Before Robin of Sherwood, Herne had appeared in another childrens book, which like The Box of Delights not only features the folkloric Hunter, but is also something of a Yuletide favourite too. This book is The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, first published in 1973, and it is the second in a series of five which are now collectively known as The Dark Is Rising Sequence. Now the first book was Over Sea, Under Stone, and this 1965 novel was very much a traditional adventure with some light fantasy elements in which three children, Simon, Jane and Barney Drew, go to stay with their antiquarian uncle Merriman Lyon, and become involved in a plot concerning the grail of King Arthur.
Very much in the vein of the classic adventures written by E Nesbit, Over Sea, Under Stone was an enchanting mystery for younger readers. However The Dark is Rising is somewhat different. To begin with, it is not so much a sequel as a story set in the same universe. For example, the trio of kids from the first book are absent, but mysterious Merriman returns. Instead we have a new hero, Will Stanton, who on the eve of the winter solstice, becomes embroiled in an age-old battle between Light and Dark. Now this adventure is aimed at a slightly older audience, delivering eerie chills and ancient magic rather than treasure hunting thrills and summer larks.
The Dark Is Rising is a wonderful little book, and in many ways is a great companion to The Box of Delights, being another mythological tale of magic and mystery at Christmas time. Much like Masefield, Susan Cooper drew on the legends and folklore of old England and wove them together into a contemporary adventure where the old magic manifests in the modern world at Yuletide. And it is no coincidence that both The Dark is Rising and The Box of Delights feature Herne the Hunter, for in folklore, as we will later hear, Herne has a particular association with Christmas time.
Anyhow, without giving away any spoilers, Will learns that it is his destiny to collect Six Signs which can repel the rising Dark, embodied by the sinister Black Rider. The Signs will allow an ancient figure Herne the Hunter to do battle with the Dark. But while this Herne is on the side of the Light, he is a somewhat terrifying figure.
Now Cooper also describes Herne as possessing a ferocious pack of phantom hounds and riding upon a white mare. And while Carpenter's Herne is wild but benevolent, Cooper's incarnation is a good deal more threatening, an ominous ancient power, which like nature itself is sometimes capricious and savage. As can be seen in his part animal nature, this depiction is also inspired by the Horned God too. But in addition, Cooper has Herne being the leader of the Wild Hunt, another separate legend which I will detail in a later section. However before the nwe have some other notable appearances of Herne in literature to examine...