The Grey King (The Dark is Rising, Book 4)

by Susan Cooper

Other authorsMichael Heslop (Illustrator)
Paperback, 1986



Local notes

PB Coo


Simon Pulse (1986), Mass Market Paperback, 224 pages


A strange boy and dog remind Will Stanton that he is an immortal, whose quest is to find the golden harp which will rouse others from a long slumber in the Welsh hills so they may prepare for the ultimate battle of Light versus Dark.


Original publication date


Physical description

224 p.; 4.2 inches


0689710895 / 9780689710896



User reviews

LibraryThing member sirfurboy
I am involved in a group read that is working through this series, so I re-read this book for the first time in what must be more than 20 years. As a child I loved it and read and re-read the book, to the point that I still had a vivid memory of some of the scenes. On re-erading it I rediscovered some scenes I had forgotten.

Susan Cooper has written a classic series, with an incredible sweep of imagination, and such an enduring appeal that some of the things she invents in these books are even being remembered as a kind of new folk lore! For instance, the association between Cader Idris and King Arthur is actually quite modern, but these days anyone will tell you that the mountain is Arthur's seat! That tells you how widely these books have been read and are still read.

And so they should be read. The stories areclassics. This one rightly one a Newbery award. It is not quite the perfect children's book that the earlier "The Dark is Rising" is, but there were aspects of this book that made me almost ache as a child! I remember when I first read the start of this book, where Will Stanton wakes up from a fever grasping at a memory that he has lost. That was, for me as a boy, an incredibly powerful way to start this story - and the rediscovery, followed by the mystery around the boy, Bran, all worked perfectly driving to the conclusion.

Caradog Prichard is an annoying nasty character that had me feeling terrible righteous anger - and he is but the helper of the real antagonist - the Grey King.

What is more, the location of this story in the beautiful Dysynni valley was so perfect for anyone who has ever visited that part of wales. The landscape of that valley just evokes mystery and a feeling that this is the centre of some old and wonderful legend.

On the downside, this book was written in the 1970s and in places the dialogue sounds a little clunky to 21st century ears. Will Stanton uses phrases like "Good Lord, no". The Welsh is also rather formal and uncolloquial (not that a non Welsh speaker will care about that!) But just because the book is now 40 years old does not mean it is any less a good read. Children still read all kinds of other books from that generation - and this series should be among them.

Suitable for ages about 10 and up, and it was something of a cult book when I was at University too, so there are no upper limits here.
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LibraryThing member juliette07
..... ‘For a moment he seemed no more than an uncomplicated small boy, caught up in bubbling wonder by a marvellous sight’..... This quote reflects the book, a mix of myth, legend and humanity.

Set in the mysterious Welsh countryside this is a story woven with myth and Arthurian legend. Will, recuperating from hepatitis and staying with his Welsh uncle and aunt overcomes the Dark evil with the help of Bran, a young boy whose origins are clouded in mystery. As we learn more of his story themes of separation, roots and belonging emerge. For Bran the boundaries surrounding ‘his story’ have been tightly controlled by his father. Finally he is able to ask and face those questions that were previously unspeakable. This was a poignant and tense part of the book for me that somehow does not often get mention – I liked the way in which Susan Cooper brings together the longing question of humanity ‘where do I come from’ to the legend aspect of her saga.
This fourth book in the Dark is Rising sequence was the first book in the series that I have read and had it not been for the Newbery Award it would not have been my choice. Having said that it was compelling, magical and certainly full of mystery!
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LibraryThing member RebeccaAnn
There is a Welsh legend about a harp of gold, hidden within a certain hill, that will be found by a boy and a white dog with silver eyes -- a dog that can see the wind. Will Stanton knew nothing of this when he came to Wales to recover from a severe illness. But when he met Bran, the strange boy who owned a white dog, he began to remember. For Will is the last-born of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to saving the world from the forces of evil, the Dark. And it is Will's task to wake -- with the golden harp -- the six who must be roused from their long slumber in the Welsh hills to prepare for the last battle between the Dark and the Light.

This is to date my favorite book of the Dark is Rising Sequence. It was so nice to see Will struggle with something for a change. It made him human, it made him relatable, it made him the child that he is, and it made him lovable. Rather than dreading a book focused solely on Will, I found myself eagerly turning page after page. There was also much more emotion in this book. At one particular part, after experiencing a character death, I swear I lost the ability to breathe for a couple seconds. And Bran's family history, when discovered, leaves me anxious to pick up the fifth book.

However, true to Cooper's style, I felt the book lacked a bit in the explanation area. I would have liked to know what was so powerful about the six riders and why they had the power to stop the Grey King. I would have also liked to know more about other two robed figures Will and Bran met in the cave (for lack of a better, more grand term).

