I wrote this post for the TDIR Readathon, but it never got posted. I thought my bit of nostalgia worth sharing anyway — with some additional details I thought of later…
The first time I met Will Stanton was via the BBC’s adaptation for Children’s Radio, written by David Calcutt. They aren’t yet available for the public as far as I know, though I keep checking back, because once upon a time I lent my old tapes to my sister… and somewhere between me and her, or somewhere in the clutter of our respective bedrooms, episode three was lost. You can find the audio via torrents and such, lurking in the dark and dubiously legal parts of the internet, but I’m holding out for being able to legally obtain them.
The thing is, David Calcutt’s adaptation was really good. It captured the spirit of the books and did a spectacular job with some of the creepier aspects. The voices of the Dark chanting “the Dark, the Dark is rising” terrified me as a kid, and the memory is one of those slightly chilly ones. (I know exactly what I was doing, and how reassuring the noise of my dad doing the dishes in the kitchen was.) It was a simplified version of the books, sure – Will had fewer siblings, for example – but faithful in tone and intent (much more so that the movie adaptation which I pretend doesn’t exist). The voice actors were good; I remember Ronald Pickup in particular voicing Merriman Lyon. Brilliant.
I didn’t meet Will Stanton again until I was fifteen or so. Maybe even sixteen. Somewhere in between, I saw The Dark is Rising at the library, but it never got hooks into me. It was when I finally read Over Sea, Under Stone that I was hooked, and promptly devoured the rest. The clinching point was probably when I finally, finally met Bran Davies, though. He was Welsh and proud of it, the landscape was one which called to me, the myths were those of my home. Arthur was rooted in a Welsh landscape, a Welsh context; noble and familiar from English retellings and not the wilder Welsh version, but closer to his roots than usual. Closer to me.
I’ve read it over and over since then, and I’m not really sorry I didn’t read it as a child, or that my introduction was through an adaptation. Now there’s the perfect voice for Merriman and the Rider, recorded faithfully in my head, and I was old enough when I came to the later books to appreciate some of the subtleties which I know I would have missed as a child – like the tender, painful relationship between Bran and his adoptive father, for one.
At the same time, I’m glad I did encounter the Rider for the first time as a child. Now he properly frightens me – as he should.