Over Sea, Under Stone : Susan Cooper

Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark is Rising, #1)Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the Cornwall part of my #readyourwayaroundtheUK challenge, I decided to read my first ever Susan Cooper. I know, I know, it’s not before time, right?

Cooper is one of those writers who has always been present in my children’s literature consciousness (and oh, how I suddenly want to map my children’s literature consciousness, a Jolly Postman-esque hybrid of boarding school and ponies and wizards and everything KM Peyton ever wrote), and it is not without some trepidation that I approached this, this book written by the great Cooper, part of the great Dark Is Rising sequence, great to me who had never ever even read them but had had this greatness seep into her over time and reading of other things. But that’s the great joy of a challenge such as this, crowd-sourced in a substantial way, where I am presented with books that I would not think of but when people think of place X, they think of Book Y. And Cooper’s books appeared quite solidly, quite vividly from several places in such a dominating nature, that it was hard to ignore such a clarion call.

And so, to Over Sea, Under Stone.

Perhaps, my friends, reading at midnight, the darkest and stormiest of midnights, is not the best thing to do with this book. Cooper has a great gift for a very straightforward sort of prose that tingles the spine and makes you treble lock the doors. And I found it strangely British, thickly British in places, reminiscent of so many others (or, which I suspect, those others are reminiscent of this); a group of children are on holiday in Cornwall. They find a map, tucked away in the dustiest and most secret part of their house, and are then embroiled in a quest to find the thing this map leads too.

This is British, this story of children banding together, of fractious siblings and of mysterious older relatives, but Cooper’s mythology, of Arthur and of Merlin and of the stories that built these islands, it all brings it to another level. (Oh I am abusing commas in this review!) What she does is, I think, she exploits that thinness between the worlds. And she does it with a deft confident believability. There’s no doubt in this book, no narratorial trepidation. This is simply how things are and the children are now part of this. The text believes this, so ferociously at points, that you can do nothing but agree.

It is a surprising, startling, terrifying book with a coda that made me curl with excitement over the other books in the series yet to be read.

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13 thoughts on “Over Sea, Under Stone : Susan Cooper

  1. I have to confess, it was only when the (forgettable) movie “The Seeker: Dark is Rising” came out that these books came on my radar. And I grew up on a steady diet of English kids’ books! But somehow I missed these.
    Susan Cooper made headlines under the most unfortunate circumstances – she wanted to make it clear that the movie in no way represented her work. So after seeing the movie, I read her books. It’s so true, please don’t bother with the movie, it’s nothing like the stories. I guess they just decided to keep the title and character names the same to capitalize on name recognition, and then they threw out everything and started practically from scratch. It must be awful to see that happen to your work.

  2. Oh, you are in for such a treat when you read the others in the sequence! I wasn’t a child when I read these books, but I read them in that same rapt and mesmerized way. I was in my early 20’s and living in England at the time, and it was the dead of winter. Perfect conditions for these books, really. And now (coincidentally), I am revisiting them… but via audiobooks this time. First few chapters of “Over Sea, Under Stone” — so far, so mesmerizing!

    • Aaaah! That sounds brilliant. I know when I attended the Magical Books exhbition at the Bodleian, I was beguiled by Cooper reading a bit of her books aloud. Stunning stuff, which sort of triggered this read.

  3. Pingback: Hansel and Gretel : Michael Morpurgo and Emma Chichester Clark | Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again?

  4. I am deeply envious of anyone who has been to the Magical Books exhibition at the Bodleian.
    I also feel very lucky that I read the Dark is Rising series as they were published (except for Over Sea, Under Stone, which was published the year I was born).

  5. Looking forward to re-reading this and maybe the rest of the series (though I didn’t get round to Greenwitch in the end), inspired by your review! Still got my original Puffin edition, though the binding is going…

  6. Pingback: Greenwitch : Susan Cooper | Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again?

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