“‘You remember the fairy stories you were told when you were very small – “once upon a time…”. Why do you think they all began like that?’Jane, Barney and Simon are spending the summer in Cornwall. Their parents are joining their Great-Uncle Merry, who rented a property known as the Grey House in the village of Trewissick. When playing indoors one rainy day, they discover a hidden door that leads to the attic. There, carefully tucked away in a corner, is an old parchment with something that seems to be a map. And so their quest begins: With the guidance and help of their Great-Uncle Merry, the three children have to find the thing the map leads to, and along the way they to face the powers of Dark.
‘Because they weren’t true’ Simon said promptly.
Jane said, caught up t in the unreality of the high remote place, ‘Because perhaps they were true once, but nobody could remember when.’”
Over Sea, Under Stone is a promising beginning to a series that I suspect will become increasingly complex and epic as it moves along.
Now, as anyone who reads this blog no doubt knows, I read a lot of fantasy. So I know that fantasy as a genre tends to follow certain conventions. (Though there’s a lot of storytelling potential in subverting them, and this is something my favourite authors tend to do.) And although I can’t imagine myself ever tiring of fantasy, the repeated use of certain plot devices does mean they lose some of their efficacy. After a while, certain things just make us go “oh, so it’s going to be one of those.”
The mysterious parchment/treasure map found in the attic/basement/dark cave is one of those. It’s a testament to Susan Cooper’s storytelling ability, then, that despite the use of something that has become so familiar for fans of fantasy or adventure books, Over Sea, Under Stone still feels completely fresh. I was completely immersed in Jane, Simon and Barney’s quest. I was excited along with them, I feared along with them. Not for once did this feel like “just another adventure story”.
I think one of the reasons why I was so invested in the story was the fact that I truly cared about the characters. Then there was also Susan Cooper’s innovative use of Arthurian Myth. I think it’s no spoiler to say that the children’s quest has to do with King Arthur as his Knights, as the whole series is famous for its use of Arthurian lore. Susan Cooper used these stories in a contemporary setting, and she did it very effectively - they didn't feel out of place, and at the same time the reader still got the sense that the children were dealing with things that were truly old, that went back to forgotten times. She set the story in the present, but she also allowed it to keep its deep, deep roots.
Towards the end of the book there was a very interesting revelation that makes the rest of the series seem even more promising. I’ve read that the Drew children are not in the second book, The Dark is Rising, but return for the third one, Greenwitch. I can’t wait to see which direction the story will take.
Other Blog Reviews:
Words by Annie
Once Upon a Bookshelf
(Please let me know if I missed yours!)