Thursday, August 02, 2007

I finished reading... Over Sea, Under Stone

...Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper.

Like many adventures, this one begins with a holiday in Cornwall, the discovery of an ancient map and a search for an Arthurian treasure. But Simon, Jane and Barney soon realize that dark forces are at work to prevent them releazing King Arthur's power for good once more.
The second book in Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising Sequence (Over Sea, Under Stone is the first) is about to be released as a movie. After seeing the trailer one someone's blog and being horrified by the way the books appeared to have been totally destroyed (the casting doesn't work for me, Will totally can't be a blond American interested in girls and peer groups - I remember him as a loner - and it just doesn't look right) I commented on that blog that maybe I would read the books again instead.

I was partly serious and partly kidding, but when I hit an unexpected reading slump at the end of last month, I browsed around my books with a certain desperation, waiting for something to jump up and scream "Read me!". It was Over Sea, Under Stone that did that.

I have no idea how long ago I originally read these books, but I remember being amazed by them. I have always had a soft spot for Arthurian stories, of which this is one, and back then I loved it for that.

Over Sea, Under Stone (and I adore the evocativeness - if that's a word - of the title) is a relatively simple adventure story, first published in 1967. Simon, Jane and Barney (ages never supplied, leaving the reader to fill them in based on his/her own) are on holiday in the little Cornish village of Tressiwick with their (honorary) Great Uncle Merry. While exploring the house on a rainy day, they find an manuscript in the attic which seems to be some kind of treasure map.

From there, they find themselves caught up in a quest for a Celtic Grail that had been borne to safety by one of Artur's knights as Camelot fell and hidden away over sea and under stone centuries before. Strange, sinister characters appear, also looking for the treasure, and Great Uncle Merry tells them that they have become part of the everlasting battle between good and evil, that is never won, but also never lost.

This is a timeless tale. Sure, these are clearly not modern children (and it would be a totally different book if they were), but their fears, their motivations and interactions are those of children through all time. There is a lovely sense of the mythic in the book that fits perfectly with Cooper's storytelling, although it is never fully explored. On the surface, this is a children's treasure hunt, but there are all sorts of hints, clues and themes bubbling up from under the surface for the reader to catch and revel in.

As I remember, the following books are not as simplistic as this one (although it is not simple), but this is a lovely, solid foundation for the books to come as well as a very pleasant tale in its own right.

I also enjoyed this as a small trip back to my childhood and the feeling of wonder there was in books and life in general then. That feeling is in the book itself as well as in the fact it draws me back to when I was first reading Susan Cooper.

I am now looking forward to rereading the rest of the series (and avoiding seeing the movie), but I have Kage's Baker's last two Company books waiting for me now, so they will be taking me over for the immediate future.

1 comment:

Nicki said...

Hmmmm... Well The Dark is Rising is my favourite ever children's book and one of my top 5 books of all time, so I don't think I'd like this unless it kept closely to the story. Couldn't they have kept Will English and old-fashioned? That's part of the mystery. The first bit of the trailer looked terrible, although the rest wasn't bad. That bit with the Black Rider on the path at Christmas was good - it's such a scary bit in the book. I don't think I'll be seeing it either though. Oh well...