Archives For The Dark is Rising

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Happy 2012 everyone! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

The Walden Media film adaptation of Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising”, ultimately renamed “The Seeker”, has seemingly flopped with critics and is doing badly at the box-office. While I would like to claim that the reason is due to their decision to remove all pre-Christian references from the work, the most likely culprit is the fact that they didn’t respect the original story.

“‘The Seeker’ is based on the young adult novels written in the 1960s and ’70s by Susan Cooper. Lyrical, magical and steeped in Celtic mythology, Cooper’s beloved series seems like ripe material for audiences hungry for magic and epochal battles between good and evil. But screenwriter John Hodge strips Cooper’s story of its details and charm, reducing it to a kind of characterless, elemental video game – an apocalyptic scavenger hunt punctuated by sonorous pronouncements instead of dialogue: “You and all your kind will be destroyed,” intones The Rider (Christopher Eccleston), the leader of The Dark.”

While author Susan Cooper admits that you “do violence to a book to make it into a screenplay”*, it is usually the films that adhere closely to the spirit of their source material that succeed. This is doubly-true for any film that relies on a “cult” fan-base or fond memories of the original work. It is why Harry Potter films continue to do well, while the horrid remake of “The Wicker Man” did so poorly. In any event, fans of “The Dark is Rising” will most likely not have to worry about a sequel considering the film had “one of the poorest starts for a fantasy on record”, one hopes that the message has been firmly telegraphed: stay true to the story.

* Check out my exclusive interview with Herne the Hunter on why he ultimately decided to drop out of filming “The Seeker”.

Yesterday on NPR, Margot Adler interviewed Susan Cooper about the upcoming movie adaptation of her classic Newbery Medal-winning book “The Dark is Rising”. As you listen to the audio, some portions are almost heartbreaking as you hear Cooper talk about the extreme changes that have been made to the book.

“Cooper has written many screenplays herself, and she hastens to say she hasn’t seen the film yet. She has only seen the trailer and read the screenplay. “You do have to do violence to a book to make it into a screenplay – the two mediums are so different,” Cooper says. “But the alteration is so enormous in this case. It is just different.” … Cooper is waiting for the movie, but with a certain sadness. She says she sent a letter requesting changes to the film’s script, but she’s not sure any alterations were made.”

In a separate essay posted to NPR, Alison MacAdam, a producer with “All Things Considered”, fears that the movie is so different that it won’t encourage children to read the source material.

“Sure, I hope the movie will lead new readers to Cooper’s books. But I fear an opposite scenario: that it will be so unrecognizable from the original story that it won’t drive kids to Cooper’s novels; it will replace the novels. As if to confirm my fears, I got word one week – one week! – before the film’s release on Oct. 5 that its name had been changed. Not that the strangely-punctuated The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising had struck me as a winner, but now the filmmakers have erased The Dark Is Rising altogether: The film will hit theaters as simply The Seeker.”

Also worrisome is the fact that the movie hasn’t been screened for critics yet, even though the film opens in three days. Usually when a smaller film like “The Seeker” cancels advance screenings, it is to avoid bad reviews on opening weekend. Perhaps Walden Media is hoping their core audience of parents and children will trust they are getting a good, safe, family film and will care little about how true to the books the film is.

At this point I hold out little hope that the original spirit of the work has been preserved. It is obvious that anything that was too “difficult”, or embraced themes that weren’t Christian, have been sanitized from the film. So even though “The Dark is Rising” is one of my favorite young-adult novels, I can’t in good conscience recommend seeing it. I suppose that is the end-result when you have a conservative-Christian director and a conservative-Christian owned movie studio get together to film a book chock-full of mythic and pre-Christian themes.

Time for a quick look at upcoming films that may appeal to a Pagan/occult audience.

Those of us who are fans of “The Wicker Man” (the original of course, not that abomination starring Nicolas Cage) should be pleased to learn that Robin Hardy (who directed the original film) is planning to start filming “Cowboys For Christ” (a sort-of sequel/re-imagining of “The Wicker Man”) in September.

“That long-awaited “Wicker Man” re-imagining – same story, different backdrop – is finally (this thing has been a long time coming) about to get underway. “Cowboys for Christ”, from writer/director Robin Hardy (the chap that brought us the original “Wicker Man” – not the mind numbing remake), has set itself a September 10 start date. Its booked locales in Scotland and Texas to shoot. Starring Christopher Lee and Faye Dunaway, the film tells of a Christian singing star and her chaste fiance, a Texas cowboy, who travel to Scotland for a music festival that is merely the curtain-raiser for a horrific pagan ritual of sacrifice and murder, and it’s uncertain if the power of the Americans’ Christian faith will be strong enough to survive the assault of the pagans.”

