Newbery Book Review

The Grey King

In 1994 when I was at the ripe old age of 11 I wrote a fan letter to Nancy Kerrigan. My favorite winter Olympic sport, then and now, was figure skating and even though I lived in the desert it was my secret dream to one day become a famous ice skater like Nancy. I practiced on roller skates on our driveway instead of ice skates on ice. I am happy to say that Nancy wrote me back and with the typed letter sent an autographed glossy photo of herself on the ice. My little 11 year old heart almost couldn’t contain the excitement even though I knew she probably hadn’t actually written or signed the letter. In any case, it’s exciting to write someone famous and get a reply. That’s why in 2010 at the ripe old age of 27 I am going to write another fan letter. Not to Nancy Kerrigan this time nor anyone else in the Olympic arena actually. This time my fan letter will be addressed to Susan Cooper, author of the Dark is Rising sequence.

In the last two weeks I have traveled over sea and under stone to find a grail, through time to find six precious signs, under the sea to speak with the Greenwitch and over a mountain to claim a golden harp from the powerful Grey King. I’ve yet to find the silver tree and understand it’s significance but that’s okay because the goal for the last two weeks has been to make it to the gold…Newbery gold that is.

The five books in the sequence are as follows: Over Sea and Under Stone, The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King and The Silver Tree. The Dark is Rising won a Newbery honor and was made into an awful, awful movie, but the actual medal went to the fourth book: The Grey King.  If I had to give these books a genre my best effort would be to classify it as: Arthurian Dramadventure.  The crux of the story is the battle between the Light (the obvious good guys) and the Dark (the bad guys).  The books build off each other and create in the reader an anticipation for the final battle in book five, which I have yet to read but am dying to do so.  The cast of characters changes slightly with each story but for the most part the reader experiences these adventures with and through: Simon Drew, Jane Drew and Barnabas Drew, Merriman, Will Stanton, and Bran. Here is a brief breakdown of each book…

Over Sea and Under Stone is about a summer holiday that the Drew family take with their strange Uncle Merriman (think Arthur again) to a seaside village in England.  Simon, Jane and Barnabas (Barney) have adventure thrust upon them when they discover an old map which ultimately leads them to the grail.

The Dark is Rising is about Will Stanton, an 11 year old boy who finds out that he isn’t like most boys his age.  That is because he is an Old One. The last Old One actually, who, by completing the circle must find the six signs of power for the Light to prevent the Dark from rising. Like I said before, a few years ago a movie came out that was based on this book but when I watched the trailer I felt horrified (I’m not exaggerating) at how skewed the story was. In fact, if you have seen it trust me when I tell you that it is NOTHING like the book. If you haven’t seen it but want to then let me recommend that you read the book instead. Even Susan Cooper was displeased with it per wikipedia.

Greenwitch is probably my second favorite book of the sequence so far because it is when the Drew kids meet Will and the adventure involves them all. Plus, who doesn’t like a huge green witch made of leaves and trees that has been in the sea for hundreds of years coming to life and guarding a secret that the Light desperately needs to attain? Psh.  Everyone loves that.  Side note: This one was read almost entirely at a session of Multnomah’s Mission Conference. :)

Finally, the Newbery 1976 winner: The Grey King.

When I started this book I thought: okay elizabeth, make sure you read this one carefully so you can figure out why it won the award. Nearing the end of the story I realized that I’d gotten so caught up in the story itself that I had kind of forgotten my duty to award and blog.   This story is set in Wales and is almost entirely focused on Will along with the introduction of Bran, a mysterious character that you don’t quite figure out until the last few pages.  I guess In some ways this story felt like a waiting room.  You might be thinking: Hold on, how can the story have been both engaging and like a waiting room?  It’s true that while most waiting rooms don’t have much to hold my interest besides the gnawing worry about whatever waits for me behind the closed door.  What I mean is that it’s like a waiting room because Cooper subtly drops clues that some big revelation, completely unexpected by the clueless reader, is going to come out.  In the same way that the mountains in Wales rumbled with the anger of the Grey King as Will and Bran secured the golden harp and set to wake the Sleepers, so the story rumbles with murmurings of surprise and “OH MAN” moments.  The end of the book was just that for me.  It beautifully sets the reader up for the final book.  I won’t ruin anything for you here and can only hope that my poor attempt at writing about these classics will have inspired someone to read them also.

It is the authors job to engage the reader with his or her characters and draw them into the story in such a way that when the character climbs a mountain you feel the same fear and excitement of reaching for that next hold right along with them.  Especially in this book I felt engaged with Will.  Cooper has given the reader a chance to get to know him specifically in two of the books leading up to this one so it’s easy to relate to him, and in a weird way, enjoy his company.  I think the character development of not only Will but Bran especially is one of the major reasons she won the Newbery for this one.  That and the fact that I think this book is brilliant.

Before I head off to heat up leftovers I want to point out that these were published in the 70’s…way before Harry Potter or Percy Jackson.  Why has it taken me so long to find them??

Till next time.

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2 thoughts on “The Grey King

  1. See…we should have lived where there was ice so you could have skated!! :) Tho I think your brilliant mind and writing skills would have taken a back seat and that would have left the literary world in a sadder place. In the desert you learned how to read and dream and write. Your writing takes us on adventures that we would have missed had you been skating in the Olympics. You weave a story that makes me feel as if I am there. Can I have a signed picture of you? I am your biggest fan!! Tho I’m sure Forrest might debate that :)

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