Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Jane Bites the Pile Review: Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

This review is the demented brain child of Laura at A Jane of All Reads and yours truly, Donna at Bites.

Originally published 1965.

On holiday in Cornwall, the three Drew children discover an ancient map in the attic of the house that they are staying in. They know immediately that it is special. It is even more than that -- the key to finding a grail, a source of power to fight the forces of evil known as the Dark. And in searching for it themselves, the Drews put their very lives in peril. (

So Laura and I have some books in common in our TBR closets so we decided to wear this particular outfit on the same day like a couple of besties from 1964.

So after we snorted our malts and tried to take out eyes with our bumper bullets, we got down to the business of reading, cat eye glasses and all. Like the good little demon child clones we are, we felt pretty much the same about OVER SEA, UNDER STONE, a quaint little ditty, fit for the middle graders, about a sibling team racing against the adults to find clues to save the world from the ever-encroaching Dark. Although for us old farts it can get a bit boring.

Now, it's never made all that clear just what the Dark is, what it can do, what the fate of the world is, what either side is striving for. It's all kept in the dark . . . where in the dark I don't want to know. But it's there. Squishing. We know there's a connection to King Arthur, we know there's a grail hidden somewhere and we know we have baddies dressed in black a la Spy vs. Spy chasing after them trying to get the elusive "it." Really, I think it's the chase that matters.

If it were a little more interesting. There's a lot of silly idealized 60s English children blathering on about Gumerry and whatever shall we do's and generally speaking as if they were 35 and sitting for a spot of tea, or living in a bubble filled with pink sparkles and daisies. One must remember that we're reading 1965 words so there's a lot of "shoulds" going on as opposed to "for reals." The language could have been checked at the door of The Queen's Head Pub with Hugh Laurie doling out proper British bitter. But once you get past that, and the absurd image of a 10 year old speaking like his grandfather, it's a flight of fancy book that offers much in the way of child shenanigans and adult bumbling, as with any other children's book of this age bracket. So it fits there at least.

Of course I couldn't help but running some wind sprints parallel to the NARNIA series by CS Lewis. It was inevitable. Laura, being the NARNIA virgin, hasn't had the thrill of being exposed to the likes of Jesus Aslan and his painted whore-hating ways but I enlightened her. Don't get me wrong; I loved the Narnia series but I think I was baptized by the end of it. While NARNIA left me burping up angel wing feathers, OVER SEA, UNDER STONE had a significant "Evil East" aftertaste for me. The Dark is always mentioned as coming from the east. Always. Now I don't know what the overall political climate was in England in the early 60s but this seemed reminiscent of rather medieval times. I kept expecting a wayward morning star or joust to pop up. Of course, Evil East carries with it many connotations and could be a number of things but, you know, instead of puffing up Christianity like Lewis, it seemed to elevate the evils emanating from the east more than anything, be it religions, cultures, whatever. Maybe it's just my brain going there and I'm pulling something out that isn't really there. Or maybe it's because I made the NARNIA connection so it's making its own dots to string together. I'm just saying, there's a lot of Eastern Evil going on here.

But it's ultimately very similar to NARNIA with children as the protags striving to save the day, a generally slower, introductory start to the series and the world, a whimsical feel. It's a good "classic" story. Maybe the floofy language adds to that. Maybe it's the children overcoming dark, evil odds. Whatever it is, they're similar in my eyes. And I think Laura needs to get herself baptized by Deacon Lewis.

Laura ultimately enjoyed OVER SEA, UNDER STONE more than I did. I'm chalking it up to the fact that I've already read THE DARK IS RISING and I totally heart that one so it's difficult to live up to those standards. Laura felt the ending "quite nice" and "cute" that "all those scholarly old gentleman chasing around children to steal a map." I'm hoping she'll be blown away Maxell-style by book two. Forget whimsy. That's nice in small doses. Those kids weren't in enough danger to me. They need to fight harder and stop relying on their ever so brilliant verbiage to get them out of scuffles. Have fist will punch.

Ban Factor: Low - What with ragging on the Evil East and good little children not talking in slang, this one would be on many a banner's shelves.
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