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.
British fantasy series by Susan Cooper about the epic struggle between immortal forces of good and evil, progressing toward a final confrontation. Chiefly, the fight is a series of bureaucratic magical battles with arcane, sometimes nonsensical rules, in which both sides seek to collect items of power to give them the decisive advantage in the final battle between good and evil.The books are Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark Is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; and Silver On the Tree.The heroes are the Drew children, a trio of average kids caught up in the battle; Will Stanton, a boy who discovers he is an immortal wizard; Bran Davies, a mysterious albino boy; and Merlin. Yes, thatMerlin.The series is based on the Arthurian mythos, and is written primarily for older children and young adults. The series is a high-fantasy affair, drawing much of its lore from the Celtic Mythology of Britain.The Film of the Book, called The Seeker, was very loosely based on the second novel, but received terrible critical and audience reception.
The Withers siblings in Over Sea, Under Stone. While their Most Definitely Not a Villain cred is established by their beautiful yacht (Simon just so happens to love sailing), pristine white clothes and gleaming smiles, and Polly's loveliness, for most of the book they come off as either genuinely nice, bumbling people or at worst Punch Clock Villains who really are just following orders but otherwise wouldn't hurt a fly. The scene where they dance with Barney at the festival is genuinely fun, if a bit sinister at times. But when Polly tries to take the map and the children feign ignorance, she shows her vicious nature in a truly startling and disturbing moment...and at the climax of the book during the fight for the grail, the masks come off permanently.
The same could also be said for Maggie Barnes in The Dark Is Rising, Mrs. Rowlands in Silver on the Tree, and Mrs. Palk also in Over Sea, Under Stone. Even the Black Rider has his moments. For all her use of mythic archetypes, Color-Coded for Your Convenience, and Card Carrying Villains, Susan Cooper loves this trope. And despite this, The Reveal about Mrs. Palk and Mrs. Rowlands is still genuinely shocking upon first reading. Even Merlin didn't figure it out until it was almost too late.
All Just a Dream/Or Was It a Dream?: Jane's encounters with the Greenwitch are played as something the reader is never quite sure is real, all in her head, or a magical interaction, until she awakens with the lost scroll case, and at the end of the book when Mrs. Penhallow talks about the leaves and the smell of the sea filling her room.
Altum Videtur: Part of the writing on the map to the grail is in Latin. Jane even lampshades why it would be used, even as she also hits on the real reason (because a monk was the author).
Jane: The monks just always used it, that's all, it was one of their things. I suppose it's a religious-sounding kind of language.
Art Attacker: In Greenwitch, a man working for the Dark paints a picture that acts as a spell to control the Greenwitch.
Atlantis: Two sunken lands from British legends are mentioned in the series. The sunken Cornish kingdom of Lyonesse is briefly referenced in a book Hastings shows Jane in Over Sea, Under Stone. The legendary Welsh kingdom of Cantre'r Gwaelod, meanwhile, plays a much larger and incredibly important role in the books since it turns out to be the Lost Land of prophecy—not only do Will and Bran get to go back in time so as to traverse it and obtain the crystal sword there, they get to experience its destruction by the Dark firsthand.
Author Avatar: Merriman, most of the time, as well as the Lady. Also perhaps John Rowlands.
Bad Powers, Bad People: Averted. Merriman explicitly states those of the Dark, especially the great Lords, have the exact same powers as those of the Light, suggesting there is nothing inherently corruptive about them; all that differs is the purposeto whichthey put them and, sometimes, how they call upon them.
Big Bad: Averted. Although the Black Rider appears the most often, and is a very powerful Lord of the Dark, and the Grey King is said to possibly be the oldest and most powerful Lord of the Dark, there is no one central figure who serves as the driving force behind the Dark.
Big Good: Although both Merlin and later Arthur are powerful figures among the Light, the true focus of all the Light's power, the one who acts as Dungeon Master to Will in The Dark is Rising and to both him and Bran in Silver on the Tree, and the one whose presence is necessary at the Rising if the Light is to win, is the Lady.
Bilingual Bonus: Book four has a great deal of Welsh phrases, sentences, and names. The plot-important ones are translated and even pronounced for the reader. The others...aren't.
Bittersweet Ending: While the series itself has one through the combination of The Magic Goes Away and Wistful Amnesia, several of the individual books don't have exactly happy endings either. In The Dark Is Rising, the Dark is driven back by the Wild Hunt and the joining of the Signs, but this is only a temporary victory at best, and it is further tainted by the repentance and death of Hawkin. Though Jane obtains the secret scroll from the Greenwitch in the third book, their parting at the end is rather sad; and the first book in which the scroll was lost in the first place, rendering the grail untranslatable, was something of a Pyrrhic Victory.
Call On Me: Merriman tells Will that he will appear to him again "when the Walker's circle is on your belt next to the first". When he later gets the Sign of Bronze but is caught by Maggie Barnes, the milkmaid taunts Will by placing it on his belt next to the Sign of Iron. Big mistake.
Rufus to Captain Toms (and for a time, the Drews).
Capital Letters Are Magic: Far too many examples to count, but notable ones would be the Six Signs, the Doors, the Lady, the Light and the Dark, Old/High/Wild Magic, the Lost Land, the Sleepers, and the Old Ones. Especially notable is that, at least according to Stephen, the capital letters are audible. Interestingly averted however, with the other Things of Power (the grail, the harp of gold, and the crystal sword), with the latter only being capitalized when referred to as Eirias since that is a proper name.
The Dark can only be defeated at the midsummer tree, when the sprig of mistletoe is cut by the blade Eirias.
Changeling Fantasy: Bran finds out that instead of the boring, judgmental, overly-religious Owen Davies, his real father is King Arthur.
