"I will tell you only this: that you are one of the Old Ones, the first to have been born for five hundred years, and the last. And like all such, you are bound by nature to devote yourself to the long conflict between the Light and the Dark." (3.59)
Cue the dramatic music. Merriman tells Will that there is an epic battle being waged all around him, regardless of what he can see. Before long, Will finds this to indeed be true, and even goes head-to-head with the ringleader of the Dark, the Rider.
For the Dark, the Dark is rising. The Walker is abroad, the Rider is riding; they have woken, the Dark is rising. And the last of the Circle is come to claim his own, and the circles must now all be joined. The white horse must go to the Hunter, and the river take the valley; there must be fire on the mountain, fire under the stone, fire over the sea. Fire to burn away the Dark, for the Dark, the Dark is rising! (3.60)
We could have guessed that the Dark was rising just from the title, but here we get more details about why. It turns out that the Old Ones have to unite the Signs and band together to fight against the Dark. Otherwise, the whole earth will face eventual doom. It doesn't get more epic than that.
And the Book taught Will here the patterns of survival against malevolence, and the spells of sea and river and stream, lake and beck and fjord, and showed him how water was the one element that could in some measure defy all magic; for moving water would tolerate no magic whether for evil or good, but would wash it away as if it had never been made. (7.8)
This is an important lesson for Will because it helps him later on when he is facing the Rider. Without this knowledge, Will couldn't survive fighting the Rider for his sister Mary. It's also interesting to think about the fact that water somehow cancels out good and evil forces. Yay swimming.
Each wave of men in turn grew peaceful as it grew to know and love the land, so that the Light flourished again. But always the Dark was there, swelling and waning, gaining a new Lord of the Dark whenever a man deliberately chose to be changed into something more dread and powerful than his fellows. Such creatures were not born to their doom, like the Old Ones, but chose it. (7.11)
The Book of Gramarye tells Will that Dark is always around, just like the Light. Here's the catch: The people who follow the Dark chose that path. They weren't given it like the Old Ones were. In fact, we get to see what happens when someone goes down the other path with Hawkin—and it ain't pretty.
"The Dark and the Rider are kinder masters than the Light," Maggie Barnes said softly in his ear, as the first part of the dance ended. Hawkin stood still again and stared at her, until she glanced round and said clearly, "I need a cool drink, I believe." And Hawkin jumped and led her away, so that now, with his attention caught and a chance to talk to him privately, the girl of the Dark would have a willing hearer. (7.91)
When tricking Hawkin to join the Dark, Maggie Barnes plays on his anger at Merriman. Hey, we agree that people shouldn't lie, but she's actually the one whose nose is growing in this chapter. Too bad for Hawkin—the Dark plays dirty.
He could feel the force now very strong, very close, all around, the air was thick with it; outside the church was destruction and chaos, the heart of the Dark, and he could think of nothing that he could do to turn it aside. (8.112)
In the church, the Dark is so strong that even the humans who aren't Old Ones can feel it. Yikes. Of course they don't quite understand it, though. Will knows that only he can save his family and friends from being destroyed by the Dark. Which is a pretty big task for an eleven-year-old.
"The hawk is in the Dark…You can drive us from here no longer. Not with flame, nor force, nor conjoined power. We shall break your Sign of Fire before it can be released, and your Circle will never be joined. It will break in the cold, my lord, in the Dark and the cold." (10.79)
Once Hawkin joins the bad guys, things don't go so well for Will and his posse for a while. They no longer have a helper in Hawkin and they have a tough time withstanding the growing chilly temps the Dark is creating for everyone.
But then a sudden terrible silence like suffocation came, blotting out all sound of the storm. In the moment of its last desperate chance, breaking across the barrier that had been holding it at bay, the Dark came for Will. Shutting out the sky and the earth, the deadly spinning pillar came at him, dreadful in its furious whirling energy and utter quiet. There was no time for fear. Will stood alone. (12.56)
As Will prepares for the Hunter to fight the Rider, he feels much stronger than before; he can't help but feel secure in knowing that he's on the right side—the side of the Light, or good. Check out how the power of Dark and Light are described here as some big spinning pillar.
"The Dark is vanquished, at last, in this encounter. Nothing may outface the Wild Hunt. And Herne and his hounds hunt their quarry as far as they may, to the very ends of the earth. So at the ends of the earth the Lords of the Dark must skulk now, awaiting their next time of chance." (12.71)
Yay. The Dark is finally destroyed—for now. We can't help but wonder how long it will be before the Dark rises again. It's not a matter of if, after all, but when according to Merriman. Fasten your seatbelts, Shmoopers.
