Thursday, 22 December 2016

Over Sea, Under Stone

Susan Cooper
Puffin Books

On holiday in Cornwall, the three Drew children discover an ancient map in the attic of the house that they are staying in. They know immediately that it is special. It is even more than that -- the key to finding a grail, a source of power to fight the forces of evil known as the Dark. And in searching for it themselves, the Drews put their very lives in peril. This is the first volume of Susan Cooper's brilliant and absorbing fantasy sequence known as The Dark Is Rising.

In the literature of Wyrd Britain a few authors work has come to define the various aspects of the aesthetic, James, Wyndham, Wells, Kneale, Garner and a few other worthies reign supreme but there are other authors whose impact has yet to be fully assessed none more so than Susan Cooper.

'Over Sea, Under Stone' is the first book in Cooper's Arthurian(ish) story collection known collectively as 'The Dark is Rising' (also the title of the second book in the sequence).  It tells of three young children and their enigmatic 'uncle' and their search for the grail.  

Barney, Simon and Jane along with their parents relocate for the summer to the small Cornish seaside town of Trewissick to stay with Great Uncle Merry.  Once there the three kids are drawn into Merry's search for the Arthurian grail and are subjected to all the associated dangers that entails. 

In this first book the storyline is a fairly typical quest story with the 3 kids up against some remarkably ineffective adults and a rather stupid bully of their own age.  The three manage to dodge their way through the peril spouting vague (and not so) period sexist drivel (the book was written in 1965) whilst working out the clues they stumble across along the way. 

It's a fun little romp with one foot firmly in the 'Famous Five', 'Secret Seven' tradition and the other in the more lively and interesting forms of children's fiction being established by contemporaries like Alan Garner.  This duality does leave the book feeling a little uneven as the two halves occasionally make for odd bedfellows but it does give the whole thing a definite period charm.

Buy it here -  Over Sea Under Stone (The Dark Is Rising)

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