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Friday, February 23, 2007

cover of Over Sea, Under Stone

On a family vacation in Cornwall with their mysterious, adventurous Great-Uncle Merry (nicknamed "Gummery" by the children), Simon, Jane and Barney (short for Barnabas) discover an ancient map and end up on a kind of treasure-hunt for an Arthurian Grail, but they are also racing against the dark and mysterious villains who are looking for the same treasure for their own evil purposes. It's a delightful, entertaining story-- the puzzle of the "map" to the treasure is clever, but also believable that the children could figure it out. It also occurred to me, as I neared the end, how nice it was to read about siblings who actually get along well and enjoy working together.

After the children discover the ancient map, Great-Uncle Merry explains to them that their quest is part of an age-old battle between good and evil; the treasure they seek is a grail with engravings that tell the true story of Arthur, which has been lost in myth and legend. Gummery himself is old but ageless, and clearly quite powerful (the villains don't dare to confront him). Near the end of the book, when Barney hears Merry's full name (Merriman Lyon), he wonders to himself if his great-uncle could possible by Merlin, but then quickly dismisses the thought.

The map is hundreds of years old, so the Cornishman who hid the treasure had to use signs that wouldn't wear away-- the children discover that these signs are the ancient natural rock pillars near the coast, with directions given by the setting sun and the full moon. The grail itself is in a cave near the coast that they can only get to when the water is at extremely low-tide (and the smallest of them, Barney, can barely fit through)-- almost as if they were meant to find it. This fits with what Merry says at one point-- that they'll find it happens to be the right time of year for the moon and sun to be where they need them to follow the map.

The leader of the villains is a dark and sinister man, even with some hypnotic powers. At one point the Withers snatch Barney away-- and in spite of the fact that he's been kidnapped, Hastings almost convinces him that he's misunderstood everything and that they aren't really evil at all. Merry states enigmatically that this dark man will be back again, as he has been before, but that he won't look the same-- which sounds almost like a Satan figure.

Title:Over Sea, Under Stone
Author:Susan Cooper
Date published:1965
Genre:Children's Fantasy
Series:The Dark is Rising
Number of pages:252
Notes:repeat reading


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