There was a dreadful, desolate hopelessness in the lined face now. Hawkin looked full at Merriman. "I am lost," he said. "I know it. Will you make me live on, with the worst suffering of all now come? The last right of a man is to die. You prevented it all this time; you made me live on through the centuries when often I longed for death. And all for a betrayal that I fell into because I had not the wit of an Old One…" The grief and longing in his voice were intolerable. (12.89)
Hawkin shares what it's like to be in the Dark. He didn't realize when he signed up for the bad guys that it was going to be a tough gig. In fact, he is in pain just thinking about the suffering that's to come. Yep, we definitely want to side with the Light.
"We of the Circle are planted only loosely within Time. The doors are a way through it, in any direction we may choose. For all times co-exist, and the future can sometimes affect the past, even though the past is a road that leads to the future." (3.176)
Merriman explains the system to Will and, um, it's complicated. You know that fancy watch you like to wear? It's useless to the Old Ones because they don't have to stick within the confines of time like ordinary people do. Yep, that just blew Will's mind.
"The Walker? He has been waiting for you to be born, and to stand alone with him and command the Sign from him, for time past your imagining." (4.95)
Did anyone else just get the chills? The book is so big on knowing the future, we even have a whole theme dedicated to it (check out "Fate vs. Free Will" to read more). Since time is all intertwined in this book, one character's future is another character's past. Whoa.
"He feels nothing," said Merriman. "Not a muscle will even grow stiff. Some small powers the Old Ones and the people of the Dark have in common, and one of them is this catching a man out of Time, for as long as is necessary. Or in the case of the Dark, for as long as they find it amusing." (4.109)
Basically the Old Ones hit pause any time they want to have a conversation without the humans hearing them. Wouldn't it be cool if we, too, could stop people in time without any negative side effects? It's a pretty awesome trick to keep up your sleeve.
"Every hundred years we have remade it, in the way that we were first taught. And now this will be the last time, because when your own century comes you will take it out for all time, for the joining, and there need be no more renewing then." (6.6)
The Lady tells Will that the Sign of Wood has to be renewed every hundred years because wood doesn't last forever. The Old Ones can live forever, but even the elements (wood, iron, metal) deteriorate over time.
And into Will's mind, whirling him up on a wind blowing through and around the whole of Time, came the story of the Old Ones. He saw them from the beginning when magic was at large in the world; magic that was the power of rocks and fire and water and living things, so that the first men lived in it and with it, as a fish lives in the water. (7.11)
Notice how time is capitalized here ("Time"). That's because we're not just talking about what time it is right now, but the concept of time in general. Will thinks a lot about Time as a big whirlpool of events mashed up together—once he learns that it isn't linear, endless possibilities open up.
"Oh no, Will Stanton," he said easily. "That won't do. You cannot use weapons of that kind here, not unless you wish to blast your whole family out beyond Time." He glanced pointedly at Mary, who stood unmoving next to him, her mouth half-open, caught out of life in the middle of saying something to her father. "That would be a pity," the Rider said. (8.62)
As the Rider sneakily visits the Stantons' house on Christmas, he threatens Will not-so-secretively. The guy has the nerve to tell Will that his whole family could be lost in time, never able to find their way again. Uh, Happy Christmas to you, too?
From somewhere outside Time, Merriman said into his mind: "Take care. It is true. The Rider will come for him. That is why I had you bring him here, to a place strengthened by Time. The Rider would have come to your own house otherwise, and all that comes with the Rider too…" (9.137)
We love the idea of being "outsideTime." Of course, for an Old One, that's just a Tuesday afternoon since they can travel through time and even talk to each other around time. No need to text your friend while in class if you're an Old One; just communicate telepathically through time.
The sense of being within two levels of Time at once still hovered in his mind, though all that he could feel now of the ancient manor was the awareness, ominous and persistent, of the nine great ice-candles glimmering round three sides of the room. They had been ghost-like, scarcely visible, when first he found himself brought back by the new cold to his own time, but as the cold grew more intense, so they were growing clearer. (10.49)
Will explains to us what it's like to experience two times at once. And to be honest? Our heads hurt just thinking about it. Just because he can do it doesn't mean it seems like an easy thing to do. Talk about sensory overload.
