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on 31 May 2007
Simon, Jane & Barney are off on their summer holidays with their mum & dad, to a holiday house in the village of "Trewissick" on the Cornish Coast, where they will all stay with Great-Uncle-Merry in a rambling old house overlooking the sea. They are all thrilled to be going to Cornwall, but none more so than Barney, the youngest, who loves the stories of Arthurian Legend and dreams of stories of King Arthur and his Knights. He can't wait to see Cornwall, the land of the Pendragon, the centre of Arthurian myth.

On a miserable rainy day at the beginning of their holiday, the children decide to make an adventure of exploring the house where they are staying. Locked cabinets, chests and personal papers are out of bounds but they are free to explore the rest of the house as they like. In real Enid Blyton style they soon discover a secret stairway hidden behind a large heavy wardrobe in the boys' bedroom... and off they go to explore.... An ancient treasure map soon emerges & the children have found an adventure for their holiday... secrets to discover.

But are they out of their depth? They don't seem to be the only people chasing after hidden treasure. Soon, they find an ally in Great-Uncle-Merry & Rufus, the dog... but can they reach the treasure before the sour Mr & Miss Withers, the rude ruddy-faced boy, Billy and the man they think is the vicar?!!

A good, innocent, Famous-Five-style adventure story (first published In 1965), with just a hint of Arthurian legend & magic thrown in. From reading other reviews, it sounds as though the magic & legend are developed in the rest of the series, so here I guess just the foundations are laid. The children are all very cheery, optimistic, happy-go-lucky, although individual characters aren't developed at all in the story. Well-written, with more depth than an Enid Blyton story, lacks pace in a few places but overall recommended.
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on 25 July 2001
Few stories are more popular among readers than the age old battle between good and evil, which is exemplified in the legend of King Arthur. Susan Cooper gives that scenario an imaginative twist with "Over Sea, Under Stone." It's a narrative sure to pique the imaginations of young ones, especially as read by popular British actor Alex Jennings.
When, during a vacation in today's Cornwall, the Drew children discover an old manuscript in the attic of their rented house, they suddenly find themselves involved in an exciting and dangerous quest. Their very lives are jeopardized as they search for the grail, the one antidote to the power of evil called the Dark. Their Great Uncle Merry is on their side, but much of what he knows he isn't telling.
Ms. Cooper's prose is both concise and thrilling; Mr. Jennings's reading is superb.
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on 22 October 2003
I hope I don't upset too many Tolkienistas if I say that this is to the Dark is Rising series what The Hobbit is to The Lord of the Rings. That is, while it does set the scene and introduces some of the characters, it was written much earlier in the writer's career, isn't as polished or inventive and was clearly written for younger children. Written as it was in the early 60s, there's the usual copying of Blytonesque characters and somewhat clunky dialogue from children's series books. But these faults never stopped children from liking the Narnia books and they are much less intrusive here. That said, I'm not sure all that would bother the average eight-year-old because the story moves along at a brisk pace, there's no pompous pseudo-archaic language to get in the way and there are no "boring bits". I think this would be of limited interest if you've already read the other four books but it might be something to get a younger relative interested.
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on 17 July 2000
This is a good read, for children from nine or ten upwards. Its beautifully written and exciting, with a good sense of place. It does go over slightly worn ground and its treatment of Jane, the only central female character is dreadful. She is a girl truely stuck in the 1950's, disapproving of the boys adventures- a cardboard cut out of a female character.
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on 30 July 2016
Oh dear! The Dark is Rising was such a promising book that even adults would enjoy, so I gave it 5 star rating, but this one has degenerated into a children's story of mostly boring stuff so that I will not buy any more of that sequence. I think the author has lost the plot with maintaining that initial level of of the excitement of the Old Ways. It is a shame because she is such talented author that her talent has apparently diminished to this level.
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on 11 November 2015
Over Sea, Under Stone was written as a pastiche of E. Nesbit adventure stories, and that's what it reads like. It would almost certainly be out of print and forgotten if Cooper hadn't revisited it and created the far more sophisticated The Dark is Rising series.

You probably don't need to read this to appreciate the other books, but it is quite short.
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on 19 March 2016
Bought to re-read using the kindle. A great series of books that I read as a child and revisit occasionally. The dialogue will probably seem a little old fashioned but the content and storyline make for a magical and exciting series. I loved this series as a child and still love it now.
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on 17 December 2005
"...in the old days when the struggle between good and evil was more bitter and open than it is now. That struggle goes on all round us all the time, like two armies fighting. And sometimes one of them seems to be winning and sometimes the other, but neither has ever triumphed altogether...But those men who remembered the old world have been searching for its secret ever since. And there have been others searching as well - the enemies, the wicked men, who have the same greed in their cold hearts as the men whom Arthur fought."

