Study Guide

The Dark Is Rising

By Susan Cooper

The Dark Is Rising Introduction

Few things are more magical than waking up on the morning of your birthday, right? If nothing else, you're pretty much guaranteed some cake. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, if you're Will Stanton and it's your eleventh birthday, you could discover that you have magical powers… and that the fate of the world rests upon your shoulders because of said powers. Yikes. So much for the cake binge; Will has to get out there and get to saving the day.

Susan Cooper's 1973 classic, The Dark is Rising, is brimming with adventure and fantasy. It features everything from telepathy to an ominous figure called the Black Rider to fires started by people's brains. If that sounds like a unique and compelling mix, you're not alone in thinking so—the book was a runner-up for the Newbery Honor, which means a lot of librarians agree with you. And later books in the series won the award (instead of just being runners-up), so if you like this one, get excited for the rest.

Now find yourself some cake, pour a cold glass of milk, and get reading.

What is The Dark Is Rising About and Why Should I Care?

Forget magic. Forget birthdays. Forget turning eleven and suddenly being called an Old One. Underneath all of the details in The Dark is Rising is the simple story of an eleven-year-old trying to figure out who the heck he is and what the heck he wants.

And here's the thing: While Will technically has some pretty spectacular powers, part of growing up is realizing just how powerful you are even if your power is ordinary. We all have the power to choose right from wrong, to decide to learn from our mistakes or ignore the lessons they teach us, to prioritize our families or ditch them when the going gets tough. Will grapples with this very same power—his is just dolled up in the trimmings and trappings of magic. In other words, like us, Will has the power of choice.

With great power comes great responsibility (we may or may not mention that a few times in this learning guide…), and the power of choice doesn't go away. So whether you're eleven or one hundred and eleven, Will's struggle remains relevant. Does he always nail things? Nope. But when he screws up, we can learn from his mistakes and apply these lessons to our own puny mortal powers. And when Will's on point, well, we can take notes then, too.

The Dark Is Rising Resources


The Lost Land
Author Susan Cooper has her own land—or website at least. Check it out for the scoop on the author, the series, and her other works.

Super Brief
Looking for just the facts about our author? Here's a bio of just the essentials for you.

Movie or TV Productions

The Seeker
Hollywood's version of the book is... different. Two words: evil twin.

Articles and Interviews

What Does Cooper Think?
Curious about what Cooper thinks of her work? Now's your chance to find out by reading this interview.

Reporter Turned Bestselling Author
This article chronicles Cooper's life as an author, covering everything from her time writing as a student up to becoming a major success.

The Mother of Quests
Cooper was sending adolescents on magical adventures decades before a certain green-eyed wizard arrived on the scene.


Follow the Signs…
Okay, more like the link. But anyway, click on through to watch this trailer for the Hollywood version of the film. (Be sure to note Will's American accent, one of many things changed from the book.)

Cooper's Corner
The author shares more about her life that influenced the book. If you're really looking to get a sense of her, this should do the trick—it's over forty-five minutes long.


Prick Your Ears
If you get sick of reading, feast for your ears on the audiobook.


Go Ahead and Judge
We know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but we'll let you just this once.

Smile, You're on Candid Camera
Here's the author reading from her book.

Is This What You Picture?
Check out the poster for the movie. It's all so… dark.