And then suddenly it stopped, and he was left standing dazed with his nose almost touching a very ordinary beech twig. He knew then that the Dark had its own way of putting even an Old One outside Time for a space, if they needed a space for their own magic. (11.96)
The music stops and time is twisted. We talk more about how music and time-twisting magic are related to the Old Ones in the "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" section, but it's important to note what's happening here. It's not just the Old Ones who can control time; the Dark do it, too. Dun dun dun…
He had suddenly had a strange feeling stronger than any he had ever known: he had been aware that someone was trying to tell him something, something that had missed him because he could not understand the words. Not words exactly; it had been like a kind of silent shout. But he had not been able to pick up the message, because he had not known how. (1.77)
Before he knows about his skills, Will senses that someone is trying to communicate with him somehow. He doesn't understand it, but he knows there's a message out there for him. It's one of the first signs we get that Will isn't your average eleven-year-old boy.
"The things that would happen to me if I did, they're too terrible, they can't be put into words. The Old Ones can be cruel, cruel… I think you're the right one, boy, I've been looking for you a long time, a long time, to give the Sign to you. But how can I be really sure? How can I be sure you aren't a trick of the Dark?" (4.56)
Who's afraid of the Dark? The Walker, that's who. Here the guy tells Will that words can't even explain the trouble he'll be in if he messes up again—that's why he's so terrified to hand over the Sign to Will.
"I told you that he would find you, and you did not remember. Remember now. In this our magic, every smallest word has a weight and a meaning. Every word that I say to you—or that any other Old One may say." (4.95)
Nowadays we toss out words at a mile-a-minute pace, with Twitter and Facebook always competing for our attention, but for the Old Ones, words are very measured and always carefully considered. They spend time thinking about the meaning behind every specific word before even uttering it. Wonder what we happen if we did that, too?
"There are no words to describe how precious it is. The book of hidden things, of the real magic. Long ago, when magic was the only written knowledge, our business was called simply Knowing. But there is far too much to know in your day, on all subjects under the sun. So we use a half-forgotten word, as we Old Ones ourselves are half-forgotten. We call it 'gramarye.'" (6.69)
Check out how Merriman describes the language of the Old Ones: "half-forgotten." What do you think he means by this? Was it once more widely known? We'd also like to point out that he uses the same word to describe the Old Ones themselves. Does this mean the Old Ones' existence is tied to their language?
"This is the oldest book in the world, " he said simply. "And when you have read it, it will be destroyed. This is the Book of Gramarye, written in the Old Speech. It cannot be understood by any except the Old Ones, and even if a man or creature might understand any spell of power that it contains, he could not use their words of power unless he were an Old One himself. (6.71)
We get that the Old Ones have their own language, but we can't help but wonder whether it harms them sometimes. After all, it's in speaking Old Speech that Will is discovered by the enemy. Hmm… seems like it's at least a bit of a liability for them.
"That is not English, Will. And when we speak to one another, you and I, we do not use English. We use the Old Speech. We were born with it in our tongues. You think you are speaking English now, because your common sense tells you it is the only language you understand, but if your family were to hear you they would hear only gibberish. The same with that book." (6.98)
Huh? Merriman explains that they aren't speaking English, even though that's the only language Will has ever known. While it's pretty awesome that the Old Ones just know another tongue and don't have to go through years of classes to master a language, it also gives them a secret code of talking to each other.
"Goodness knows," said Robin. "It was when we first took him up. Sounded like a language unknown to human ear. Maybe he comes from Mars." (8.184)
The Walker speaks in gibberish. At least according to Will's family he does. We know that he's really using the special, secret language of the Old Ones, but humans don't understand it. Robin later tells Will he was using the same mumbo-jumbo but he brushes it off. He doesn't want to blow his cover, after all.
The ears of an Old One know that birds do not speak with the precision of words; instead they communicate emotion. There are many kinds and degrees of emotion, and there are many kinds of expression even in the language of a bird. But although Will could tell that the rook was obviously asking him to come and look at something, he could not tell whether or not the bird was being used by the Dark. (11.167)
Think about it. Birds communicate with one another, they just use other signals and cues instead from English words. Will thinks about this in a new way once he learns that he's an Old One. After all, animals are communicating all around us; we just don't know how to interpret it.
Will said, "Is it over?" "More or less," Merriman said, faceless under the hood. "The Dark—is—" He dared not bring out the words. (12.68)
Here we sense the power in language or in speaking words aloud. Merriman doesn't want to announce that the Dark is defeated just in case it's not true. For the Old Ones, every word is important, and they are quite careful to say the right ones. Words matter, yo.
They walked as old friends walk, without often speaking, sharing the kind of silence that is not so much silence as a kind of still communication. Their footsteps rang out on the bare wet road, making the only sound anywhere in the village except the song of a blackbird and, somewhere further off, the sound of someone shoveling. (13.61)
We all have those friends—you know, the one you don't even need to talk to because you already know what the other is thinking and feeling. In the end, this is how Merriman and Will are with each other. No language needed.
