Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

This week Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings are hosting another of their club events, where bloggers read and write about books published in a chosen year. This time the year is 1965 and as usual I found a wide variety of books to choose from, as well as a few that I’d already read. Over Sea, Under Stone, the first book in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence was published in 1965 and as I’ve wanted to read that series for a long time this seemed the perfect opportunity to begin.

I did wonder whether I might have read this book when I was younger and forgotten about it, but as soon as I started to read I knew I couldn’t have done as it didn’t seem familiar at all. The story begins with three children – Simon, Jane and Barney – arriving in Trewissick, a small fishing village in Cornwall where they will be spending the summer holidays with their parents and Great Uncle Merry. The children have fun exploring the large house the family are renting, particularly when they move some furniture and discover a secret door leading into a dusty hidden room.

Up to this point, I thought the book had a feeling of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe about it, but the plot soon goes in a very different direction when the children find an ancient manuscript inside the hidden room. The manuscript includes a drawing of what appears to be the Trewissick coastline and some text which they are unable to translate, apart from a possible reference to King Arthur and his knights. Could it be a treasure map – and if so, what sort of treasure is it leading them to?

On sharing their news with Great Uncle Merry, the children learn the true significance of the map they have found and set off to follow the clues it contains. But it seems that other people have also been looking for the map and will stop at nothing to get hold of it and discover its secrets for themselves.

Over Sea, Under Stone is described as a children’s novel, but I think it is one of those books that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. It did often remind me of the Enid Blyton adventure stories I loved as a child, but this book feels darker than anything Blyton wrote. The villains are quite sinister and there were several points in the novel when I was genuinely worried about the children! It doesn’t help that our young heroes and heroine make some stupid decisions and choose the wrong people to trust – but they are children, after all! I liked the way Susan Cooper gives each of them his or her own strengths and weaknesses and their own chance to shine and play a part in solving the mystery.

The Cornish coastline is beautifully described and although the village of Trewissick is fictional, it felt very real to me and I wasn’t surprised to learn later that Susan Cooper based it on Mevagissey, a real fishing port in Cornwall. The coast, with its rocks and caves, beaches, cliffs and bays, is an integral part of the story and not just a pretty setting!

This is a great book and I do regret not reading it as a child, as I’m sure I would have loved it then. I will definitely be continuing with the rest of the series, although I’m aware that the other books are a bit different and have a stronger fantasy element.

~

I will have another 1965 read to tell you about later in the week, but for now here are some other 1965 books I have previously reviewed on my blog:

Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart

Stoner by John Williams

The Flight of the Falcon by Daphne du Maurier

32 thoughts on “Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    So glad you’re joining in, Helen! I first read this sequence of books in my early 20s and absolutely loved it; like you, I wished I’d read them as a child because I loved Blyton and the Narnia books and the Lord of the Rings. Things do get deeper in this series and I remember them being genuinly scary later on! 😀

  2. FictionFan says:

    I loved this series as a young teen and have often wondered if I should revisit it. I must admit some of the mythology in the later books went over my head a bit back then, but I enjoyed the darkness of the series – even though the participants were young, the books felt quite adult to child me. I hope you enjoy the rest of them – well worth reading.

    • Helen says:

      I sometimes worry about re-reading childhood favourites in case they have lost their magic, but with this series I’m sure there will be enough layers for an adult reader to enjoy the books too. And thanks – I’m looking forward to reading the others!

    • Helen says:

      I don’t know how I missed reading this as a child, as it’s exactly the sort of book I would have loved. I hope you have a chance to read it soon!

  3. buriedinprint says:

    You’ve done a lovely job reviewing this one. I was thinking of rereading it for this event, too, and maybe I will, even yet, pull it off the shelf: Or maybe I’ll pull it off later this year so that i can read the second story over December’s holiday break (I think that’s the Decembery volume?). I didn’t love it, but I do understand it’s leading up to the other tales, so I expect I’d enjoying it more if I return to it with adjusted expectations…

    • Helen says:

      Thank you. I thought this was an enjoyable book in its own right, but yes, I think it would be a good book to reread in the context of it being the first in a series.

  4. Calmgrove says:

    I agree about this starting a bit like Enid Blyton and then ending a bit like, I suppose, Alan Garner. It’s much too wordy, as I think Cooper, later intimated, with long conversations holding up the action, but full of atmosphere is what it definitely is.

    An excellent review, Helen: I believe I visited Mevagissey as a child, but all my memories are of the coastline on the west. I included a couple of period postcard shots in my review, which you mayn’t have seen but may enjoy!
    https://wp.me/s2oNj1-oversea

    • Helen says:

      Thanks for the link; I enjoyed reading your review and that picture is exactly as I imagined Trewissick would look like. I understand what you mean about the wordiness which did slow the plot down at times, but that didn’t bother me too much as I was enjoying the atmosphere and the sense of adventure. Now I’m looking forward to reading the others!

  5. Judy Krueger says:

    I read this book back in 2005 because the whole series were big sellers at the bookstore where I worked. I am looking forward to The Dark is Rising and the rest of the series. I believe it won some awards. I think Cooper depicts children well. I haven’t read Enid Blyton but Cooper is better at this than C S Lewis and right up there with Joan Aiken and E Nesbit. Loved your review!

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I thought the children in this book were very believable. I’m glad you enjoyed it too. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!

  6. MarinaSofia says:

    How come I never heard of this book – the series and the author seem to have passed me by completely, which is a shame, as I’d probably have loved them as a child.

    • Helen says:

      This is exactly the sort of book I would have loved as a child, so I’m disappointed that it passed me by too! It does still have a lot to offer an adult reader, though. 🙂

  7. Laurie @ RelevantObscurity says:

    I hesitated to read your review as I am right in the middle of this series, but my interest got the better of me….!

    I had never heard of this series before I decided to read book four for the Dewithon this year. I know, I know…starting a series at book four, but the setting was Wales, what can I say?!

    Cooper has an amazing talent of seamlessly going back and forth between time periods and creating a mythology based on real legends or that seem real, which I found fascinating. I don’t know how I would have responded to these books as a young person, but they are working fine for me as an adult. I just got a hold of book one and with your review I am sure I will like it!

    • Helen says:

      I do my best to avoid spoilers, Laurie, so hopefully my reviews are usually safe to read! I would be interested to know what you think of this book as you’ve already read one from the middle of the series. It seems that this first book is often thought of as weaker and not as dark as the others, but I did love it.

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