Monday, April 8, 2019

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper #1965Club

The 1965 Club is a meme in which two prolific bloggers, Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings, promote a specific year of published books. Anyone can join in by reading and reviewing a book published in 1965 and adding a link to that book's review in the comments on Simon's blog.  1944,19681951,1977 have also been promoted.

Title: Over Sea, Under Stone
Author: Susan Cooper
Publication: Atheneum, hardcover, 1965 (paperback reprint 2000)
Genre: Children’s fiction/fantasy
Plot: Simon, Jane, Barney, and their parents travel to Cornwall for a holiday with their Great Uncle Merry. He has rented an old house in the village of Trewissick that comes with a friendly dog, Rufus, and a seemingly jolly housekeeper, Mrs. Palk. On their first excursion, the children discover a mysterious yacht and make an enemy, an unexpectedly hostile local boy. They also explore the house and find a hidden door that leads to a fusty musty dusty attic, in which they are lucky enough to find a secret map tucked under the floorboards. It is delightfully ancient with Latin inscriptions, and is so clearly a treasure map that the children instinctively agree not to tell their parents they found it. However, their attempts to search for what they optimistically hope is King Arthur’s grail bring them into dangerous contact with menacing individuals who want the unknown loot for themselves. As the children fight to locate and save the treasure, Great Uncle Merry turns out to be the key to the vanquishing their rivals in a surprisingly dark introduction to The Dark is Rising series.

Audience: Fans of juvenile fantasy or classic 20th century English adventure stories

credit: Alison MacAdam, NPR
My Impressions: Cooper’s first book is a family adventure with only hints of fantasy in it: is the sought-after treasure King Arthur’s grail and do the dark enemies in pursuit have supernatural powers? I enjoyed Over Sea, Under Stone as a child but had forgotten both how scary it is for the children when the bad guys are after them (especially when they are separated and being pursued or have been kidnapped alone) and how different this book is from subsequent entries in the series, which are straight fantasy. It was obvious that Cooper’s style and interests had evolved but in this edition she actually explains that she wrote the book in response to a competition honoring E. Nesbit, which sought a “family adventure story” in return for a £1,000 prize and publication. The Arthurian elements emerged once she began writing and, as in many such stories, the parents are either gone or primarily absent.

I met Cooper, who lives in Greater Boston, on two occasions but unfortunately they were the type of crowded autographing sessions where you barely get time to murmur your admiration. It is interesting that her second marriage was to Hume Cronyn, who performed, with his then wife Jessica Tandy, in the Broadway production of Foxfire, which he co-wrote with Cooper.  The two couples became friendly, stayed in touch, and consoled each other later on.

Source: I bought a Puffin paperback on a family vacation to Bermuda when I was 11. I hope it is not lost but it certainly isn't on the shelf with its siblings.  I had to get a copy from the library when I had a yearning to reread.  If you have not read this series, it is not too late, even for adult readers.
Off the Blog: I was doing a presentation on credit building earlier to a group of Hispanic elementary school parents in East Boston.  Someone was there to translate my English to Spanish but it was challenging to simplify the concepts so they wouldn’t get lost in translation yet still get the message across.


Lory said...

I reread this recently with my son and had also never noticed how scary it is. My son is prone to exclaiming "those idiots!" whenever characters in books do dumb things like separating when the bad guys are obviously around, and he did a lot of that here.

I think I only read it once or twice as a child, the other four books were more my style. It could use some tightening up, it's too long and maundering in spots -- compare to how Cooper works with the same characters and setting in the brief, suspenseful Greenwitch -- but it's still a respectable effort. The whole series is definitely worthwhile for adults too.

GSGreatEscaper said...

George read this whole series to us when Holly was young - I had not encountered it before. We all loved it. It is hard for some to deal with the stylistic differences. Hope your copy turns up.

Judith said...

How extraordinarily interesting that Susan Cooper was married to Hume Cronyn. I'm a fan of Susan Cooper and with a terrible hubris, thought I knew everything about her.
I love The Dark is Rising, but I must admit I haven't read Over Sea Under Stone, which I must get to soon, obviously. I am especially fond of Susan Cooper's The Boggart, set mostly in Scotland, in a castle no less. Simply loved it. A wonderful family/fantasy/mystery tale.

Simon T (StuckinaBook) said...

I've never read any Cooper, though did meet her when she came to give a talk about the Bodleian. One of my colleagues was very, very starstruck!

I'm really interested in this book's origins as an E Nesbit prize entry. I was thinking how much your description of the plot sounded like a Nesbit book.