My book reading year ends, and starts with, this classic children’s novel by Susan Cooper. The second book in the series of the same name is a seasonally appropriate touchstone being set between the winter solstice and twelfth night and since I first read it as a child is a book I return to most years at this time.
The book is the tale of the youngest son in a large family turning eleven and finding out that he is the last of the “Old Ones” (essentially magical druids) and he has a task to seek out six signs of light to prevent the powers of dark rising to take over the world. It’s a classic tale of magic and adventure that touches on some cornerstones of British mythos (Merlin, Wayland’s Smithy, Herne the Hunter) in a way that feels coherent.
It’s vision of a 1970s Britain may seem alien now – a rural area near Windsor, with church choirs, rustic domesticity, and eleven year olds travelling miles away from home on their own isn’t something you’d see today. It does however manage to avoid the worst excesses of dated childhood classics, there are some elements of sexism and classism but not to a distracting level.
For me, why I have always loved this book is that is captures that desire of the youngest child in a big family to be something “more”. You can feel an afterthought sometimes as the youngest and the idea that you could be special is appealing. And set as it is during a time of heavy snow and cold it’s a book to read indoors on a winter’s day whilst curled under a blanket.
The rest of the books in the series are also worth a read but as this is actually the most standalone story I’d recommend trying this one first and then going back to book one (Over Sea, Under Stone)
One final word of warning: under no circumstances watch the movie The Seeker which was based on the book, it’s really terrible and I wouldn’t inflict it on anyone!