Chekhov's Boomerang: Will's mother's wedding ring. Not only is fixing it the reason Roger Stanton has to call in a specialist, which allows the Black Rider to enter Will's normal life as "Mr. Mitothin", but the "odd runic lines" Merriman comments on needing to examine more closely, when Will envisions it for him, turn out to be the spell of Lir, which the Rider uses to enchant Mary. And then this same spell appears again in book three, as one of those the painter uses to try and control the Greenwitch.
When the Dark first assails the hall where Will meets Merriman and the Lady, tempting him to open the door with the voice of his mother, he stumbles just in time on the candlestick, thus burning the symbol of the Light into his arm from the frigid Sign of Iron on his belt. This scar, once healed by the Lady, then proves to be extremely useful in the series, from its first usage to drive the Black Rider away from the door of Huntercombe Manor to it being the key needed to pass Will and Bran safely through the last magical barrier inside Bird Rock in The Grey King, so they can obtain the golden harp. None of which could have happened if the Dark hadn't caused him to get it in the first place.
From that same book, the horn which Miss Greythorne gives Will becomes very important later on—first to gather the Six for the last Rising of the Dark, and then to get Will and Bran inside Caer Wydyr.
Mr. Penhallow from the first book. What seems just a random villager introduced to add flavor to Trewissick ends up becoming far more useful than could have been expected—telling the children about the Lady Mary, then mentioning the very low tide which allows the kids to walk around Kemare Head to the cave, and finally piloting the boat that allows Merriman to come to the rescue. He also appears in Greenwitch, though of far less significance.
The Walker in the second book.
The Chick: Jane. Her contributions to the plot tend to come about through emotion; her compassion for others is one of her most prominent attributes, and is what makes possible her biggest success in book three.
The Chosen One: Will is the last Old One ever to be born, the Sign-Seeker who will gather the six Signs, and one of those prophesied to find the harp of gold and go to the Lost Land. Bran is both the chosen bearer of Eirias and the son of Arthur.
Cold Flames: Hawkin summons nine large magical freezing cold flames that represent the power of the Dark and the spells of the Deep Cold.
Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Used straight (The Dark are the bad guys, the Black Rider is an extra-bad guy), then subverted (the White Rider is also a bad guy). Ultimately, it's an "Only the Sith deal in absolutes" philosophy — white and black are both evil in their absolute extremity. Good would thus be defined by endless shades of grey and a rainbow of colors (or, most of the time, by not drawing attention to simplistic definitions like color or shade at all).
Will, though only if one manages to catch him doing something magical. A point is made when the Drew children meet Will that he seems utterly mundane, boring, ordinary: just a cheerful English country boy. When he's in the role of an Old One, though, his Dissonant Serenity and air of immortal wisdom get rather disturbing.
People apparently consider Bran one because he's albino.
Cryptic Conversation: Happens a lot, not only with prophecies but when Merriman and the Lady are explaining the Light and his powers to Will. He then gets to carry on the tradition with Bran and the Drews.
Cut-and-Paste Note: The painter of the Dark actually leaves one on Captain Toms' door, warning him away from the Greenwitch if he wants his dog back alive. Yet another mark of him being a Card-Carrying Villain with old-fashioned methods.
They wonder if the note is more for the Drews' benefit, as they (or at least Barney) would think Toms a monster if he deliberately let the Dark kill his dog. Toms himself is an Old One, and probably wouldn't be swayed by such things.
Deadpan Snarker: There are a large number of these in the books, especially in Will's family, but the most prominent would have to be the Drews, Will himself, Merriman, and most of all, Bran.
Death by Newbery Medal: True to the trope, the only book in the series that wins an award is the one in which a dog is killed. The second book, which was nominated for the medal and made a Newbery Honor book, contains the death of Hawkin. To be fair, both of these deaths are highly significant and played dramatically without being overdone, there is much more to the books than the deaths in question, and these also happen to be the most powerful, well-written, mythical, and memorable of the books. The Grey King is Newbery bait in other ways as well. A large chunk is about Bran's identity crisis, trouble with his father and discovery of who he is, and they put their relationship right at the end. This is also the book in which there's the most discussion of things like whether you should put the overall good before individual human beings. You can find similar themes in lots of other Newbery winners.
Default To Good: Just before the climactic battle, the forces of the Dark attempt to stick John Rowlands (who, being human, is a part of neither the Light nor the Dark and, while aware that there is a conflict going on, chooses to stay out of it for the most part) with this choice, bribing him with a promise of freeing his possessed wife from their control in exchange for his deciding in their favor on a matter critical to the outcome of the big battle. He is not fooled, however, and this little move causes him to side decisively with the Light, as he both rules in their favor on the matter in contention, and goes on to play a small but vital role in the final victory.
Eirias, the crystal sword, glows blue whenever the Dark is near.
When the Dark is near, the six signs either glow, or burn with a cold fire.
Devil in Disguise: Blodwen Rowlands turns out to be The White Rider, one of the most powerful Lords of the Dark (the other being The Black Rider.)
Did Mom Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: While Will Stanton is enjoying Christmas morning with his family, the Black Rider (a Lord of the Dark) stops by to drop off a ring. He can get through the house's defenses because Mr. Stanton (Will's father) invited him to enter. Will can't force him to leave because using such powerful magic would endanger his family, so he has to be polite to the Black Rider until he leaves.
Dragon with an Agenda: Well, the painter of the Dark would like to think he's a Dragon, though in this case his agenda is actually to become one. It doesn't go well.