I still liked the book, though, and I can't wait to read the fifth one!
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LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
After The Dark Is Rising, this is my favorite of the Dark is Rising Sequence. This novel works because it is such an intimate and romantic story. The Welsh setting is beautifully described and the pain of being different and approaching adulthood are captured in all their sticky reality.

Will Stanton, suffering from the after effects of a long illness and slowly regaining his memory is sent to Wales to recuperate. There he meets Bran, the mysterious white-haired boy, and Cadfal, his beloved dog.

There is quite a story in here interwoven with the larger story of the battle between Dark and Light. It would be easy to make the character of Bran all sweetness and light, but Susan Cooper never takes the easy way out. She fills Bran with all the contradictions contained in every one of us - the potential for good and evil residing uneasily twinned inside him, waiting for him to choose his way.

This is the book that made me want to visit Wales when I was a little girl. I still do.
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LibraryThing member danbarrett
As a kid growing up this was my favorite fantasy book of all time. It's probably still up there. The exotic Welsh landscape of rainy moors, the deeply resonant themes of belonging and inner strength, the sheer depth of the plot and mythic nature of everything that happens...If I could have made out with this book, I would have. The series is brilliant, and this apparent side-track is the high point of the series.… (more)
LibraryThing member SandyAMcPherson
A continuation of the Welsh fantasy adventure with the 6 young people associated with the saga. A darker vibe in this book. The characters associated with the dark seemed a bit contrived.
LibraryThing member Crowyhead
This novel incorporates Arthurian and Celtic mythology into something rich, magical, and strange. When I was twelve, this inspired me to try to teach myself Welsh, which I soon discovered was nearly impossible.
LibraryThing member StormRaven
The Grey King is the fourth book in Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising sequence. It is also my favorite book of the series. Perhaps this is because the book features welsh and Arthurian myth so heavily, or perhaps it is just because I read this book for the first time when I was the target age for the book, or, as I believe, just because the book is simply that good. The book focuses once again on Will Stanton, but this time he is ill and sent to stay with his uncle in Wales to recuperate. Once there, he meets up with an albino loner named Bran who he befriends.

The book is essentially a second coming of age story for Will Stanton, and he is aided by bran along the way. They must unravel a series of mysteries, mostly by figuring out what some cryptic poetry means, and prepare for a coming confrontation between the Light and the Dark. Many of the disparate threads started in the first three books begin to be tied together in this book, and the true nature of many of the things the characters have done (and the true nature of some characters) is made clear. The novel is more grown up in tone than the earlier books in the series – Stanton is older, there is more danger, and the villains are creepier. Still, it is a young adult book, albeit a very well-written young adult book.

The book won the Newbery award in 1975, and the reasons for that seem abundantly clear when one reads it. I loved this book when I read it when I was eleven (even though I had not read any of the others in the series), and I loved it again when I reread it as an adult (as part of the series).
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LibraryThing member bell7
After an illness, Will is sent to his mother's good friend in Wales to recuperate. Will is the last of the Old Ones, those who stand for the Light in the fight against the Dark, which is rising in the world. He has a quest, but he's forgotten what he needed to remember and is in the realm of the Grey King who is seeking to destroy him.

This is the fourth in "The Dark is Rising Sequence," but it can be read as a standalone. I'm sure these books were groundbreaking for children's/teen fantasy in their time, and I daresay I would like them better had I first encountered them as a child. As it is, I am bothered when Will conveniently knows something by virtue of who he is. The good characters are multifaceted and believable, but in this one in particular I just couldn't believe in Caradog Prichard. He was always prone to malice in a way that struck me as over-the-top and not exactly unbelievable, but definitely having little cause. The audio production was well done, overall; Richard Mitchley did a good job interpreting various characters and put a lot of feeling behind their words. A small quibble (that may have been my car stereo and not the production itself) was that the narration was much quieter than the people talking, so I had to have the volume up loud enough to hear him talking most of the time, but when characters were yelling, it was really loud. I liked The Dark is Rising and Greenwitch better.
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LibraryThing member Mothwing
Having Finished this book makes up a part of the fabric of my very being. It is strange since today I barely remember even what this book is about, but when I was a lonely eleven-year-old who had two friends in the world and a couple of hundred who were made of paper this book is part of what made me want to stay alive.