"The Walker is abroad," he said again. "And this night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining." (1.47)
Huh? When Farmer Dawson says this to Will, Will's not even sure what it means, and neither are we. And so the seed is planted that Dawson and the other Old Ones know what will happen next. Check out what Dawson says about tomorrow; it's as if it's already taken place.
"It is your quest to find and to guard the six great Signs of the Light, made over the centuries by the Old Ones, to be joined in power only when the circle is complete. The first Sign hangs on your belt already, but to find the rest will not be easy. You are the Sign-Seeker, Will Stanton. That is your destiny, your first quest." (3.59)
This is Will's destiny, which is the same as fate. We get the sense that Will doesn't have a choice here—he's the Sign-Seeker and that's all there is to it. Since the Old Ones know the future, we're inclined to believe them when they say that this is someone's fate.
"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." (3.61)
Again we're told the future. Notice the words "shall"and "will," both of which suggest that nothing can stop this from happening. The Old Ones are going to turn back the Dark… On second thought, this kind of feels like a major spoiler. We have ten chapters left to read, but we've just been told how things will end (at least generally).
"He betrayed the Old Ones once, long ago, and this was his doom." His voice softened a little. "It has been a hard age for him, the carrying of the second Sign. He has one more part in our work, before he may have rest, if he chooses. But that is not yet." (4.95)
Merriman explains what's happening with the Walker to Will. The guy's really grumpy because of a bad decision he made a while ago, which makes us think twice about our fate theory. Since the Walker is able to make choices, everything can't be predetermined.
"You seem to know what's happening. Tell me something. Here I am brought into the past, a century that's already happened, that's part of the history books. But what happens if I do something to alter it? I might, I could. Any little thing. I'd be making something in history different, just as if I'd really been there." (6.53)
Here Will is questioning how he can change fate. He knows that he can radically change the future by making a small tweak to the past, and he's tempted to do it, too. So do the Old Ones just know the future because they can time travel, or is it because they can alter the events of history?
"And as a result, in this room in the next few minutes, Hawkin will betray me and betray the Light and mould the whole course of your quest, young Will. The shock just now of actually risking his life, for me and the Book of Gramarye, was too much for his loyalty." Merriman pointed across the room. "See where it begins." (7.74)
Before Hawkin's betrayal, Merriman tells Will what happens. Check out how he describes it: "Hawkin will betray me." Importantly, not only does he know what will happen, he doesn't even try to stop it. Hawkin might have a choice initially, but as far as Merriman's concerned, these events are already written in stone.
"Hawkin," Merriman said again, gently, "every man has a last choice after the first, a chance of forgiveness. It is not too late. Turn. Come to the Light." (10.2)
Finally we're told about the choices that people get to make in their own lives. Merriman tells the Walker that he can still turn away from the Dark and join the Light. It's a sad moment for Merriman, who clearly cares about the Walker, because it's a decision that only Hawkin can make. Merriman can't change fate or make the choice for him.
"This is a meeting for the only bargain that my lord the Rider will make. Your sister for the Signs. You scarcely have much choice. You people are good at risking the lives of others"— the bitter old mouth curved up in a sneer—" but I do not think Will Stanton would enjoy watching his sister die." (11.99)
Will does have a choice when it comes to trading the Sign for his sister's life; it's just not a choice with a lot of good options. We get to see free will in action here as Will manages to save his sister and keep the Sign. Boo ya.
"I gave you the freedom to choose, Hawkin, and I did not take it away. I may not. It is still yours. No power of the Dark or of the Light can make a man more than a man, once any supernatural role he may have had to play comes to an end. But no power of the Dark or the Light may take away his rights as a man, either. If the Black Rider told you so, he lied." (12.89)
Merriman insists that Hawkin made a choice all on his own, saying that no one is stripped of free will. Sure, the Old Ones know the future, but they don't take away people's choices. Ever. They are the good guys, after all.
"But it's for the future, Will, don't you see? That is what the Signs are for. They are the second of the four Things of Power, that have slept these many centuries, and they are a great part of our strength. Each of the Things of Power was made at a different point in Time by a different craftsman of the Light, to await the day when it would be needed." (13.51)
In the end, the Lady tells Will that the Signs will help them defeat the Dark again. Even though we've just been told that everyone has free will, we can't help but notice that what she's saying is only possible if fate rules the universe. So which is it? Over to you, Shmoopers.