Early-Installment Weirdness: You could be forgiven for reading most of the first novel, Over Sea, Under Stone, without realizing it's the start of a fantasy series, as it reads like a standard kids' adventure novel. The more fantastic elements show up in the latter part of the book, and even those are much subtler than in any of the other books in the series. Explained by the first book being an entry in a contest for a "children's adventure story" before Susan Cooper went back and properly worked out the mythos on which she based the rest of the series.
Easy Amnesia: Will gets inflicted with this by his own side to set up the plot of The Grey King.
Empathic Environment: Played entirely straight for most of the series, with the rising of the Dark accompanied by blizzards and cold, a tornado, and a great deal of storms, shadow, and lightning in general. But on at least one occasion, this is subverted—the day on which the harp must be played to wake the Sleepers, when the power of the Grey King is at its height and crushing Will with his malevolence...it's the most beautiful, peaceful, sunny day you could imagine.
The Drews have a number of these when deciphering the map to the grail.
Partly due to his Easy Amnesia but mostly because of his ignorance of Welsh, Will figuring out where the "door of the birds" and "the pleasant lake" were count as this trope. The latter especially because his realization comes about due to a random comment made by Farmer Ty-Bont.
The realization in book five that Cantre'r Gwaelod is the Lost Land, and the various insights Will and Bran have into the Lady's words while they are then traveling within the Lost Land.
In The Dark is Rising, Raq and Ci, who are both aware of Will's burgeoning Old One powers and the presence of the Dark. The rabbits can also sense the awakening of Will's powers the day before his eleventh birthday.
The Evils of Free Will: Why the Dark remains so powerful, since people like Hawkin and Caradog Prichard can always choose to join it, or at least give in to their jealousy, hatred, and other wicked impulses...but it is also this which the Light champions, since Hawkin, being "no more than a man", always had the power to choose and could thus find the right path even as he was dying. And of course, it is John Rowlands' choice in the end that saves the Light and the world. This last is most important of all, since Will had stated that the Light cannot afford to think of the needs of the one when the needs of the many were so pressing...but the choice which allows the Light to triumph is made precisely by placing one (Bran) over the many. John's free will even is generous enough to grant Mrs. Rowlands the right to follow her own path, too.
Fantastic Religious Weirdness/No Such Thing as Wizard Jesus: The relationship between the forces of the Light and the Dark, based on Celtic and Welsh mythology, and the Christianity of characters like Father Beaumont, is never reconciled. After Will and the Old Ones protect the church and the members of it from an invasion of the Dark, the priest tries to ascribe the powers of the Old Ones of the Light as miracles derived from the Christian God, who he says came first and created all of existence, and claims they won because the Signs are in the shape of a cross—"not of the Church, but a Christian cross nonetheless", implying it only had power because the cross has always and only been a Christian symbol. Farmer Dawson says Beaumont's a "brave fellow" but "this battle is not for his fighting. He is bound to think so, of course, being in his church," while Will calls the priest's theological assumptions "disturbed." He also thinks of saying something to correct the priest, but he doesn't say how he would have corrected him - did God come later? Does God even exist? Do the powers of the Old Ones come from a totally different source but the Christian God still exists? The text is about as purposefully vague as you can get in this part of the book. Merriman also later says that humanity can't "lie idly expecting the second coming of anybody now". On the other hand, none of the supernatural beings or deities in the story ever directly mention God either way, or where He might fit into their cosmology, and Will does think at one point that church is "where men give thought to matters of the Light and the Dark" and that no harm can enter a church's walls.
Final Battle: Every magical character who has ever appeared in the books and is still alive is a part of combating the last Rising of the Dark, as are a number of regular mortals as well. Even those who have died are there, as a part of the Circle, though they are not shown until the departure of the Old Ones and the Light afterwards, thus making this somewhat a Climactic Battle Resurrection. But a very powerful one.
In a series based on mythology, archetypes, and prophecy, this is practically required, and shows up quite clearly in the series of tapestry images Merriman shows Will in book two, all of which come true in the series. But a particularly notable example (because like all good Foreshadowing it isn't properly viewed as such except in hindsight) would be the moment in Over Sea, Under Stone when the Drews are worrying what to do with the map, and Simon declares he feels safer carrying it with them.
Barney: Oh, well. Don't drop it in the harbour, that's all.
Cooper has to do some juggling to make all the images come true. In The Dark is Rising, there's a throwaway description of a boy a little older than Will with a "dark face" and "light-streaked dark hair". In Silver on the Tree Will sees a reflection of albino Bran with his face darkened by shadow and his hair wet so that it seems to be streaked dark and light. Cooper can't, however, get round having described Bran's "tawny" "owl" eyes in The Dark is Rising like this "...strange cat-like eyes, the pupils light-bordered but almost yellow within."
A number of wonderfully subtle examples of this occur in Silver on the Tree regarding the true identity of Mrs. Rowlands. She is present when Will, Bran, and the Drews speak of going to Carn March Arthur, which explains how the Dark knew to send the afanc after Jane; when the polecats chase the Drews down out of the mountains, only to disappear when they reach the safety of Mrs. Rowlands' arms, who supposedly doesn't see them, they were likely driving the children right to her; her presence at the harbor may explain how the Drews got sent back in time; and it's right when Jane thinks of her that the afanc succeeds in breaking through her calming thoughts to attack her mind again. But the most subversive bit of all comes when looking back to The Grey King and the story of how Bran's mother first came to the valley: the first person Owen Davies told all about her was Mrs. Rowlands...and who does he find back at his house immediately after this but Caradog Prichard, who even then was an instrument of the Dark? And who would have a had better motive to possibly get Bran and his mother killed, or at least forced to go back to their own time, than a Great Lord of the Dark?