It also made me fall in love with Arthurian myths and legends, taught me how To read carefully, and made me fall in love with Wales. Years later, when I took my first literature courses at university I still remembered how excited I'd been about taking out a stack of different versions of the Arthurian legends from the library, Finisheding them and comparing hem to the one I'd Finished in this book. I was trying to determine which one Susan Cooper had used. It was part of the what drove me and keeps driving me to return to Wales.
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LibraryThing member reannon
4th of 5 in the Dark Is Rising series, and an excellent entry.
LibraryThing member goodnightmoon
Though initially confused by the background I didn't have, I quickly got into trying to piece together the elements of the song. The mystery aspect makes the fantasy even more engaging, in my opinion. Without it, the action would be a bit lacking. I kept waiting and waiting for the confrontation with the Grey King, which never happened. My other quibbles would be the complex sentences that required me to reread often, and the complete lack of denouement. Still, all through the book, I was eager to see what would happen next. Worth a read, in the series order.… (more)
LibraryThing member stubbyfingers
This is the fourth book in The Dark is Rising Sequence and probably my favorite so far. This one seemed slightly more mature than the previous ones. It annoys me that Will never really has to think to solve his problems--he always knows what to do, what words to say in the Old Language, just by "instinct." Where's the fun in that? A very quick read.… (more)
LibraryThing member Othemts
The best of the lot thus far. I like that Will is turned out on his own adventure. Interesting take on Arthurian legend though. If Gwinivere has betrayed the King (presumably with Lancelot) why would she need to hide away her child if he is the child of Arthur? Did Gwinivere and Arthur ever have a child?

“’Like life it is, Will – sometimes you must seem to hurt something in order to do good for it. But not often a very big hurt, thank goodness’” – John Rowland (p.26)

“’Only the creatures of the earth take from one another, boy. Life they take, and liberty, and all that man may have – sometimes through greed, sometimes through stupidity, but never through any volition but their own. Beware your own race, Bran Davies – they are the only ones who will ever harm you in the end’” – mysterious cloaked figure (p. 91)
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LibraryThing member readafew
Will Stanton is back and he meets a new friend Bran, while he is in the Welsh country side recovering from an illness. Will slowly remembers some of the stories and one in particular is about a harp hidden in the country side needed to call back some sleeping heroes to help defeat the Dark.

This is a neat set of books for young adults/Middle school kids. I read them when I was in Middle school and found them a little spooky, having reread them as an adult I found them an easy read and definitely written for younger readers. Great books to get younger readers interested in reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member debnance
At last! I made it through a book in The Dark is Rising series…though, to do it, I had to listen to it on audiotape. This was the last book in the series. Somehow I felt like I was missing a lot by not reading the earlier books. I didn’t understand how Will came to know he was an Old One. What does it really mean to be an Old One? Were there earlier mentions of Arthur and Guinevere? What else did Will have to obtain other than the harp? What is the difference between the Dark and the Light? Were all of these or any of these addressed in the earlier books?Will made for an interesting hero, part boy, part wise man. His path led him to Wales and to the young mysterious Braun. The story reveals that Braun was brought to our world by his mother, but we are left unclear about Braun’s origins and his place in the story until the very last pages of the book.… (more)
LibraryThing member babydraco
As usual, the Will Stanton focused books are miles better than the ones solely about the Drews, and the Will and Bran books are the best of all. Since this is the first book Bran makes his appearance in, you can assume it’s great. Perhaps Bran was the character she subconsciously wanted to write all along.

The only thing I’m wondering is, I know “Gwen” was only with Owen Davies for three days and it was rural Wales in the sixties but seriously, no one noticed that she was more than just a little out of place?… (more)
LibraryThing member MusicMom41
This 4th entry in "The Dark I Rising" sequence was the Newbery Winner the year it was published and definitely the best in the series so far.. For my taste, one of its strengths is that the Drew children don’t appear. My adult son who read the series before I says I'm too hard on the Drew children; he likes them.

