth Night – each evening from 20 December I settle myself down to read the appropriate chapter(s).
However, a few years ago I discovered I’m not alone in this yearly Midwinter ritual. First there was an article in http://tdirreadathon.blogspot.co.uk/ by a journalist who follows the same pattern (and had also thought that she was alone in doing it – until the comments flooded in). Then I discovered The Dark is Rising Sequence Worldwide Readathon on Facebook organized by the intrepid Danny Whittaker for the 40th anniversary of publication. (OK, I came to it rather late, not in 2013, but Danny was good enough to start up another annual tradition so it’s been going a few years now…) More than 300 people have signed up
And last year the Circle grew wider still, as a chance Twitter conversation between Rob Macfarlane (@RobGMacfarlane), author of the beautiful , and Julia Bird (@JuliaMaryBird) back in November 2017 was joined by thousands of other twitter users. It led to them setting up another worldwide reading group, which was followed from 20 December to 5/6th January using the hashtag #TheDarkisReading.
A musician even wrote a soundtrack to accompany the reading too. As Handspan@AnalogueRob said: ‘Each track of my TDIR soundtrack is tied to a specific passage in the book, so during
be able to stream tracks on the day they occur in the story. They’ll each be
online for 24 hours and then disappear again, like the book of Gramarye.’ (To
understand that last comment, you may have to read along…)
This social media business is a wonderful thing – bringing together people from far-flung lands with a common bond, much as the Old Ones themselves come together occasionally ‘out of time’ … but that’s getting ahead of myself (a day beyond Twelfth Night, if the truth be told).
I’m not sure whether the whole thing will be happening online this year – or whether it’ll be back to just me and my battered paperback ... which is waiting, exactly where I left it last January, on my bedside table, somewhere towards the bottom of my TBR pile...
If the readathons do happen again, though, do think about dropping by if you’re passing on Facebook or Twitter – even if you haven’t read the book – yet. But, just remember – do watch out for the rooks …
|Rooks in Snow, by Kate Osborne|