Tread softly when you tread on a childhood.
One has to put away childish things, but Susan Cooper\’s sequence of novels were probably the most important books I read as a child. Dad read me The Lord of the Rings (del capo, one hell of a job), and Narnia always looked a bit naff. But The Dark is Rising was perfect. It was about a child growing up near the Chilterns, where I grew up, and the books were rich, humourless and terrifying in a way that only a kid can appreciate.
The supernatural elements were prehistoric and portentous: mutilated sheep, horses\’ skulls and sad sea hags, not muggles, recidivist billy-bunterism and magic spells. They alarmed, but also inculcated a curious supernatural patriotism, educating the 1970s child about British folklore, and its casual and persistent horror, like a cross between The Wicker Man and the didactic monotone of Willard Price\’s novels.
Susan Cooper has been chillingly polite about the film, acknowledging the need for novels to change, but also questioning why an 11-year old English child had to be changed to a 13-year old American child in England. Others have also noted that an evangelical Christian director has reduced an essentially pagan world view to one that is reassuringly Manichean (anticipating the row to come over the films of Philip Pullman\’s novels).
Interestingly, she also reveals that she wrote the books as an exile in the USA, conjuring a vivid image of a distant Britain that is even more lost today than it probably was even then. I probably won\’t watch the film. But the books still grip me, and haunt me when I walk, and when I imagine I walk, in the old hills of England and Wales.