From The Grey King:
John Rowlands: I would take the one human being over all the principle, all the time. And that's exactly what he does, when he rules in favor of Bran staying in the present.
In Silver on the Tree, after the events at the Bearded Lake Will suggests that each of them will have their own personal test just like Jane before the quest is over. And he is right: apart from his and Bran's time in the Lost Land, where he must help decipher the five lines about the sword and save their lives with the shield while Bran must earn the right to Eirias and weather his personal nightmare in the form of the Mari Llwyd, Barney must endure being kidnapped to the time of Owain Glyndwyr and almost executed as a spy while Simon almost drowns in Aberdyfi harbor after saving John Rowlands from Prichard's ancestor. There is also a moment in the Lost Land when Will sees an old man doing a chalk drawing of the midsummer tree with its glowing silver mistletoe.
Said shield is one of those which Will saw in the Great Hall in The Dark is Rising.
The point is that each of them withstands his or her test: Jane won't give the afanc the Lady's message, Barney keeps his mouth shut under threat of execution because he thinks Owain Glyndwyr may be from the Dark, Simon conquers his fear of water: "by a great effort, he kept from panic", Bran and Will accomplish their set tasks.
The moment in Over Sea, Under Stone when Jane, visiting Hastings about the guide book to Trewissick and believing him to be the vicar, is shown a book called Tales of Lyonesse and asked if she had seen a book like that in the Grey House, calls ahead to the Lost Land subplot, seeing as it refers to another legendary sunken kingdom of Celtic Mythology.
Free Sample Plot Coupon: In the second book, Will Stanton is given the first Sign, the Sign of Iron, before he even learns that he is an Old One and starts his quest for the other five Signs.
Gender Bender: Mrs. Rowlands is also the male White Rider. The White Rider is at one point described as having an almost feminine sneer. This is probably supposed to be extra creepy.
Genre Savvy: The Drews show moments of this, especially the boys, when theorizing what will happen if they tell their parents about the map, or try and explain to the authorities who stole the grail from the museum. The pre-video-game Drews have probably read loads of kids' adventure fiction, which the first book resembles more strongly than the rest. The Black Rider shows moments of this too, from making Jane think he was the vicar of Trewissick (and therefore trustworthy) to deliberately sending the Drews back in time to make Merriman rescue them and miss his chance to enter the Lost Land, and pulling an I Have Your Wife on John Rowlands.
Geometric Magic: The symbol of the Light is a mandala, and it appears everywhere to mark magical places and objects, but is also used in many of their spells. The Old Ones join hands to form a circle when trying to ward off the Dark, and in The Grey King, Will traces a circle to locate the warestone. The five-fingered hand gesture may also be meant to symbolize a pentagram.
Good Counterpart: To parallel the Black Rider and his Hellish Horse steed, there is the white mare of the Light who eventually becomes the steed of Herne the Hunter.
Good Is Not Nice: While the Light does have humanity's best interests at heart, it is very clear that the oldest and most powerful Old Ones, as well the Light's overall philosophy, are all about ends justifying the means, I Did What I Had to Do, and quite often verging on Knight Templar and Well-Intentioned Extremist thinking. Aside from Hawkin's punishment for his betrayal, there's Will's sickness-induced Easy Amnesiawhich he concludes was caused by the Light to get him to Wales.
Will: For us, there is only the destiny. Like a job to be done. We are here simply to save the world from the Dark. Make no mistake, John, the Dark is rising, and will take the world to itself very soon if nothing stands in its way. And if that should happen, then there would be no question ever, for anyone, either of warm charity or of cold absolute good, because nothing would exist in the world or in the hearts of men except that bottomless black pit. The charity and the mercy and the humanitarianism are for you, they are the only things by which men are able to exist together in peace. But in this hard case that we the Light are in, confronting the Dark, we can make no use of them. We are fighting a war. We are fighting for life or death—not for our life, remember, since we cannot die. For yours. Sometimes, in this sort of war, it is not possible to pause, to smooth the way for one human being, because even that one small thing could mean an end of the world for all the rest.
Good Scars, Evil Scars: Thanks to the burning cold of the Sign of Iron, Will ends up with a perfectly healed, neatly formed and pale scar on his forearm. By contrast, after the Wild Hunt chases the Dark off, the next time Will sees the Black Rider, he has a "dreadful scar" across his cheek.
Gotta Catch Them All: The artifacts of power. The Dark Is Rising is especially notable, as it involves finding all Six Signs within the time limit of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Grail in the Garbage: The map in the first book is hidden under the floorboards in an attic full of dust, cobwebs, and junk. Ironic, since the map actually leads to a grail.
Hall of Mirrors: Will and Bran have to navigate one in the Empty Palace of the Lost Land.
He Who Must Not Be Seen: Captain Toms, for all of the first book. Made more conspicuous by the fact he must have known the Treasure Map was in his attic (and Merriman even implies as such), yet remains conveniently on a trip (just as Merriman leaves the Grey House to lead the Dark astray) so that the children can have the freedom to solve it. He later finally makes an onscreen appearance in Greenwitch, and it is worth the wait.
HorrorEvil Doesn't Settle For Simple Tuesday: The time of the Dark's first Rising in the series coincides with the twelve days of Christmas, while Will's coming into his powers as an Old One begins on his birthday, Midwinter Eve/Day. The second great Rising occurs at Midsummer. Justified because these times are said to be naturally ones of great magical power.
Hoist by His Own Petard: In The Dark Is Rising, the Walker and the Dark summon the nine candles of winter to attempt to freeze all the villagers staying at Huntercombe Manor. When this scheme is foiled by knocking out the Walker (who was the Dark's ticket in), the Light is able to grab the candles before they fade and use them to fill the candle-ring, thus fulfilling the prophecy and obtaining the Sign of Fire.
