This fall, Simon & Schuster imprint Margaret K. McElderry Books will commemorate the 50-year milestone of The Dark Is Rising, Susan Cooper’s highly lauded children’s book series, with anniversary editions of its five contemporary fantasy novels. Drawing upon Arthurian legends, Celtic and Norse mythology, and English folklore, the series explores the struggle between forces of good and evil and features young protagonists both magical and not. The sequence has North American sales of more than 2.5 million copies across all formats. Due out November 14 with announced first printings of 50,000 copies each are Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark Is Rising, a 1974 Newbery Honor Book; The Greenwitch; The Grey King, winner of the 1976 Newbery Medal; and Silver on the Tree.

Stepping Into a World of Light and Dark

The Dark Is Rising sequence had a rather unorthodox genesis which, Cooper told PW, “has its own element of fantasy, in a way.” As a young woman living in her native England, she wrote her first children’s novel, Over Sea, Under Stone as a stand-alone work. The author sold the book to Jonathan Cape, which published it in the U.K. in 1965.

Meanwhile, Cooper had married an American and moved to the States. There, she sold the rights to Over Sea, Under Stone to Margaret McElderry, an editor at what was then Harcourt, Brace & World, which released the book in 1966.

Years later, Cooper was cross-country skiing when she spied tree branches protruding from the snow, and they reminded her of deer antlers. “I was quite homesick, and I suddenly decided I wanted to write a book about a boy who wakes up in snow like this, but in England, on his birthday, and finds he can work magic,” she recalled. “The idea persisted but the story wouldn’t come, and more years went by until I happened to reread Over Sea, Under Stone, and suddenly felt that it was linked to the new unwritten book.”

Then Cooper had another epiphany. “I sat there, thinking, and found that there would be not just two books, but five,” she explained. “I wrote down the five titles that remarkable day, and the places and times of year in which each would be set; I even wrote the last few paragraphs with which it would all end. And for the next six years I wrote the last four books of the sequence I called The Dark Is Rising.”

Launching a New Chapter

The anniversary reissue program was directed by editor Nicole Fiorica, who noted that, in addition to publishing the five novels in anniversary hardcover and paperback editions with new cover art, the publisher will also release hardcover and paperback boxed sets.

The updated covers, which were designed with Cooper’s input, are illustrated by Justin Hernandez. “He works with a rich color palette and adds a lot of drama to his art,” Fiorica said. “We wanted each cover to feel big and epic, and Justin was able to do that. And Karyn Lee, a designer at S&S who art-directed the covers, created a new logo for the series, which drives home the epic fantasy element.”

Karen Wojtyla, McElderry’s v-p and editorial director, points to the propitious timing of the Dark Is Rising reissues. “These books were so critical to the beginning of Susan’s career and also were published soon after Margaret’s imprint was established,” she said. “Margaret would be delighted by these anniversary reissues. She adored Susan’s work and would be so pleased to see it continuing in these amazing new editions.”

Cooper also expressed confidence that McElderry would approve of the Dark Is Rising’s updated look—and would be gratified by the sequence’s ongoing appeal.

“My greatest piece of good fortune as a writer has clearly been the staying power of the Dark Is Rising books, and these 50th-anniversary editions would have delighted my beloved, infinitely supportive editor,” she said. In the early 1970s, I was part of a new generation of writers in whose work magic and real life joined hands. Clearly the nature of this 21st century still encourages readers to find comfort in fantasy that’s rooted not only in myth and folktale but in the real world. More than ever, they’re all fending off despair and looking for hope.”