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About The Book

Will Stanton must face a powerful agent of the Dark in this Newbery Medal–winning fourth installment of Susan Cooper’s epic The Dark Is Rising Sequence, now with a brand-new look!

There is a Welsh legend about a harp of gold, hidden away 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 knows nothing of this when he comes to Wales to recover from a severe illness. But when he meets the strange boy Bran and his white dog, memory wakes in Will. For Will is the last-born of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to saving the world from the forces of evil, the Dark. It is his task to use the golden harp to wake 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. But first, with help from Bran, Will must face his most terrifying opponent yet: the Grey King.

Reading Group Guide

About the Book

Shortly after Will Stanton comes to Wales to recover from a serious illness, he meets a strange boy and his white, silver-eyed dog. Will soon discovers that Bran, known as the Raven Boy, is an important player in his quest to find the golden harp, and with it rouse the six Sleepers who must wake to prepare for the final battle between the Dark and the Light. Together, Will and Bran set out to secure the golden harp, but the Grey King will use all of his powers of evil and cunning to stop them and keep Will from fulfilling the prophecy he was born to complete.

Discussion Questions

1. Shortly after Will arrives in Wales, he discovers a church, and “at the rear . . . he noticed a strange long grey stone set up on end, incised with marks too ancient for him to decipher . . . it seemed like an omen of some kind, though of what significance he had not the least idea.” (p.18) What is an omen? How does the author insert omens throughout the story to create suspense?

2. When Will first meets John Rowlands, the Welshman is aggressively pruning back a hawthorn hedge, and he says to Will, “‘Like life it is, Will—sometimes you must seem to hurt something in order to do good for it. But often not a very big hurt, thank goodness.’” (p. 22) Do you agree with John Rowlands? Discuss examples of how this statement plays out in the text and in your own life experience.

3. Early in the story Will meets Bran Davies, a boy with albinism ( known as the Raven Boy. Bran knows who Will is, and together they become an unlikely duo in Will’s quest to find the harp. Discuss how Will and Bran make a formidable team. Although Will doesn’t discover Bran’s lineage until the end of the story, he knows he is special. Other than his albinism, what makes Bran unique? Will’s first impression of him was of arrogance and hostility. Do you think his impression was accurate? Why or why not?

4. Caradog Prichard, while just a man, has succumbed to the Dark, and is always in a state of rage and seeking revenge. How does he represent the dark side of humanity?

5. While deep inside Bird Rock, Will “was straining to hear the voice of his instincts” (p. 79). What are instincts? How does Will use his instincts as an Old One to fulfill his quest? What does it mean to follow your instincts?

6. Discuss this warning to Bran from the lord in the sea-blue robe: “‘Only the creatures of the earth take from one another, boy. All creatures, but men more than any. Life they take, and liberty, and all that another man may have—sometimes through greed, sometimes through stupidity, but never by any volition but their own.’” (p. 86) Put this statement into your own words. How does this describe one aspect of the human condition? What is volition? How does volition connect to choice and free will?

7. After Caradog Prichard shoots the dog Cafall, Bran is bereft. Will tries to comfort him by using the words of an Old One, not the eleven year-old boy that he is: “‘It was a man that killed him, Bran, but that is the price we have to pay for the freedom of men on earth. They can do the bad things as well as the good. There are shadows in the pattern, as well as sunlight.’” (p. 111) What is another way to describe the “pattern” that Will mentions. What is the relationship between freedom and free will?

8. In warning John Rowlands that the Dark is rising, Will says, “‘The charity and the mercy and the humanitarianism are for you, they are the only things by which men are able to exist together in peace.’” (p. 138) What is charity? Mercy? Humanitarianism? Do you agree with Will? Why or why not?

9. How does Bran’s resentment for his father nearly make him succumb to the Dark? How do his feelings of being different, and not knowing his true identity, fuel his rage and confusion?

10. Discuss Bran’s origin story and his relationship to King Arthur. (,his%20right%20to%20the%20throne.) How does the warestone symbolizes things that stop us from moving forward? How does understanding who he is give Bran the power to remove the warestone’s hold over Pen?

Extension Activities

- Times of War and Quests. Early in the story, Will purchases a guidebook and learns that the village of Tywyn was settled by the Saxons in 516 (p. 20). Dive into Anglo-Saxon history to learn how what is now known as Great Britain came to be. Begin by reading this short article to build background knowledge:

Next, choose a topic to research from this period. Create a digital research report on your topic and present it to the class or create a work of art inspired by this period in history.

- Just Say Helô! In The Grey King, Will struggles with the Welsh language. Watch this short video and learn the history of the Welsh language and how to say some basic Welsh phrases.

- Sheepdog Superheroes. Sheepdogs feature prominently in The Grey King. Indeed, working sheepdogs are invaluable to farmers who keep sheep as livestock. Watch these videos to learn more about these fascinating canines:

- A Golden Thread. On page 77, Will and Bran see four beautiful tapestries hanging on the walls of a long empty room deep within Bird Rock: “On its walls hung four tapestries, two to each side, their rich colours so deeply gleaming that they too seemed to shimmer in the half-light, like the golden shield. Will blinked in recognition at the images embroidered there, rich as stained glass: a silver unicorn, a field of red roses, a glowing golden sun. . . .”

Inspired by The Grey King, draw a picture that could be translated into tapestry. Select a scene from the story that would lend itself to intense, rich colors. The following videos will show how tapestries are made in the traditional method: (; a tour of a series of French tapestries (; and finally a short video about the conservation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s King Arthur Tapestry (

Guide created by Colleen Carroll, literacy educator, content creator, and author of the How Artists See series (Abbeville Kids). Learn more about Colleen at

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About The Author

Photograph © Tsar Fedorsky Photography 2013

Susan Cooper is one of our foremost fantasy authors; her classic five-book fantasy sequence The Dark Is Rising has sold millions of copies worldwide. Her books’ accolades include the Newbery Medal, a Newbery Honor, the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, and five shortlists for the Carnegie Medal. She combines fantasy with history in Victory (a Washington Post Top Ten Books for Children pick), King of Shadows, Ghost Hawk, and her magical The Boggart and the Monster, second in a trilogy, which won the Scottish Arts Council’s Children’s Book Award. Susan Cooper lives on a saltmarsh island in Massachusetts, and you can visit her online at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (February 15, 2002)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780689847837
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 930L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Awards and Honors

  • ALA Newbery Medal
  • ALA Notable Children's Books
  • Horn Book Fanfare
  • Agatha Award Finalist
  • Carnegie Medal Honor Book
  • African Studies Assn Child Bk Awd Honor
  • ALA Mildred L. Batchelder Award
  • Gateway Readers Award (MO)

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More books from this author: Susan Cooper

More books in this series: The Dark Is Rising Sequence