‘This night will be bad . . . and tomorrow...' by Alex Marchant


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.

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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 The Guardian 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 http://tdirreadathon.blogspot.co.uk/

And last year the Circle grew wider still, as a chance Twitter conversation between Rob Macfarlane (@RobGMacfarlane), author of the beautiful The Lost Words, 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. https://juliabird.wordpress.com/2017/12/06/thedarkisreading-a-midwinter-reading-group/

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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 #TheDarkIsReading you’ll 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 …
Image result for rooks in snow
Rooks in Snow, by Kate Osborne

* I'm told that at least the Facebook Readathon will be happening this year.


Comments

'The Dark is Rising' was one of my favourites when I was a child, and I'm sure it must have influenced my writing too.
Alex Marchant said…
Lovely to hear that, Katherine. Maybe you'll think of joining 'the circle' this year! And rooks - I always have big black birds circling somewhere in my books...
Bill Kirton said…
You clever XXX, Alex. I'd only vaguely heard of it and knew it was a significant book for lots of people but I'd never read it. Your post, though, is so intriguing that I won't be doing anything else until I've got a copy and started reading it. Thank you.
Alex Marchant said…
I so hope you enjoy it if you do, Bill! I'm told the Facebook Readathon at least will be happening again this year - you might find it fun to join in (though everything can get a bit busy around the time of the Christmas Eve reading!)
Umberto Tosi said…
You've sold me on the Dark is Rising, a book I've never read, but will be sure to get now, if nothing else but to participate in such a worldwide reading event. We don't get many of those. In fact, I've not come across any in my literary wandering. Maybe I've been in still another universe all this time. Anyway, thank you and a very happy winter solstice to you as well! Yes, it is a magical time!
Alex Marchant said…
Lovely to hear that Umberto! And I think you may be right - this perhaps is the only such worldwide reading event. Certainly, now you mention it, I've never heard of another. Perhaps it's because of the very definite days/dates on which the events occur from Midwinter's eve (until it goes slightly vague after Christmas and until 12th Night anyway!) - and, let's be honest, the magical quality of the writing/scene-setting. And I think that many of us are drawn back to memories of our childhoods by it (even if mine wasn't quite like Will's - and many of its fans live a long way from it's south-east England setting). Happy solstice to you and yours too!
Enid Richemont said…
Just ordered it for my Kindle. It's going to be one of my hospital reads when I go in tomorrow for mega-ankle surgery. I did read it aeons ago, but it's been referred to so many times and by so many people recently that I shall now go back to it.
Alex Marchant said…
I hope the surgery went well Enid - and that TDIR has been a good companion for you. Here's to a swift recovery and Happy Midwinter's Day.

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