Review: “Over Sea, Under Stone” by Susan Cooper

Susan Cooper distinguished The Dark Is Rising from other fantasy series by the unusual qualities she imparted to each novel in her five-volume sequence.  Painted with mysterious tones and a sense of deep mysticism, The Dark Is Rising shares its title with one of its volumes.  It was this particular volume that also inspired a 2007 motion picture to be based on Cooper’s popular works.  However,The Dark Is Rising is only the second volume in The Dark Is Rising sequence.  Chronological order matters in a series of related novels, and Cooper’s unique sequence is no different.  Over Sea, Under Stone is the first volume in The Dark Is Rising sequence, a very interesting introduction to the author’s climatic battles between the Light and the Dark.

The history of King Arthur and the Holy Grail are even more mystifying than in the original legends, perhaps because Cooper has managed to bring both into reality without any magic per se.  The Holy Grail is no longer the Cup of Christ but an instrument engraved with important messages and symbols related to the true story about King Arthur.  It alone holds the secret of the Grail and its maker, hidden from its enemies (the Dark) “over sea, under stone.”  Despite the new overview of Arthurian legends, Cooper stands by her insights and keeps them a secret for now, telling instead the story that begins around the vacation of three British children, Simon, Barney, and Jane Drew.

These siblings have a healthy family relationship reminiscent of the main characters’ in E. Nesbit’s many fantasy novels or Edward Eager’s Tales of Magic series.  Following these young kids on their adventures is more or less a treasure map outlined between the interpretation of the Grail quest and the fact that the protagonists have no real idea why the Grail is so significant.  Their “Uncle” Merriman Lyon is already a prominent figure in Over Sea, Under Stone, but his true “magical” identity is concealed as completely as are the villains’.

For most of her characters’ actions, the author has extracted the real motives temporarily in order to increase suspense and curiosity for the reader, leaving the correct meanings of certain parts of the storyline a mystery to be revealed later on in the sequence.  As a plus, Cooper has wonderfully detailed settings in Cornwall that magically fortify every scene—it’s possible to mentally visualize the children’s vacation home, the resting place of the Grail, and the island they stay at.  Moreover, the quest itself brings Simon, Barney, and Jane close together, emphasizing the ties of blood and friendship at the same time.  In spite of certain characters, Cooper chose to limit physical descriptions except when she was pointing something out.  Finally, the untranslated inscriptions on the Grail and the lost manuscripts are the unanswered questions begging to be explained, motivation for an intrigued reader to proceed to the next volume in The Dark Is Rising sequence.

Original review: Part 1: Famous British legends are uplifted by supernatural elementsPart 2: Famous British legends are uplifted by supernatural elements,


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