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The Dark is Rising: Pagan Elements in Children’s Fiction, Part I

This month we’ll take a look at pagan elements in children’s fiction, beginning with the popular classic The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. Part of what makes this book a treasure is the magical aspects that exist right alongside the contemporary world. Cooper uses pagan symbols, like the number seven, magical names, and a one-horned man to weave her tale. Let’s look closer at the origins of these ideas.

 The Dark is Rising is the third part of a fantasy series published in 1973, and was made into a motion picture in 2007 (The Seeker). Will Stanton is the seventh son of a seventh son, who comes into his magical abilities on his eleventh birthday. He learns he is the last of the Old Ones, and quests to reclaim six items that will ultimately help him fight the Dark. Overall it is a charming story that takes place in winter and through the Solstice holiday. 


Looking at the Pagan elements, it’s clear that Cooper is using the historical importance of numbers to elicit a sense of mythology for her story. First, Will is the seventh son of a seventh son. The number seven is steeped in esoteric mystery. According to Scott Cunningham seven is the time of the lunar phase for bringing in protection and magic. It is associated with the planet Venus, and represents the number of planets that the ancient astronomers were akin to. Philosopher, Manly P. Hall, explains that the heptad (or number seven) was called “worthy of veneration” by the Pythagoreans, because it represented the “three-fold spiritual body” and “the four-fold material form.” At one time seven was the “number of life,” a superstition that regarded children born in the seventh month of gestation more likely to live, as opposed to those that were born in the eighth and often died. The list of associations with the number seven are somewhat endless; there are even seven archangels, Seven Sisters of the Dawn (the star constellation), and more. 

Since Will is the seventh son of seventh son, we understand Cooper is using some of this mythology, including the folklore that maintains he is extraordinary, and will exhibit magical powers. She spins her own story using the mythology, giving it a feeling of realness and authenticity. 

Other Pagan elements throughout the book include the use of magical names. Will’s real name is kept apart from his magical name, something common in Wicca and Paganism today, so that his enemies can’t harm him. Cooper also uses the one-horned man, employed as the bad guy, despite origins in Paganism as a kind-hearted, nature loving god, like Lugh or Cernnunos. 

All in all, The Dark is Rising is a clever tale for children underscored with Pagan elements. Check it out for yourself and see what other hidden treats you find. 

------To learn more about Hunter Liguore, please visit: You can also contact me regarding upcoming books, if you want to read along. 

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Hunter Liguore, a multi-Pushcart Prize nominee, earned an MFA in Creative Writing and a BA in History. Her work has appeared internationally in a variety of journals. She is the editor-in-chief of the print journal, American Athenaeum, which is dedicated to publishing "voices" that ultimately inform our times. (To view current submission guidelines: She revels in old legends, swords, and heroes.


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