Over Sea, Under Stone is the first of five books in Susan Cooper’s classic children’s series, The Dark is Rising. She won a Newbery award for the fourth book, The Grey King. It’s on my Classics Club list and also counts towards the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge. March’s country is Wales, and even though this book takes place in England, it’s based on Welsh folklore.
I’m not sure how I missed this series as a child, but this book was a fun read, if a little traditional. It’s based on Arthurian legend – and according to Wikipedia, is a mix of Celtic and Norse mythology as well. It’s classic English fantasy – a little lighter than C.S. Lewis and darker than E. Nesbit, and Edward Eager. Three children, Jane, Barney and Simon, come to Cornwall for a holiday. Their parents, as in all great children’s fantasy, are absent for most of the book. And then there’s mysterious Uncle Merry. Of course they’re staying in a mysterious old house, and on the first rainy day, they decide to explore and they discover a very old, very cryptic map. This sets them on a quest to find King Arthur’s Holy Grail, before the forces of darkness can find it.
Since Book One is clearly a set-up for the rest of the series, it’s difficult to review. I’ll just say it was a quick and entertaining read, although a little far-fetched a few times, as the children escape their evil pursuers just a little too easily. On the other hand, their escapes may be part of their enemy’s evil design. The children know that by searching for the Grail, they run the huge risk of leading the enemy right to it – but they go ahead anyway. There were a few times I wanted to slap them – but then this is a book written for kids, not for me. This felt like a “starter” book – written for younger kids but wanting to be a lot darker.
Still, I enjoyed the Arthurian background and who doesn’t like a good treasure hunt? It’s Narnia without the religion, which I appreciated. Character development was good for this kind of book and I expect will grow a lot in the future books. I hope to see Jane’s character developed further as the boys had a lot of the adventures in this book.
If you’ve read the series, I’d love to hear whether I should keep reading. The other fantasy series I need to read is the one by Lloyd Alexander. Which would you recommend?