They are still looking to cast the leads (the Christian couple), so if you can sing very well, know how to ride a horse, and can convincingly fake a Texas accent, why not audition?

The film “Stardust” (adapted from a novel by Neil Gaiman) is opening in theatres on August 10th. Considering a good part of the story is set in the lands of Faerie, and with Michelle Pfeiffer playing the evil witch Lamia this is sure to be a treat! Plus the trailer looks quite fun.

No word yet if Tori Amos will be the voice of a red-leafed talking tree that Gaiman based on the singer-songwriters.

In October you have the film adaptation of the beloved (and pagan-friendly) young-adults novel “The Dark Is Rising”, but as mentioned previously on this blog, there are some serious fears that the movie has been “sanitized” of all the great pagan content. Some fans of the books are not happy at all with the announced changes.

“I am spitting chips and blood. I am crackling with furious static. Any minute now, small pieces of paper, coins and pens are going to drag themselves across the tabletop, bent and pulled towards me by the immense, bending-the-laws-of-physics fury I’m experiencing right now.”

I guess we can only wait to see how much damage has been done to this classic.

Also of interest is the November release of “Beowulf”. With a screenplay partially written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Robert Zemeckis, this film adaptation of the ancient English epic mixes live action with heavy computer animation to give it a unique look/feel. You can watch a teaser trailer for the film, here. I have no idea how “pagan” this adaptation will be (unlike the recent “Beowulf and Grendel” which was chock-full of pre-Christian elements), but the cast is certainly an interesting mix.

Finally, in December we will see the film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel “The Golden Compass”, part of his highly acclaimed “His Dark Materials” trilogy.

Due to the Gnostic themes within the novels, some have labeled it the “anti-Narnia”. But fans have been worrying for some time now over the removal of religious themes to be replaced with a anti-fascist/control storyline. But the trailer itself looks exciting, plus, witches!

That is all I have for now, see you at the movies!

Has Walden Media edited out all the paganism from the film adaptation (currently in post-production) of Susan Cooper’s classic young-adult novel “The Dark is Rising”? Fears about alterations have been brought up since the film was first announced, mostly due to the fact that Walden Media has a “family friendly” mandate from its conservative Christian billionaire owner Philip Anschutz, and that director David L. Cunningham is a conservative evangelical Christian.

Christopher Eccleston as “The Rider”

Two recent interviews with Cunningham and screenwriter John Hodge (who also adapted “Trainspotting”) seem to validate some of the fears of those worried that the film will be sanitized for Christian audiences. Hodge, when asked about the pagan and pre-Christian elements of the film, said this to

“I think some of that sort of, the pre-Christian element or the Arthurian stuff isn’t really in the script.”

Also worrying is Cunningham’s comments on Susan Cooper’s reaction to the film.

“I think that she’s – I don’t want to speak on her behalf, but I think it’s mixed feelings. She’s thrilled that it’s being introduced to a new audience, but of course she would love it to be truer to the book and in many ways we would, but at the same time we needed to translate it.”

Herne the Hunter and Will Stanton
Illustration by Alan E. Cober from the 1973 edition of the book.

One can only imagine what a Christianized version of “The Dark is Rising” would look like. Will the amazing sequence with Herne the Hunter be removed? Will all non-Christian passages from the book be sanitized or removed entirely? I would hardly think that Cunningham and Walden would allow dialog from the book like this:

“Very old, them crosses are, rector,” said Old George unexpectedly, firm and clear. “Made a long time before Christianity. Long before Christ.” The rector beamed at him. “But not before God,” he said simply … “There’s not really any before and after, is there?” he said. “Everything that matters is outside Time. And comes from there and can go there.” Mr Beaumont turned to him in surprise. “You mean infinity, of course, my boy.” “Not altogether,” said the Old One that was Will. “I mean the part of all of us, and of all the things we think and believe, that has nothing to do with yesterday or tomorrow because it belongs at a different kind of level. Yesterday is still there, on that level. Tomorrow is there too. You can visit either of them. And all Gods are there, and all the things they have ever stood for. And,” he added sadly, “the opposite, too.”

I only hope I’m wrong, and that the greater spirit of the book shines through despite the meddling of men who would “translate” a classic to make it appeal to their “family friendly” demographic. “The Dark is Rising” is set to open in October.