Remedial Reading

Ever have one of those moments where you realize that you’ve heard about something for a really long time, and yet you have no notion of what that thing really is?  And that the thing you had heard of is something that, given your background, age, or proclivities (or all of the above) is probably something you should have known more about?

For me, recently at least, this thing is The Dark is Rising Sequence.  I had never read it.  I would hear occasionally about it – mentioned in the same canonical category as the Narnia books, or Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain.  I was a kid who, for some considerable period of time in the fourth and fifth grades, never left the house without at least two of the Narnia books with me (it wouldn’t do to be caught out in case I re-finished one and had to start another – I have no idea how many times I re-read all of them).  I engaged in some very earnest conversations with a friend, another girl with similar interests, about the proper way to keep them on the shelf (in order of their writing or chronologically).  I also loved the Lloyd Alexander series and re-read it many times, though I didn’t own it until adulthood.

Other authors did, of course, pass my way.  I read the T.H. White Camelot books once, but those books didn’t engage me for the multiple re-reads of the others (had his wonderful Mistress Masham’s Repose not been out of print when my family read it, we probably would have owned it instead of borrowing, and I probably would have torn through it a few times more, but it wasn’t, so we didn’t, and I couldn’t).

I had lots and lots of well-meaning adults recommend books to me, based on my love of fantasy and escape.  But I don’t think anyone ever recommended The Dark is Rising to me.  Which is really odd.  I was the right age (the books were published in the 60’s and 70’s), had the right sort of tastes (see above), and I had seemingly endless afternoons of New Hampshire summers to curl up on the sofa and read.

I wonder how this oversight happened.  At any rate, it’s being rectified now.


  1. Aren’t they great? I’m another adult convert to them and am looking forward to the third book in the series.

  2. Now this is interesting. I’m just finishing the second book now – reading it aloud to my husband while he washes the dishes every evening. (It’s a tradition. Shut up.) And, well… it wouldn’t be fair to say we’re hating it, but we are very, very disappointed. I don’t think we’ll be reading the rest (well, I will rip through them myself for completeness’ sake, but not aloud).

    I’d love to talk about why we are finding them so tedious, but it doesn’t seem fair as you’re just starting. I do hope you post again when you’re done so we can have this conversation. Lots of people I really respect adore these books, and I want to understand why.

  3. I’ve actually found them to be anticlimactic so far as well (just finished the second one myself). So far (about 1/4 way in), the third seems better than either of the first two. I’ve often found I have to rein in my inner critic rather severely for a highly-hyped book or series, since I know my expectations are much higher as a result of the hype.

    I’m wondering if the adoration for the books is an age and stage thing – the iconic idea that one might be special – more than that, magical is so compelling at around age 10-12.

    That being said, I read Philip Pullman’s trilogy about five years ago and was positively gripped by the first book. The second two not so much, but The Golden Compass took me for a deep dive that took a while to recover from. So it’s not the subject matter.

    I have found the writing to be a bit clunky at times – she seems to have several points in the action where the two forces sway THIS way, then THAT, in a quick, whipsawing motion, and then – whoops – BACK again, and it seems more for effect than for story, which is bad enough, but when the effect manages to just be muddy, well…

  4. Oh, and I completely understand the reading-to thing. We did it growing up. John doesn’t like to be read to (pity), so we don’t do it now.

  5. I wasn’t very impressed by the series. I like the song better. You can get a one minute clip here and the same page gives directions for buying it.

    In addition, they made a movie of The Seeker, that, as usual, wasn’t faithful to the book. I haven’t seen it, and the critics keep comparing it to Potter when it’s about 30 years older.

  6. please post or email if you want Mistress Masham’s Repose – I was just about to donate a copy to a local charity, in preparation for moving, but could send it to you if can find a way to pay for the postage.

  7. Oh – I’d love it. E-mail me at jill ~at~ this blog’s url dot com. I’d be happy to pay for postage.

  8. i remember these books and i remember liking greenwitch and the first one…but it was 4th grade…so who is to say that i would like them now?

    a series i loved was by john christopher – the first book was the white mountains – the tripod series

  9. Jill – I re-read the series a few summers ago and the second book, Dark is Rising, just this holiday again. I still love it – but I do wonder if my love for it doesn’t stem from it being a childhood favorite. Part of it was my fascination with the Arthurian legend, and for me the material seems to be rooted in an older, pre-Christian mythology that really drew me in. But as you said – age and stage could well be a factor.

    Marietta – I loved the John Christopher books also! Loved the Tripod series – I wish I could remember the name of the other trilogy after that. There were also two stand-alone books, the Lotus Caves and The Guardians, that made a big impression on me at the time.

  10. Books aside, J, you’ve done a great job here of capturing a bookish girl’s attachment to stories and youthful repose. Really nice!