Humans Are Flawed: The ultimate conclusion of the series, and why the Light can defend them and their right to make their own free world—because for all their awful representatives, there are as many or more who are inspiring.
Hypocritical Humor: Perhaps this is only to be expected in a British series starring mostly British characters. The last book alone has two prominent examples, very close together. First Will chides his sister Barbara for being "shamefully naked" in a sunsuit, when he's wearing only a pair of shorts himself. Then there's this exchange from the Welsh mountaintop:
Jane: Have some chocolate before it melts. And don't tell me it's bad for our teeth, Simon, because I know it is.
Simon, grinning: 'Course it is. Utter disaster. Where's mine?
I Have Your Wife: A favorite of the Dark. Hastings threatens Simon to get Barney's cooperation, and actually kidnaps and enchants Mary (as the Black Rider) to get Will to give him the signs. Sending the three Drews back in time so Merriman had to rescue them, and later kidnapping Barney and taking him to the time of Owain Glyndwyr, amounted to the same thing. Holding Mrs. Rowlands hostage, and using her as bait to get John to rule in favor of the Dark, was the most cruel form of this trope, since Mrs. Rowlands was actually the White Rider, and always would be, even if the Dark "gave her back" to him.
Both invoked and averted with Will - as he puts it himself, when Merriman (Merlin) says that he must sometimes wish he was just an ordinary boy, "Sometimes - but not always."
Bran as well, at least in book four when he reflects on how he was always hated and rejected for his Technicolor Eyes and being assumed an Evil Albino. In the end he gets his wish. It's not straightforward with Bran either, since he also has a kind of arrogance about being albino and therefore different and 'special'. Will picks up on this in book four and Jane in book five.
I Know Your True Name: A power over other supernatural beings by knowing and invoking their true names is explicitly described as a method of the Light in the Book of Gramarye. The reader first sees it used by Merriman on Hastings/the Black Rider at the climax of the first book; he does so again to Maggie Barnes in book two. In that same book, the Black Rider attempts a spell based on the same premise when he uses the Christmas ornament which was carved for Will at birth and a strand of Mary's hair to take control of his sister and exert leverage upon him. Unfortunately for the Rider, the ornament in question had actually been carved to resemble the symbol of the Light, and he was thus powerless against it.
Identical Grandson: When the Drews and the Rowlands visit the past, this is apparently the case, since Evan Rowlands and his wife look exactly like John and Blodwen, while Caradog Lewis is the spitting image of Prichard. In the latter case this is also an example of Generation Xerox, since despite Merriman's warning Prichard ends up making the same mistakes as and becoming exactly like his ancestor.
Intergenerational Friendship: Eleven- to twelve-year-old Will and his white-haired mentor Merriman. Mind you, in their other reality they're ageless Old Ones, but still. Also perhaps the Drew children and Merriman, though he's more like family, being their courtesy uncle.
In the Blood: Apparently, the influence of the Dark in Caradog Prichard's line is this, thanks to what we learn about his ancestor during the Drews' jaunt to the past.
Either that or, as Merriman suggests, the Dark's vengeance for his maternal grandfather Caradog Lewis's having failed them by being found out.
Kick the Dog: Something the Dark is very good at. What happens to Hawkin, Will's mother getting hurt and his sister kidnapped and subjected to Mind Rape, the death of Cafall, and who Mrs. Rowlands turns out to be, coupled with how the Black Rider uses her to get John's cooperation, all qualify.
It backfires at one point. Will gets the sixth and last sign from a great ship, carrying a long dead king who was an ally of the Light (but not King Arthur), and all his possessions. After he claims it, in an act of spite the Dark sets the whole ship on fire. Will is horrified by it, but Merry points out that Dark was so eager to be spiteful that they didn't think it through. All they have done is give the King what he deserves.
Kindly Housekeeper: Subverted in Over Sea, Under Stone. Mrs. Palk appears to be one of these, but turns out to be The Mole, an agent of the Dark who sabotages the protagonists.
King in the Mountain: Aside from Arthur himself, there are the Six Sleepers, hidden somewhere inside Cader Idris above the "pleasant lake", who can only be wakened by the golden harp.
Laser-Guided Amnesia: Used by the painter of the Dark on Barney to make him forget the grail (but not Simon), and on all the Drews by Captain Toms to make them forget Will and Merriman jumping off Kemare Head to visit Tethys. Also John Rowlands' fate in the end.
Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The "theatre of life" Will and Bran find in the City of the Lost Land. From the missing side of the room that makes for a literal No Fourth Wall, to the fact they can later observe the people in it from the outside just as they were observed earlier (and always by the reader), to Gwion's commentary that "all life is theatre, we are all actors...in a play which nobody wrote and which nobody will see. We have no audience but ourselves", it all seems like one long metafictional Lampshade Hanging by Cooper on the nature of fiction. Gwion's wry note that this is "the best kind of theatre there can be" even suggests the idea that authors first and foremost write for themselves, regardless of whether anyone ever will read their work.
Light Is Good, however, (though not nice) in the form of the Light, with the Lady being dressed in white or pale blue and often with a Holy Halo, many of the manifestations of the Light's powers being white or light-based, the sword Eirias being made of crystal, and the steed of Herne the Hunter being a white mare.
This also applies in a more meta sense to all of the Things of Power and the various ways in which they are found. The map leads to the grail, which is in turn only useful once they have found the secret scroll to translate its inscription; that inscription in turn provides the next prophecy which is needed to find both the harp of gold to wake the Sleepers and the crystal sword. The first prophecy leads, one by one, to each of the Six Signs. And of course the words the Lady gives to Jane to tell Will all lead him and Bran safely through the Lost Land's hazards and challenges, and allow them to pick up the five lines of the poem about Eirias they need to convince the king to give it up.
