The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper audiobook review – a starry midwinter’s tale

Toby Jones, Simon McBurney and Noah Alexander are among the cast in this atmospheric telling of Susan Cooper’s fantasy novel


The story opens in a quiet Buckinghamshire village on a snowy midwinter’s eve when Will Stanton (Noah Alexander) is getting ready to celebrate his 11th birthday. He should be excited but instead he senses that something isn’t right. When he ventures outside to feed his pet rabbits, he finds they are afraid of him; meanwhile, rooks shriek and dive-bomb overhead. On his way to collect milk from a neighbouring farm, Will sees a shadowy tramp-like figure watching him from the edge of the woods. When he tells the farmer, Mr Dawson, and the farrier, Old George, what he has seen, Dawson replies: “The Walker is abroad. This night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining.”

This new audio version of Susan Cooper’s 1973 fantasy novel – the second in The Dark Is Rising Sequence – is adapted by the writer Robert Macfarlane and the actor and director Simon McBurney, who also narrates. Along with Will, we meet the sage-like Merriman (Paul Rhys), who first appears in Cooper’s 1965 book, Over Sea, Under Stone, plus The Lady (Harriet Walter), Hawkin (Toby Jones) and Herne the Hunter (Miles Yekinni). All tutor Will in the ways of the Old Ones, a group of ancient guardians of “the Light” who have magical powers and do battle against the forces of darkness.

Featuring original music by the songwriter and actor Johnny Flynn, The Dark Is Rising is recorded in binaural sound, which is designed for listening on headphones and brings added clarity to the wintry soundscapes while capturing the eeriness and enchantment in Cooper’s prose.

• Available from BBC World Service in 12 episodes

Further listening

Before I Go to Sleep
SJ Watson, Random House Audio 12hr 14min
Susannah Harker narrates this award-winning thriller about a woman who wakes up every day unable to recall her life since her mid-20s.


The Lincoln Highway
Amor Towles, Penguin Audio, 16hr 39min
Set in the 1950s, Towles’s novel tells the story of 18-year-old Emmett Watson who returns home to Nebraska after serving a year on a juvenile reform programme for involuntary manslaughter. Edoardo Ballerini, Marin Ireland and Dion Graham read.

Contributor

Fiona Sturges

The GuardianTramp

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