"Make no mistake about that. Any great gift or power or talent is a burden, and this more than any, and you will often long to be free of it. But there is nothing to be done. If you were born with the gift, then you must serve it, and nothing in this world or out of it may stand in the way of that service, because that is why you were born and that is the Law." (3.58)
Bad news: Being able to travel through time and having magical abilities isn't all it's cracked up to be. Merriman and the Lady make sure to explain to Will—in no uncertain terms—just what a burden all that power can be. Before long, Will has first-hand experience with what they mean.
"Your birth, Will, completed a circle that has been growing for four thousand years in every oldest part of this land: the circle of the Old Ones. Now that you have come into your power, your task is to make that circle indestructible." (3.59)
Merriman is never one to sugarcoat it. He's all business, so when he tells Will about his power as an Old One, he makes sure to inform the guy of what this all means for the rest of them, too. Now that Will has power, he needs to learn how to use it properly so the rest of them can gain momentum, too.
Then as the rector and Paul turned to walk through the nave, he saw both of them pause in the same instant, and their heads go up like the heads of wild deer on the alert. It was too late now; the voice of the Dark was so loud that even humans could sense its power. (8.112)
In the church, even the humans can sense the Dark's power; it's so powerful that people are aware of its presence even if they don't know what it is. That's pretty powerful.
"We must do something to protect those two, Will, or their minds will bend. They cannot stand the pressure, the Dark will send them mad. You have the power, and the rest of us do not." (8.120)
For an eleven-year-old, Will is under a lot of pressure. Farmer Dawson tells him in the church that Will has more power than the other Old Ones, so he has to be the one to defeat the Dark. Hey, no one said it would be easy for the Sign-Seeker.
The room was misery and chaos: small babies wailing, parents huddling their bodies round their children to keep them warm enough to breathe. Will rubbed his chill hands together, and tried to feel his feet and his face through the numbness of cold. The room was becoming colder and colder, and from the freezing world outside there was no sound even of the wind. (10.49)
The powers of the Dark bring a huge chill, and freeze everyone in their places. It's a very other-worldly presence that is super overwhelming to everyone. It instills a helplessness that's just plain creepy, sad (small crying babies!), and deserving of an apocalyptic movie.
"It is one of the oldest," Merriman said. "And the most powerful. Now that you have it, they lose their power over Mary forever—that spell is dead. Come, we must go." (11.134)
The Sign on the ship contains so much power that Mary will be released from the Rider's grip. Phew. Will was worried about his sister. Now that he has the Sign, he has more command than ever before, especially since the Dark can no longer use his sister against him. Ha.
He began to feel, too, that they were no longer alone. Twice already he had heard again that strange, high yelping in the sky, but now there was more. Beings of his own kind were about here, somewhere, in the tree-thronged Park. And he felt, too, that the grey-massed sky was no longer empty of life, but peopled with creatures neither of the Dark nor of the Light, moving to and fro, clustering and separating, holding great power. (12.6)
Before the Hunter and the Rider fight in the woods, Will senses their power, and it's so palpable to him that he could almost reach out and touch it. Notice how he experiences it with many of his senses? He doesn't just feel the power; he can hear and see it, too.
And he saw then a scene like nothing he had ever seen before, nor ever saw again. Half the sky was thick and dreadful with the silent raging of the Dark and its whirling tornado power; but now riding towards it, out of the west with the speed of dropping stones, came Herne and the Wild Hunt. At the peak of their power now, in full cry, they came roaring out of the great dark thundercloud, through streaking lightning and grey-purple clouds, riding on the storm. (12.62)
When the Hunter and the Rider are fighting, there's so much power flowing between them that they seem like an epic storm. Pretty cool.
"But for the next time, we are this much stronger, by the completed Circle and the Six Signs and the Gift of Gramarye. We are made stronger by your completed quest, Will Stanton, and closer to gaining the last victory, at the very end." (12.71)
Pass around the cake because it's time for a party. The Old Ones defeat the Dark, all thanks to Will. His savvy ability as Sign-Seeker gives the team so much more power than they've ever had before.
"No power of the Dark or of the Light can make a man more than a man, once any supernatural role he may have had to play comes to an end. But no power of the Dark or the Light may take away his rights as a man, either. If the Black Rider told you so, he lied." (12.89)
Despite being incredibly powerful, the power of the Old Ones and the Dark is ultimately limited. They can't change an ordinary person into a magical one, nor can they make a person follow one side or the other.