Gwion's music seems to have at least a calming effect if not also providing a protective barrier at times. But this only makes sense since he is Taliesin.
Will is a gifted boy soprano and sings spells a couple of times. "The mountains are singing and the Lady comes..." Nearly Will's entire family is musical, particularly his older brothers Paul, a flutist, and James, also a boy soprano. Bran, Bran's mother Guinevere and John Rowlands all play the harp.
It was wordless; it came in the wind; it was a thin, high, cold whine with no definable tune or pattern. It came from a long way off, and it was not pleasant to hear. But it held him transfixed, turning his thoughts away from their proper direction, turning them away from everything except contemplation of whatever happened to be closest at hand. [snip] As he listened to the singing, he saw a twig on a low branch of the beech close to his head that seemed for no reason so totally enthralling that he could do nothing but gaze at it, as if it contained the whole world. He stared for so long, his eyes moving very gradually along the tiny twig and back again, that he felt as if several months had passed, while the high, strange singing went on and on in the sky from its distant beginnings. 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.
The Mole: Mrs. Palk in the first book, Mrs. Rowlands in the last.
Mr. Exposition: This role usually falls to Merriman Lyon: he explains their quests to the Drews in Over Sea, Under Stone and Greenwitch, and acts as Will's Mentor in The Dark is Rising. (In The Grey King, however, the job mostly falls to Will.)
Mundane Solution: How to stop the mad Walker from bringing the Dark into Huntercombe Manor through the spells of the deep cold? Give him a sedative.
My Significance Sense Is Tingling: While Will tends to react this way anytime something portentous happens in his dealings with the Dark and the Light, book five is notable for having a large number of these moments. He senses the High Magic at the Bearded Lake and thus knows that is where they will find the Lady, then later senses the afanc as it attacks. He senses the opening of the path to the Lost Land before it happens, senses both the Riders and Merriman when they are nearby and contacting him respectively, and senses the right time to use the golden shield.
A Mythology Is True: Celtic Mythology, especially of the Welsh or Cornish variety. Except for one odd Crossover Cosmology example, the Greek sea goddess Tethys, who makes a random appearance in book three. Book three also contains a reference to the Egyptian deity of the afterlife Anubis, apparently associated in some way with the prophecies of the Dark.
In the last book, it appears that despite being disparaged by Stephen and James, Gerard's old book of biology and botany has at least some basis in truth: the scarlet pimpernel, which is claimed to be "good against venomous beasts" and which Stephen placed in his buttonhole and forgot about, protected him from the attacking mink.
Narrative Profanity Filter: In Over Sea, Under Stone the three Drews encounter young Bill Hoover, a local troublemaker who works for the Withers. After running into Jane with his bike, he departs in a rage:
"—off, the lot of 'ee," he snapped; they had never heard the word he used, but the tone was unmistakable, and Simon went hot with resentment and clenched his fists to lunge forward.
The Nondescript: Owen Davies, Bran's adopted father. Lampshaded by Will, particularly in respect to the sweeping drama and romance of his love story.
Not Distracted by the Sexy: Will, regarding Jane Drew, to Bran's astonished amusement. (Apparently She Is All Grown Up, at least from Bran's point of view.) Whether this is due to Will's orientation or him having a higher calling that puts him above such things, it still leads to quite the funny moment:
Bran, in falsetto: Oooh! A red rose, is it?
Will: Get lost.
Bran: Not so pretty as Jane, that one who threw it,
Will: As who?
Bran: Jane Drew. Don't you think she's pretty, then?
Will: I suppose so, yes. I never thought about it.
Bran: One good thing about you, you're uncomplicated.
Nothing Is Scarier: Night on Kemare Head, among the standing stones, in the empty shadows and windy quiet, with Hastings and the Dark somewhere, watching...
Numerological Motif: Six signs, six sleepers, seven trees in the Lost Land, four Things of Power, three from the Circle and three from the track... There also seems to be a repetition of things happening twice, or only being able to occur twice: the number of times the grail appears in the series, how many time the cipher manuscript can be read, the appearance of the carnival head and Herne the Hunter, the number of times the horn is blown, the number of times the harp of gold is played...
An Offer You Can't Refuse: Trade his sister Mary for the Six Signs. Will refuses, something which causes even the Black Rider to momentarily acknowledge Will's bravery and determination.
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In-universe example, in both heroic and villainous flavors. Will, all-unknowingly, speaks in the Old Speech when he comes into his powers on his birthday, thus immediately giving away that he is an Old One. At the same time, when the Black Rider responds to him in kind, he seemingly speaks English with an odd accent Will can't place. This is because, Merriman and the Lady later explain, the Dark cannot speak the Old Speech without betraying their inner nature.
Orcus on His Throne: The Grey King is said to be the oldest and most powerful Lord of the Dark, but he doesn't venture out of his mountain, so he is only encountered in The Grey King. This works somewhat in his favor, as his isolation means the Light has virtually no helpful information on him.
After winning the final battle against evil, most of the Old Ones go outside of time.
A different form of this is said to be where the forces of the Dark are cast when they are defeated, and this is also where Bran would have been taken if the Dark had won their challenge against him.
Place of Power: A number of these appear in the books, including places that are naturally magical (Kemare Head apparently, the hill where the ship and the Sign of Water is hidden, Bird Rock, Llyn Mwyngil, the midsummmer tree) and ones that are enchanted by the Old Ones or High Magic, either temporarily (the cottages in book three, the Grey House) or permanently (Huntercombe Manor, the Lost Land). The cottages, the Grey House, and Huntercombe Manor are also Places of Protection. Of special note are the Old Ways, magical roads that exist even after physical roads vanish or change position atop them; they can be commanded to expel creatures of the Dark from them and prevent such creatures from passing over them.
