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Over Sea, Under Stone

Style: Average

Attitude: Positive

In Brief: Straightforward adventure story, slightly dated; ordinary family life

Author: Susan Cooper

Series: The Dark is Rising

Publisher: Puffin

Published in: 1965

Age Range: Children+

Period: Contemporary

Setting: Cornwall

Genres:  AdventureArthurianFamilyFantasy


Characters:

  • Jane, Simon & Barney are the Drew children, on holiday with their parents and their mysterious Great Uncle Merry.
  • Great Uncle Merry ("Gumerry") is a lifelong friend of the Drew family, a professor with an interest in antiquities and a certain mystery about him.
  • Mr Hastings is a dark and mysterious figure who is interested in the map the chidren have found.

Synopsis:

The Drew family and their Great Uncle Merry are staying in a Cornish house on holiday when the children find an old map which seems to lead to some treasure buried “Over the sea and under the stone”. They realise that other people are trying to get the map and the treasure and not just for its intrinsic value. They finally realise where the map is leading them but must retrieve the treasure before their enemies do.

Notes:

This, the earliest book in the Dark is Rising sequence, is also the simplest. I assume that the author wrote it as a one-off story, a children's adventure with a slight Arthurian flavour to it and an other-wordly sense about Gumerry and Mr Hastings.

As far as it goes, the pace is just enough to pull you along while bringing in the more legendary aspects to add another dimension. Certainly if that dimension had not been there, this book would merely have been another unremarkable children-beat-adults adventure story.

As you might expect of a book written in the 1960s for children, there's nothing objectionable, and the normality of family life is evident without being artificial. In this, as in other books in the series, Good & Evil are warring forces, championed by the forces of the Light and of the Dark, and with a little of each in everyone.

“So therefore, I trust it to this land, over sea and under stone, and I mark here the signs by which the proper man in the proper place, may know where it lies, the signs that was and wane but do not die. The secret of its charge I may not write but carry unspoken to my grave. Yet the man who finds the grail and has other words from me will know, by both, the secret for himself. And for him is the charge, the promise and the proof, and in his day the Pendragon shall come again. And that day shall see a new Logres, with evil cast out; when the old world shall appear no more than a dream.”

Great-Uncle Merry stopped reading; but the children sat as still and speechless as if his voice still rang on. The story seemed to fit so perfectly into the green land rolling below them that it was as if they sat in the middle of the past. They could almost see the strange knight Bedwin riding towards them over the brow of a slope, and the long ships of the invaders lurking beyond the grey granite headland and its white fringe of surf.

Saturday 19th July 2003