He switched off the light again, and instantly everything was even worse than before. The fear jumped at him for the third time like a great animal that had been waiting to spring. Will lay terrified, shaking, feeling himself shake, and yet unable to move. He felt he must be going mad. […] And then in a dreadful furious moment, horror seized him like a nightmare made real. (1.84)
In his room on the first night, Will is scared—and this is before he even knows about the Dark. It's clear that he's just like other eleven-year-olds who sometimes get scared at night. When we find out that Will is an all-powerful Sign Seeker, this scene helps us remember that he's also still a kid growing up.
"A Midwinter birthday," said the strange man in the cloak. "Auspicious, indeed. And you will be eleven years grown." It was a statement, not a question. (2.42)
Old John talks about Will's birthday in the beginning. Thing is, Will's birthday kind of comes up a lot, reminding us that though he's an Old One, he's also just a kid.
Merriman said curtly: "Yes," Then he relented a little. "But it was their doing, Will, not yours. They seized you, through your impatience and your hope. They love to twist good emotion to accomplish ill." (3.104)
When the Lady gets hurt by the doors, Merriman gets annoyed at Will for being immature. While we do think Merriman could cut the guy a break sometimes, he has a point here. Will is immature and still learning how to be an Old One. If he weren't, he wouldn't have any room for growth… or coming of age.
"But men cannot understand this. Nor will you for a while yet. We can travel through the years in other ways too—one of them was used this morning to bring you back through five centuries or so. That is where you were—in the time of the Royal Forests." (3.176)
Merriman is talking about time specifically here, but we might think this about Will's experience in general. He's not going to understand everything about being an Old One until he matures a bit more. Luckily for Merriman, we get to see Will do this over the course of the novel.
And there on the snow, the fallen arm of the tree burst into flame. Every inch of it, from the thick rotted base to the smallest twig, blazed with licking yellow fire. There was a hissing sound, and a tall shaft of brilliance rose from the fire like a pillar. No smoke came from the burning, and the flames were steady. (4.32)
What's one of the biggest signs that Will still has a long way to go in becoming a mature, responsible Old One? He plays with his magic for fun on the side of the road and almost gets himself—and the Walker—killed when the Dark shows up. Oops.
"They were in a bright room again, a room unlike anything Will had ever seen. The ceilings were high, painted with pictures of trees and woods and mountains; the walls were paneled in shiny gold wood, lit here and there by strange glowing white globes. And the room was full of music, their own carol taken up by many voices, in a gathering of people dressed like a brilliant scene from a history book." (6.1)
As Will starts to develop his powers, he learns to read between the lines. Before, he noticed the music but just kept on moving forward. Now, though, he thinks about the fact that the Old Ones are near and takes charge of the situation. Sure, he doesn't always react properly, but he's getting there at least.
"It has always been in danger from the Dark, and the endless ingenuity of the Dark would still find a way of using it if they had it in their hands. In this room now, therefore, the book will accomplish its final purpose, which is to bestow on you, the last of the Old ones, the gift of gramarye—and after that it will be destroyed. When you have the knowledge, Will Stanton, there will no longer be any need of storing it, for with you the circle is complete." (6.71)
Merriman instructs Will to read the book and figure out what it means. We get to see first-hand how Will comes of age as the book helps him mature. In it, he learns about everything to do with the Old Ones—past, present, and future—and he's suddenly more equipped to fight the battle against the Dark.
This time, his fear was adult, made of experience and imagination and care for others, and it was the worst of all. In the moment that he knew this, he knew too that he, Will, was the only means by which his own fear could be overcome, and thus the Circle fortified and the Dark driven away. Who are you? he asked himself—and answered: you are the Sign-Seeker. You have three of the Signs, half the circle of Things of Power. Use them. (8.138)
In the church, Will is still scared, but it's much different than before. Notice how it's described as "adult" and only comes from his experiences, not his inexperience like before. Finally Will knows how to react when the Dark are around instead of acting on impulse like he has before.
He remembered that Merriman had said, long before, that the most dangerous peak of the Dark's power would come at Twelfth Night. Was that time now come? (11.39)
Remember when Merriman says that every word he utters is super important? Will thought that was just hype, but he starts to really think about his task and remember the specific instructions he's been given, and sure enough, it works—he gets on track. Again we see a more mature Will taking in all the possibilities of what to do before reacting.
Will swallowed nervously. An Old One had nothing in the world to fear, nothing. Yet there had been something so strange and awesome about that shadowy figure beneath the giant oak, something that made one feel unnecessary, insignificant, small… He straightened. (12.27)
The Rider comes to fight the Hunter, but this time Will doesn't shriek or run away. He has enough knowledge and power to stand and fight—at least in spirit—right alongside the Hunter. He's come a long way from the guy hiding under the covers at the snow tapping at his window… even if he is still only eleven.