Plot Coupon: Among those to be gathered: the grail; the Six Signs; the secret scroll used to translate the grail; the golden harp; and the crystal sword, Eirias. There are also various items and bits of information gathered along the way which enable their finding, including some of the prophecies.
Plot Magnet: Barney, by virtue of being the youngest and (presumably) the most vulnerable of the Drew children. In the first book he is kidnapped and hypnotized by Hastings; in the third he is kidnapped by the painter, compelled to scry in the grail, and then given Laser-Guided Amnesia; and in the fifth book, he is kidnapped by the White Rider and taken back to the time of Owain Glyndwyr, where he is almost executed as an English spy. To a lesser extent all the Drews are this in the last book, since the afanc targets Jane in order to obtain the Lady's prophecies from her, and later all three are sent back to an earlier time at the harbor by the Dark, thus necessitating Merriman coming to their rescue so he could not join Will and Bran in the Lost Land.
Prophetic Fallacy: Thanks to the cryptic vagueness of many of the prophetic lines, the characters have difficulty knowing what any of them mean, even Merlin and other high Old Ones, with some not becoming clear until the moment of their fulfillment and others clear only in hindsight. This is aided by the fact that the introduction of the first prophecy, in The Dark Is Rising, is given piece-meal, one stanza at a time, with Will learning each only when it becomes applicable (or after it might have helped him find the Signs, in the case of the second stanza, which he learns when there's only two to go). Several key phrases are also translations of Welsh and thus don't become clear until Will can find the locations that are their sources.
Prophecies Rhyme All the Time: The prophecy at the top of this page goes on for another three verses of rhyming couplets, and there's another one introduced in the fourth book that's even longer.
It's worth noting that the second prophecy actually starts out with non-rhyming couplets, but falls right back into the rhyme scheme after the first verse.
Psychic Static: Will thinks about his breakfast to avoid getting his mind read.
Psychopathic Man Child: The Greenwitch is portrayed as one of these, specifically a cross of versions B, C, and E—she has childish and simplistic goals (to be left alone, to be given attention and love, and to have a secret all her own which she will cling to against all reason), she has great power but also childish qualities (specifically, a tendency to throw temper tantrums), and due to being a creature of the Wild Magic she most certainly operates under Values Dissonance in regards to what is considered acceptable behavior and what is cruel or savage. She comes across as limited in intellect and knowledge, and thus innocent of understanding what her powers and nature can do to mortals. The result is a being that inspires sympathy even as she's also incredibly disturbing and creepy.
Puberty Superpower: Will comes into his power at the age of eleven. Eleven comes up as a magical age in British fantasy quite often, because apart from the association with puberty it's the age where British children start senior school, and therefore take their first step towards adulthood/a new world.
Real Men Wear Pink: John Rowlands, darkly-tanned, rough-skinned, sometimes shirtless, stoic and hardworking farmer and sheepherder...and he plays the harp. On the other hand, he is Welsh, after all.
Really 700 Years Old: An interesting case in Will. Physically, he really is 11-15, depending on which book you're reading, but once the Old One in him is awakened, he's very much older than that mentally and emotionally.
Merriman acts as this for Hastings and the Withers in Over Sea, Under Stone. Then Mrs. Palk sends him off on a wild goose chase instead, leaving the children at their mercy.
The bag of stones found in Caer Wydyr are also this, since many readers likely thought they would turn out to be significant or at least magical. All they end up doing is serving as a reminder of what was lost in the memory wipe, and perhaps imply a future relationship for Jane and Bran.
Religious Horror: Disquieting undertones of this come through in The Dark Is Rising when the Dark makes its assault on the church on Christmas itself, and again in Greenwitch with the titular effigy even before it comes to life (complete with shades of The Wicker Man).
Hawkin, regarding Will for both "causing" his fate and for his special Old One powers.
Jane becomes this briefly in the last book, thanks to some Dark-induced jealousy toward Bran.
Rule of Symbolism: Happens everywhere, whether through Foreshadowing, the fulfillment of prophecy, or the syncretization of Celtic, Arthurian, and Welsh mythology, but a particularly obvious example comes in Will's musings on how Arthur, Bran, and Herne the Hunter (who aside from being a True Neutral might as well be the spirit of the Light in its wildest, harshest form) are "all three one and the same". Also, it is likely no accident that the Sign of Fire which breaks the cold of winter (the death of the year) is given to Will from within a flower (spring/rebirth).
San Dimas Time: Even though the Old Ones' Time Travel should allow them to have all the time in the world to perform the task and go from one time to another, and even though in every other instance of the series this was not the case, Merriman tells Will in the last book that he only has "a night and a day" in his own time to recover the Six Signs so they may be used in time to combat the Dark at the Battle of Badon and in the present. This may be because it is the last great Rising, or because it is a rule of the High Magic which is being used to conceal the Signs.
Self-Destructing Security: The protection surrounding the Book of Gramarye in The Dark Is Rising. The Book of Gramarye is kept in a grandfather clock with a magical security mechanism. If the Book touches the clock's pendulum while it's being removed or returned, it is totally destroyed. The same thing will occur if an Old One tries to remove the book and they're not touching a specific human being note who, unlike the Old Ones, could be killed by the Light if necessary to stop the book from being removed at the time.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: A literal example—when the Drews are told by Will and Bran that they need to find the Lady and the only clue they have is the prophetic line "The mountains are singing and the Lady comes", their first impulse is to ask if there's a Welsh place called "Singing Mountain" so they can go there. There isn't, but it's Will singing at the echo rock, so that it seems as if the mountain is singing, which frees the Lady from the Dark.