The story takes place in Wales and we get deeper into the Arthurian legend. The new character, Bran, is interesting and you care about both Bran and Will. Will’s task, with Bran’s help (who turns out to have a pivotal part to play in the contest between the Dark and the Light) is to wake—with the golden harp—the six who must be roused from their long slumber to be ready for the final battle between the Dark and the Light. The Grey King is the spirit of the mountain determined to keep Will from succeeding. This is the best book in the series so far. It also gives such a good description of Wales that now I would like to go there. That will please my older son, who gave me this set, because Wales is one of his favorite places.… (more)
LibraryThing member aapike
My second favorite book in the series. The setting of the story is beautiful and makes the plot come alive with all the history of Wales. The continuation of Will's story fighting the Dark and discovering his powers as an Old One is the underlying plot of this novel. The inclusion of Bran and his unusual dog makes the story even more exciting and adds another twist to an already great story.… (more)
LibraryThing member allthesedarnbooks
This is the fourth book in The Dark Is Rising Sequence, and it's excellent. Focuses on Will, who is my favorite, and takes place in Wales, which is one of my favorite fictional locales and one of those many countries I'd like to visit some day. Can't wait to read the next one, Silver on the Tree!
LibraryThing member riverwillow
The threat from the Dark feels very real and very urgent in this instalment of the Sequence and this makes for a compelling read. As before Cooper effortlessly blends the Welsh landscape into her story, interweaving myths and legends into the fabric of her story. Plus there is a handy guide to Welsh pronunciation. Superb
LibraryThing member kingpellinor
Have just finished reading this quintet of novels by Susan Cooper. I shall write about the five as a group, rather than individual novels, though they are different in style and approach. I first encountered these works in the form of an extract in a school textbook, and was impressed by the intensity of what was described, but also intrigued by the hint at plot that was present. The first of the books was in fact written a long while before the others, and has quite a juvenile feel to it, a kind of traditional childrens story: three go on holiday and solve a mystery, except that the mystery involves magic and eventually the Grail. So far, so much standard fare, except that this kind of mythological involvement with the lives of children was not really standard at the time. Many years passed and the germs of ideas from that first book, including some of the same characters turned up in the later sequence of four novels. These have been referred to as an influence if not source for the Harry Potter books, but that does these a disservice. I would have to say that anyone setting out to write a sequence of children’s books in the children-save-the-world kind of way needs to read these books. The most famous is the second, The Dark is Rising itself, perhaps as much for the title, and there have been a tv series and film, though no one speaks highly of either. I would guess that the Alan Garner books fall between book one and two, and those are mostly closely allied in genre. The Dark is Rising as a sequence is only a peg or two below the best of Alan Garner, which is saying a lot. Susan Cooper seems to have become possessed by her subject-matter. These are quite visionary novels: both the second and the fifth, The Grey King, are outstanding. These are difficult to read: the visionary quality is sustained and intense, and can be quite trance-inducing. I also felt that for a lot of the time there’s too much magic going on: if anything at all can happen, whatever does happen loses in significance, but the design of the whole is much better than that. Nothing in here actually is random, and perhaps that bewildering quality while the universe comes to an end, is part of why these books seem to take over people if they read these at the right age. The architecture of the sequence is impressive, and the whole builds cumulatively to a moving and powerful climax. The most successful of the books as a single novel is the fourth, which regains the spontaneity and realism of the first book, but is carried forward with the mythological motivation to be completely captivating and energising. The setting in real landscapes is cleverly done, and perhaps I’m biased through knowing some of the landscapes and specific sites, but this works really well and grounds the fantasy. To argue against the books would be to criticise them for a lack of development of the relationships between the people. The great strength of Garner is to root his fantasy and mythology in real relationships and real trauma in the real world of young people’s experience: something about that sense of an individual life slotting into the greater mythological pattern rings true about being an adolescent and feeling that life is opening up – or even closing down in some of Garner’s work. That sense is here partly. The texture of the prose is magnificent: clear, lucid, flexible syntax, without becoming lurid or gothic; and rising magnificently above the calibre of J K Rowling, and, to tell the truth, above Philip Pullmann. These are better books than Pullmann’s, though the audacity of the imagination is not quite in the same league as His Dark Materials. So, children’s books that aren’t quite children’s. It’s hard to imagine the children who would read these today; only children who read out of passion, to give meaning and structure to their lives, for whom reading and story are amongst the most important things in their lives. Hard work, but intoxicating, and requires nothing less than surrender from its reader.… (more)
LibraryThing member Kirconnell
The Grey King is the fourth book in Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series and winner of a Newberry Award. While I enjoyed this book I would be the first to recommend reading the series in sequence. Too much is lost by skipping around. That said, this book takes place in Wales (love it) with lots of references to farms and working dogs (love it even more). Too bad I missed these books as I was growing up. They seem to be written for a very mature or well educated group of 9 to 12 year olds and I wonder how well they fare with that age group today.… (more)
LibraryThing member booksandwine
This is definately the best of the series so far. Will Stanton has suffered a pretty bad illness and forgets all of the Old Ways. He is shipped off to his family in Wales where he meets another boy, Bran who is an albino. The Grey King won a Newbery Award and is fantastic reading, it's definately a more engrossing read than the others in the series. Frankly, I don't care much about the Drew children so it was nice to see this book did not have them.… (more)
LibraryThing member rosemarybrown
If I wasn't bored to Dearborn oft authorial legend already this would have gotten a 5

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