"Too many kids in this family, that's what. Just too many." James stood fuming on the landing like a small angry locomotive […] "You'd think this house was big enough, but there's always people." (1.3)
The opening of the book tells us just how jam-packed the Stanton household is. Will's brother James tells us that there are too many people everywhere he looks. With six siblings, two parents, and a bunch of livestock, we can see what he means. But it's also just in jest—this family loves each other at the end of the day.
It was the day when the delight of Christmas really took fire in the Stanton family. Hints and glimmerings and promises of special things, which had flashed in and out of life for weeks before, now suddenly blossomed into a constant glad expectancy. The house was full of wonderful baking smells from the kitchen. (5.1)
Christmas Eve is full of traditions for the Stantons. They love Christmas Eve and they spend it singing carols and eating sweets. It's important for us to see Will at home living a normal life so we can compare it to the wacky and magical world of the Old Ones.
"That was Tom," his mother said. "I don't really know why I've never spoken to you younger ones about Tom. It was just so long ago... Tom was your little brother who died. He had something wrong with his lungs, a disease some new babies get, and he only lived for three days after he was born." (5.48)
Will's mom tells him about a brother of his named Tom who died. Farmer Dawson had already made him a Christmas ornament, though, and they never got rid of it. This sad tale makes Will feel closer to his family and want to protect his mom from any more heartache.
For this was Christmas, which had always been a time of magic, to him and to all the world. This was a brightness, a shining festival, and while its enchantment was on the world the charmed circle of his family and home would be protected against any invasion from outside. (7.126)
Thinking about keeping loved ones safe, Will hopes he's able to shield his family from the Dark. He can't, of course, which is super clear when their impromptu Christmas guest drops by. Dun dun dun…
And the old man just looked at me again with very dark, deep eyes that seemed to be looking through me into the day after tomorrow, and he said, "I would know you anywhere. You are Will Stanton's brother. There is a look that we old ones have. Our families have something of it too." (8.12)
In Stephen's letter, Will's brother tells him what the Old One said. It turns out all Old Ones' family members have a certain look about them, which is one way that the Dark know who they are, which can be dangerous. It's also a cool way for the Old Ones to identify each other in a new place.
"How dare you! At Christmas, on Christmas morning! Get out!" It was the first time in his life he had ever felt such rage, and it was not pleasant, but he was outraged that the Dark should have dared to interrupt this his most precious family ritual. (8.64)
When the Rider (a.k.a. Mr. Mitothin) shows up at Will's house, he's outraged. This day is supposed to be special and untouchable, but evidently nothing keeps the Dark away. If they don't break for Christmas, they probably don't break for anything—and that's pretty scary.
"It's possible," said the answering voice in his mind. "They cannot harm you, true, and they cannot destroy men. But they can encourage men's own instincts to do them harm. Or bring an unexpected clap of thunder, when someone is standing at the top of a flight of stairs…" (10.71)
When Will learns of his mom's "accident" falling down the stairs, he's afraid that it was no accident; he thinks the Dark are going after his family, one by one. We never get confirmation of this, but Merriman tells him that it's certainly plausible. Eek.
But as the Old One in him took control, calming the fear, he cut off the shout. This was not a matter for ordinary human beings, even of his own family; he should be glad to be alone. He knew now that Mary must be caught, somewhere, held by the Dark. Only he had any chance of getting her back. (11.44)
It's not long before the Rider goes directly after Will's family by kidnapping his sister, Mary. Will worries about what will happen to Mary and takes the bait, just like the Rider wants him to. Merriman suggests not trading the Sign for Mary's life, but Will doesn't even hesitate.
He thought: these are my people. This is my family, in the same way as my real family. The Old Ones. Every one of us is linked, for the greatest purpose in the world. (13.33)
In the end Will figures out he has two families. There's the family he was born with and the Old Ones who have become like a family to him during his quest. Yay for two families.
"Twelfth Night," Will said. "Is that tonight?" He looked up at the grey early-morning sky. "Merriman, how have you stopped my family wondering where I've been? Is my mother truly all right?" (13.57)
It turns out that Will's still worried about his family once the mission is over, concerned that they've been hurt by the Dark or something's happened to them while he's been out seeking the Signs. Luckily, though, they are all fine when he gets home. Phew.
"Minds hold more than they know," the tall man said. "Particularly yours. And what else have you to say?" (3.21)
Brains are strange and wonderful things, but in Will's case, his mind knows an entire language and facts from history that he doesn't even know he knows yet. The Old Ones value knowledge immensely; the more they know about the world, the better their chances at defeating the Dark.
