Friday, November 19, 2010

Over Sea, Under Stone

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper is the 1st volume of her children's classic fantasy series The Dark Is Rising. It's also the 21st book in the challenge.

Although there are 5 books in the sequence Over Sea, Under Stone is a little different from the others. It's more of a prologue than anything and it's totally self contained. When they made an attempt to film some of the series they didn't include anything from Over Sea, Under Stone.

The book was written in 1965 and it is quite dated in many ways. The central characters; the Drew siblings: Simon, Barney and Jane, behave like children from a generation earlier and they hold many of the same views and prejudices from that era.

The children and their parents along with the mysterious Great Uncle Merry (full name Merriman Lyon), often referred to playfully by the kids as Gumerry, take a summer holiday to Cornwall.

Simon and Jane look at the trip as a holiday to the seaside, but for the dreamer Barney, fascinated by King Arthur, it's a journey to the land of his dreams. As Great Uncle Merry says Cornwall is Logres (the land of the West and King Arthur). The other two think this is all part of Barney's dreams and Gumerry;s wild stories until they explore the old house they're staying in and find an ancient piece of parchment written in old English with a map.

Once they have the manuscript and the map, which Gumerry translates as being written by an old Cornish knight called Bedwin and tells the story of where he hid the grail of King Arthur, a sinister interest is taken in the family, especially Simon, Barney and Jane, by the Withers, the brother and sister on the big yacht out on the harbour.

With the help of their great uncle the 3 kids find the location of the grail using the map. They do recover it, but not before being nearly caught by the Withers and their menacing master; Mr Hastings.

There's very little magic or fantasy in this opening volume, although the mystery of exactly who or what Great Uncle Merry is, is solved by Barney at the end and there's an indication that Mr Hastings is much more than he seems.

At times I wondered if I was reading an installment of Enid Blyton's Famous Five, the Drew kids even had a dog the same as Blyton's juvenile crime busters. I wouldn't recommend it to any kid looking for an age appropriate fantasy unless they intended to read the following books. There are a number of King Arthur themed books for juveniles and any of these would do just as well. My recommendation would be to go right to the orginal legend and try T.H White's The Once and Future King.

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