ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
There's a small group of fantasy novels so deeply beloved they've gained cult status. And in the past six years, they've made it to Hollywood.
(Soundbite of movie "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe")
Ms. TILDA SWILTON (Actress): (As the White Witch) All of Narnia will be overturned, and perished in fire and water.
(Soundbite of movie "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring")
Sir IAN McKELLEN (Actor): (As Gandalf) One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.
(Soundbite of movie "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone")
Mr. ROBBIE COLTRANE (Actor): (As Rubeus Hagrid) You're a wizard, Harry.
Mr. DANIEL RADCLIFFE (Actor): (As Harry Potter) I'm a what?
NORRIS: The success of these films means Hollywood is banking on more fantasy franchises. Enter another series of books, somewhat less famous. But also with a devoted following. The five books are best known by the title of the second, "The Dark is Rising." In this week, a movie version comes out in theaters. Written by Susan Cooper more than 30 years ago, it chronicles the journey of a young boy with special powers who must lead a fight against evil forces.
NPR's Margot Adler met up with the author and found it's not always easy to translate fantasy to film.
MARGOT ADLER: Susan Cooper's house lies an hour south of Boston. Overlooking a marsh with herons and egrets.
Ms. SUSAN COOPER (Author, "The Dark is Rising"): You know, it's called a marsh and you think - squish, squish, but it isn't squishy.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. COOPER: At least not this part.
ADLER: This open landscape reminds her of her home in England.
Ms. COOPER: Where I grew up Thames Valley it was also a flat. And it's like being back in my childhood because this is so much sky.
ADLER: Cooper says she always knew she would write, that she inherited from her Welsh grandmother the Celtic love of the words and melody of song. But her early childhood was filled with sirens, bombs and air-raid shelters. The experience of England during World War II. Her mother, she says…
Ms. COOPER: She would tell us stories when we were in the air-raid shelter. I think it gave me this sense of the light and the dark, which is behind the bunch of the books I've written, which has never gone away. Those books are about the fact that everybody is a mixture of good and evil. And life is a war between the two sides of us. It's the substance of all story, all myth, anyway.
ADLER: In "The Dark is Rising", Will Stanton must search for six powerful signs to empower the light and fight the dark. In the course of four other books, set in the Thames Valley, Cornwall and Wales, Will and a small group of other children battle the dark.
Cooper says the books came right out of her own homesickness. At the age of 27, she uprooted herself, married an American scientist and came to the United States. The British Isles never left her heart or her writing.
Ms. COOPER: If you look at the bookshelves over there, they are full of books about everything that would let me go back in my head to the places that were precious. And out of that, I think, came a very strange day, when I had an idea about an 11-year-old boy who wakes up one morning and finds he can work magic. Then I started to write "The Dark Is Rising."
ADLER: The books were published in the 1960s and '70s, and one of them won a Newberry Award as the best young adult novel of 1976. Cooper says there were a number of efforts over the years to turn the books into films, but they never went anywhere.
Ms. COOPER: Oh, sure. I have a very fat file of film offers for "The Dark is Rising" books. I once did a script myself. My daughter, Kate, says it's an okay script. But I wasn't sure. I think I was affected by the fact that we didn't manage to get that one off the ground.
ADLER: But now, with very little input from Cooper, a film of "The Dark Is Rising" is coming to theaters.
(Soundbite of movie trailer "The Dark is Rising")
Unidentified Man: Everything about Will Stanton's life seemed pretty ordinary. Normal problems.
Mr. JIM PIDDOCK (Actor): (As George) Hey, Will. She's way out of your league, bro.
ADLER: Judging from the trailer, the film will be very different from the dreamt and timeless novel.
Unknown Man #2: You are the seeker.
Unknown Man #3: The chosen warrior to fight the dark.
Mr. ALEXANDER LUDWIG (Actor): (As Will Stanton) Sorry, I'm not the one.
Unknown Man #3: You are the seventh son of a seventh son.
Mr. LUDWIG: (As Will Stanton) I'm supposed to save the world? I can't even figure out how to talk to a girl.
ADLER: In the film, Will Stanton is 13, not 11, and he is American, not British. Screenwriter John Hodge first looked at "The Dark Is Rising" many years ago. At that time, it just didn't seem like the right project for the man who wrote the screenplay for "Trainspotting," a gritty film about heroin addiction. Hodge didn't like fantasy anyway. And even when he approached the book 10 years later, he found many problems. First of all, he thought, even though the book was written more than 30 years ago, an 11-year-old English boy who finds out he can do magic…
Mr. JOHN HODGE (Screenwriter, "The Dark is Rising"): One of the things I didn't want it to be confused with was Harry Potter, because I just think the world doesn't need another English boy involved in, you know, fantasy adventures.
ADLER: Hodge felt that Will would be more understandable if he was experiencing things as an outsider, an American living in Britain. As for Cooper's story…
Mr. HODGE: My reaction was that a lot of it would have to go because it was written in this quite, you know, lyrical, poetic, kaleidoscopic fashion. It doesn't take place in fixed locations and he doesn't actually do very much, Will, in the novel. He's told he's the seeker and that he has to seek the signs. But the largely given to him, he's not in control of events. The enemy is ultimately defeated by a character who's introduced in the final few pages. The boy himself, the hero, doesn't actually defeat the dark. And I, you know, I feel terrible saying all this to, you know, Susan Cooper, she's written a great book and here am I saying, oh, this have to go and that have to go. But that is the facts of life when you're doing adaptation.
ADLER: In fact, Cooper herself has written several screenplays and she hastens to say she hasn't seen the film yet. She has only seen the trailer and read the screenplay.
Ms. COOPER: You do have to do violence to a book in order to make it into a screenplay. The two mediums are very different. But the alteration is so enormous in this case. It's just different.
ADLER: She says her Will is 11, not 13 for a reason.
Ms. COOPER: It's just before puberty, when we are not quite overtaken by all the difficulties of figuring out our sexual identity, and we are still trying to find out who we are, inside our heads. And in him, this is complicated horribly by the fact that he finds he is not mortal.
ADLER: And Cooper says that's what fantasy does best. Whether it's "Beowolf" or "Harry Potter," it's a metaphor that helps you deal with things that are difficult in the world around you, that helps you grow up.
She is waiting for the movie, but there's a certain sadness there. Cooper says she sent a letter requesting changes to the film's script, but she's not sure any alterations were made. Now, in her home, on the Massachusetts marsh, she's waiting for a new inspiration.
Ms. COOPER: I think I have one more book in me of the kind of "The Dark is Rising" that don't come when you snap your fingers, you know? I think I'll sit up here looking out across my marsh and see if I think of it the way I thought of "The Dark is Rising" on that very strange day 30 years ago.
ADLER: The five books in "The Dark is Rising" sequence have been reprinted to coincide with the movie. It hits theaters this Friday after some strange last minute revisions. This summer, the filmmakers added to its name, calling it "The Seeker: The Dark is Rising." Last week, they dropped "The Dark is Rising" and announced it would just be called "The Seeker."
Margot Adler, NPR News.
NORRIS: At our Web site, you can listen to Susan Cooper read from "The Dark is Rising." In this excerpt, Will Stanton first discovers the truth about his own magical abilities. You'll find that at npr.org.
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