And with Will beside him he strode long-legged round the hall, holding the candle aloft again and again beside each of the hanging tapestries on the walls. Each time, as if he had commanded it, one bright image shone for an instant out of each glowing embroidered square, as bright and deep as a sunlit picture seen through a window-frame. And Will saw. (3.64)
The Old Ones show something of themselves to Will, and he knows who they are instantly. Even though he's only just learned about his magical powers, he's able to use them right away. It's like he already knows or something.
"It is the third Sign, Will. The Sign of Wood. We call it sometimes the Sign of Learning. This is the time for remaking the Sign. In every century since the beginning, Will, every hundred years, the Sign of Wood must be renewed, for it is the only one of the six that cannot keep its nature unchanged." (6.6)
The Lady tells him that the wood has to be renewed from century to century, which is interesting since it's also the Sign of learning. It's no coincidence that the two of these are combined. Think about it: Learning is something that also has to be renewed and replenished from time to time to keep the skill active. Use it or lose it.
"None of them, of course, had a thing to do with the Old Ones, for nearly every tale that men tell of magic and witches and such is born out of foolishness and ignorance and sickness of mind—or is a way of explaining things they do not understand. The one thing of which they know nothing, most of them, is what we are about." (6.60)
Ouch, dude. Merriman explains just how foolish humans are, and the assessment stings a little. The guy's point is that real knowledge comes from facts or experience, not from tall-tales you find in fantasy novels. And since this is one such novel, here the book is poking fun at itself.
"The moment you came into your power on your birthday, you could speak as an Old One. And did, not knowing that you were doing so. That was how the Rider knew you, when you met him on the road—you greeted John Smith in the Old Speech, and he therefore had to answer you in the same, and risk being marked as an Old One himself even though the craft of a smith is outside allegiance." (6.76)
Merriman explains to Will how everyone knew he was an Old One: He was speaking their language, whether he knew it or not. Will's ability to go bilingual without even trying shows the type of knowledge that his brain holds as an Old One. Head on over to the "Language and Communication" theme to learn more about his mother tongue.
Will was never able afterwards to tell how long he spent with the Book of Gramarye. So much went into him from its pages and changed him that the reading might have taken a year; yet so totally did it absorb his mind that when he came to an end he felt that he had only that moment begun. It was indeed not a book like other books. (7.1)
If only there were a book that contained the answers to everything in our world. For Will, that book is the Book of Gramarye, and once he reads it, he knows everything it contains. The answers he's looking for are complex and lengthy, but somehow the book manages to explain everything to him. Can we get a copy?
He swung round in consternation, but as soon as he met Merriman's eyes he saw that he already knew. There was no surprise in the hawk-nosed face, but only the beginnings of a kind of pain. "Yes," he said wearily. "The witch-girl is here. And I think you should stay beside me, Will Stanton, for this next while, and watch with me, for I do not greatly care to watch alone." (7.54)
Hawkin betrays them and Merriman already knows what's about to happen. While this is partly because of the whole time-traveling thing, it's also because of just how much wisdom Merriman has. He knows he can't stop what's happening, so he doesn't try to, no matter how much it bugs him.
He had three of the Signs of Power now. He had, too, the knowledge to use the Gift of Gramarye: a long lifetime of discovery and wisdom, given to him in a moment of suspended time. He was not the same Will Stanton that he had been a very few days before. (7.143)
Will has grown a lot over the course of his mission, and he definitely has more wisdom now. Sure, he's learned a lot about the Old Ones, but where he's really made strides is in his ability to think for himself and problem-solve. Plus he helped saved the world from the Dark. That should count for something.
It was an antler, like and yet not like the antler of a deer. Will paused suddenly. A strong and totally unexpected feeling had leapt out at him when he touched the antler. It was not a feeling he had ever had in the presence of the family before; it was the mixture of excitement, security, and delight that came over him whenever he was with one of the Old Ones. (8.6)
Will knows the carnival mask is from an Old One even before he opens it—he can sense it. That's the type of knowledge that really comes only from experience. There's no label or instruction manual that informs Will what he's holding. He simply gets it from being around Old Ones for a while.
"Come now, these are small things. I know all the questions. You will have all of the answers, when you are once at home, and in any case really you know them already." (13.74)
At the end, Merriman tells Will that he doesn't need to ask so many questions anymore. Why? He already has all the answers. Will's brain is so amazing that if he stops and thinks about it, he'll figure out everything that's happened. Must be nice.