Over Sea, Under Stone

Because I read The Lord of the Rings some time around 1968, and deemed myself over children’s books after that, I missed out on a lot of classic children’s fantasy. The books I am most sad to have missed are the ones that form The Dark is Rising Sequence. That’s partly because I saw Susan Cooper give the Tolkien Memorial Lecture in Oxford a few years back and was very impressed, and partly because of the enthusiasm that so many of my friends have for the books. The BBC serialization that was produced this winter reminded me of this, so I decided to read the books, one per month.

Consequently I started with Over Sea, Under Stone, which is something of an anomaly. It was published in 1965, and was not followed by The Dark is Rising until 1973. I’m assuming that Cooper developed a lot as an author in the intervening years.

Over Sea, Under Stone reminds me a lot of the Enid Blyton books I read when I was Very Young. In it a group of children, all siblings, go on holiday to Cornwall with their parents. There they, and their dog, have jolly exciting adventures and foil the jolly dastardly plots of some jolly wicked fellows. In the process they manage to say lots of horribly racist things because they have grown up on horribly racist stories about the glories of Empire.

The book does not feature Will Stanton, and Merriman Lyon is referred to as Great Uncle Merry (or Gumerry) throughout.

I think the book would have been more of a disappointment had it not been set in a seaside holiday in Cornwall, which is something I am very familiar with. The location is on the south coast, which I do not know well, but the basic ideas are very much the same. I’m pretty sure that Cooper will have spent time in Cornish villages before writing it.

In view of the review of Queens of the Wild elsewhere in this issue, it is also worth noting that the books were written at a time when belief in Pagan Survivalism was commonplace.

I have a suspicion that Mr. Hastings, the main villain of the story, was based on Aleister Crowley.

Overall, however, this is a children’s book and very much of its era. I suspect that I will find that I did not need to read it in order to enjoy the rest of the series.

book cover
Title: Over Sea, Under Stone
By: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Puffin
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Bookshop.org UK
See here for information about buying books though Salon Futura