Ship Tease: Between Jane and Bran at the end of Silver On The Tree. In particular, Bran gives Jane the nickname "Jenny", which is of course short for "Jennifer", which is the Cornish version of "Guinevere", which mirrors the fact that Bran himself is King Arthur's son.
Shout-Out: Simon alludes to Great Expectations by calling his parents A.P.s, for Aged Parents. On having the abbreviation explained to him, Bran says, "Believe it or not, they teach Dickens in Welsh schools too."
Will: If Arthur had ridden over every hollow called Arthur's Hoofprint, or sat on every rock called Arthur's Seat, or drunk from every spring called Arthur's Well, he'd have spent his whole life traveling 'round Britain without a stop.
Barney: And so would the knights, to sit 'round every hill called King Arthur's Round Table.
Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: How Owen Davies treats any notion of magic, fairy tales, or anything that is beyond the real, normal world. While he is a devoted Christian and therefore denies the supernatural as a matter of dogma, it becomes apparent that deep down he does know what's going on and hopes to keep Bran Locked Out of the Loop in the hopes that he will lead a normal life as a result.
The Slow Path: Hawkin, plus a number of artifacts including the Belt of Signs (hidden in a Roman Coliseum, of all places). A more specific example is the Sign of Wood, renewed in the past but which Will then has to travel back to the present to claim.
The Starscream: The nameless artist in Greenwitch. He plans to retrieve the scroll case containing the ancient prophecy from the Greenwitch, going against the wishes of his masters. It doesn't end well for him.
A Storm Is Coming: One character comments to Will the night before he comes into his power: "This night will be bad. And tomorrow will be beyond imagining."
Sundial Waypoint: Two of the clues the Cornishman left on the map are of this nature, one involving the setting sun and the other the rising moon.
Sympathetic Magic: How the Black Rider gets control of Mary, through one of her hairs. May also be how the painter influenced Barney, through his drawing.
The Three Trials: Occurs multiple times in the series. Structurally, book two is divided into three parts actually called "The Finding", "The Learning", and "The Testing", which accurately describes the overall tasks Will undergoes. In book four, Will and Bran have to overcome three barriers—actually getting into Bird Rock, descending inside of it and making it through the blazing sun, and then answering the riddles of the three lords. And in book five, Will and Bran have to navigate the City (itself being divided into earning the right to be noticed by the Lost Land's citizens by revealing their quest, resisting the Black Rider and drawing on the magic of the fountain of the Light, and navigating the Hall of Mirrors in the empty palace), cross the Country, and then find a way inside the Castle so they can present the king with the five-line poem about Eirias they've acquired.
Timey-Wimey Ball: Applies sometimes to how the Old Ones travel through and manipulate time. One moment they're in the past, then the present; time passes in an eyeblink or follows The Slow Path; a moment in time can take place in two overlapping periods at once...
Another example occurs in the very first book, when the Cornishman's story speaks of both Bedwin's burial site and where he hid the grail as being "over sea and under stone". The phrase turns up again in book three when the Greenwitch gives Jane her secret.
Also with the ''Grey King"; they reference him often, but the most obvious Title Drop comes with the poem that Will memorized:
On Cadfan's Way where the kestrels call Though grim from the Grey King shadows fall...
Translator Microbes: When the Drews are sent back in time at Aberdyfi harbor, a magically-induced version of this occurs, shifting the Welsh being spoken around them into English to their ears whenever something significant is about to be said. What makes this odd is that it was the Dark that sent them back in time, yet the translation was still provided.
Viking Funeral: What the "King of Fire and Water" receives in The Dark Is Rising. Meant to be an act of spite by the Dark after Will gets the sixth and last sign, but instead this just gave him exactly the honor he deserved and would have wanted.
Villainous Fashion Sense: Whether appearing as Hastings or in his usual look, it can't be denied the Black Rider knows how to dress, speak, and act.
White Magic: The various powers of the Old Ones, who use their magic to save humanity. Although it's not always nice to those who have to endure the effects or after-effects.
Wide-Eyed Idealist: Barney. What is especially significant about this is that he not only remains such despite everything done to him throughout the series, he is more often than not proven right. Judging by Merriman's reaction to Barney's excitement during the journey to the midsummer tree, it is this very trait which is the reason for his inclusion among the Six.
Wistful Amnesia: At the very end of the series, this happens to the "three from the track". And Bran.
The Wild Hunt: The climax of The Dark Is Rising (the book, not the entire series) involves the Wild Hunt, led by the standard Celtic deity Herne the Hunter. In this case the hunt is a wild but ultimately positive force that drives the villains to the ends of the earth.
Words Do Not Make The Magic: What Merriman tells Will Stanton in The Dark is Rising about the spells and words of power in the Book of Gramarye; even if a human being could read the Book, only an Old One could use it.
World Tree: The midsummer tree, where the final conflict with the Dark takes place.
Worth It: Will's conclusion when weighing Caradog Prichard's anger at being thwarted versus the hilarity of the two sliced tires.
Wrong Genre Savvy: The Drews in Greenwitch, who mistake Will for the Tagalong Kid and think they will have to ditch him to get anything done. Will is actually The Hero, knows far more about what's going on than they do, and his efforts are hampered by trying to keep them safe.
Year Inside, Hour Outside: Implied to be how the Book of Gramarye works while being read. It isn't clear how much time passes in the Lost Land versus the outside world, but Will and Bran do seem to be there a lot longer than they are counted 'missing' by the Rowlands.