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Cornish cliffs

Over Sea, Under Stone

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper is one of those books that everyone else seemed to know about from childhood, but not me. It didn't enter my radar until about ten years ago. Weird? Yes, it is. Considering its Cornish setting, I feel like I should have known about it and its sequels forever. But no matter, I've now read the first book in the sequence.




Great Uncle Merry is a bit of an enigma - always here, there and everywhere, off on some mysterious quest or other - and there was something about him that made his family, the Drews, reluctant to ask where he'd been or what he'd been up to. He hires a house in a Cornish fishing village, near St. Austell, one summer, and Simon, Jane and Barney and their parents go to spend the holidays with him.

One wet day they go exploring in the house and find a door, hidden behind a wardrobe, that leads to the attic. Picnicking up there, Barney throws an apple core away, goes to retrieve it, and discovers a scroll in a hidden cranny. It turns out to be a map, but the children can't make head or tail of it as the language is ancient and the condition of the scroll, very poor.

An adventure begins as they start to unravel the meaning of the script and solve various clues. It appears the map on it might be the coastline around Trewissick, where they're staying, but it isn't quite the same. Jane finds a local guide book, with a proper map, in a locked trunk, and takes it off to the vicar who she thinks has written it. Only the author is long dead and the current vicar feels sinister to Jane and overly interested in why she feels the coastline is all wrong.

The children confide in Great Uncle Merry who is stunned at what they have found and explains the danger they are now in. Other people are after this very same scroll and want the object it points the way to. There is no time to be lost as they desperately try to solve the clues and avoid the sinister bunch of people who are menacing them in order to get hold of the map. Who is friend and who is foe also becomes a complicated issue and the children find themselves thrown back on their own resources as the adventure reaches its climax.

Well then, this a children's book from the 1960s - 1965 to be precise, when I would have been 12. A perfect age for this book and I can't work out how I came to miss it. I'm certain I would have adored it, quite frankly, and it probably would have made my '15 books that have stayed with you' list. So, here I am, a middle-aged grandma reading it for the first time, beaten to it by my grandaughter in fact, but loving it to bits all the same. And it no doubt helps that the story is set in a Cornish fishing village, although I don't know the St. Austell area well. I tried to place it - Mevigissey would be the obvious choice but it didn't feel like that village to me, it felt much more like Mousehole... and maybe the author didn't have a precise place in mind. Who knows? Or cares? It was pretty darn accurate as regards atmosphere, I could smell the sea, hear the gulls, feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my face. Wonderful.

Not only that, the children felt like children and I reckon Susan Cooper had met my uncle John when she created Great Uncle Merry. Oh, wait a minute... he wouldn't have been old enough then. Never mind. *g* The author also got older Cornish people spot on. The dialect was perfect, and that's *very* rare, and I had to laugh when she had the housekeeper singing hymns as she did the housework, because that was exactly what my gran used to do... 'The Lord is my Shepherd' and 'Abide with Me' were her favourites, and the song, 'Red Sails in the Sunset'. People just don't sing like that any more it seems to me...

I can't find any fault at all with this children's book, to be honest. I realise how biased I am and all, being Cornish, so maybe I'm not a the best person to judge, but a couple of people mentioned at one stage that actually this first book is not the best of the series. Goodness! The rest must be pretty special then if that's the case. Luckily, I have book two, The Dark is Rising, ready to read pretty soon... I want to finish Terry Pratchett's Bromeliad series before I read that.

Anyway, cue entirely superfluous photo of the sea off the coast of Cornwall:



(Taken by me in 2007 at Marazion.)

Comments

Oooh, I'd forgotten about those books! I read them when I was in my 30's, binging on library books when I was home raising babies and toddlers, and now I cannot remember much about them. Must go find them.

I do like hearing an opinion on the accuracy. I haven't been out of my part of this country much, and I use books as substitute travel. I remember that her books felt right, but one doesn't know.
That's several people now who also read them as adults. Now I'm wondering if that's more normal than reading them as children!

The book was *very* accurate, she must have lived down in this region at some stage, or holidayed here as a child perhaps, to be that spot on.

I didn't read the Dark is Rising series until about eight or nine years ago -- Joan recommended them. I don't know how I missed them when I was little either. They're awesome books.
I'm looking forward to reading the rest now - if Joan recommended them they must be very good. What I can't think is how I missed them before!
Oh I'm so glad you read this, and so glad you liked it! And I can't wait to hear what you think about The Dark is Rising, because it's the mostly lovely wintry and English book to me - this is the one that's in my top 15, maybe even top of it... *g*

And your pic of Marazion makes me want to go back right now and just dive into the sea... Or at least trail around certain places again... *sighs for Cornwall*
Funnily enough I have The Dark is Rising on my list of snowy/winter books, but I'd forgotten about it. So that's an extra reason to get to it quickly.

Glad you like the photo. *sighs with you for Cornwall* Haven't been down in ages. :-(
I read it in the mid-60s and adored it. The Dark is Rising came along so many years later that I never connected the two. I mean -- I knew they were connected but they occupied, and still occupy, separate places in my imagination. That's not just because I was a child when I read OSUS and an adult when I read the others, although that's part of it. OSUS was complete for me when I was ten and I still find it difficult to read any of the information from subsequent volumes back into the world of the first book. So when I read the series now, I start with DIR.
That's a really interesting view of the the series as a whole. I'll keep that in mind when I read them but I very much understand what you're getting at.