- Great-Uncle Merry ("Gummery")

"So therefore, I trust it to this land, over sea and under stone, and I mark here the signs by which the proper man, in the proper place, may know where it lies..."

- from a certain manuscript

I recommend the unabridged audio edition read by Alex Jennings (who played Nevil the junior solicitor in the 1988 TV adaptation of THE FRANCHISE AFFAIR). I enjoy hearing what the Cornish dialect sounds like; Jennings has a very pleasant voice and works at making the characters distinct.

--

This first volume of the five book series THE DARK IS RISING can stand on its own; I read it years before learning that it had sequels and didn't feel cheated.

The entire series features six principal characters, four of whom are introduced here: the three Drew children (Simon, Jane, and Barney) and their mysterious Great-Uncle Merry, a distinguished scholar of history and legend (especially King Arthur). The kids can hardly believe that the unpredictable Gummery, usually far away on digs or at university, will be with them for an entire month's holiday in Trewissick, a seacoast village in Cornwall where their artist mother has come to paint and their father to fish.

The Drews are the viewpoint characters for this book, so it features an "everyman" perspective of complete newcomers to the ancient conflict between good and evil that is about to surface.

Stuck indoors on a rainy day, the kids explore the Grey House. Finding a mysterious old map in the attic with Arthurian names on it, they naturally keep quiet so as to have a chance to follow it up. But when the house is broken into, with all the books, maps, and pictures turned over by someone searching for something, they confide in Gummery, the one adult they trust to take them seriously.

Also introduces one of the major opponents, although (as Merry says) the enemy can appear in many guises and under many names.

It says something (possibly only about me) that my favourite scene is the kids' first real conversation with Great-Uncle Merry, when he explains the endless war between good and evil, and how their discovery puts them in the middle of the battle.

They're drawn as realistic and individual kids, not miniature adults. There's a nice repeating motif about what they want to be when they grow up (mostly whatever profession they've seen lately that looks cool). Their dynamics are good; they squabble and gang up on each other as needed, and each can be separated from the others to carry separate scenes.

- Simon, the eldest (and bossiest), has been superior about studying Latin for two years, and now has to deliver when the map turns up. He's also the fastest runner.

- Jane worries over details, and the boys needle her for being motion sick (which means she's off on her own while the boys fish with their father).

- Barney, the somewhat visionary youngest, can get into places the others can't (and isn't above trying on an innocent/cute routine under pressure, though he hates being treated like a baby). Since he's prone to bad sunburn, he misses a night outing, but nothing can possibly happen while he's home in bed, can it?

Very well constructed story, setting up situations for development in later books without bogging down the tale at hand. Some very tidy illustrations that things and people aren't always what they seem, which becomes even more apparent on a second reading (particularly a second reading of the entire series).

While there's little physical violence, there are various creepy/scary moments:

- multiple chase scenes

- multiple extended scenes in the dark (including pursuit and lying awake in a not-so-deserted house)

- character falling into a trap the reader knows about but he doesn't

- dancing in the streets (a carnival and swimming gala provides plenty of distraction for both sides near the end)

I tend to prefer the books in which the Drews appear (such as GREENWITCH, which returns to Trewissick); they have a genuine Everyman viewpoint, which makes the story feel more like something happening in the real world, just with extra and unexpected depths. (The other two viewpoint characters, while also good, differ in this area).

Really good book for a summer holiday, whether you're on one or just need one. Be prepared to get hungry while reading this book.
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on 7 July 2013
A very well read version of this classic story.
My family was becoming frustrated with the massively condensed audio versions of books, and this one seems to be unabridged.
A complete delight, making a six hour car journey not exactly fly by, but at least made it more bearable.
We'll buy the next one in the series for the next time we have a long journey to make !
---------------
Quick note about the book if you haven't read/listened to it before
It's a very good prologue to the Dark is Rising series, written several years before the other books, it is aimed at a younger audience than the others, although older children (and adults!) will still enjoy it as a taster to the sequence.
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on 3 June 2015
I first read Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising books when I was in primary school, and I've been a huge fan of them ever since. Though the 'modern' world of Over Sea Under Stone has dated massively, and the lives of its protagonists now seem almost as unreal as the mythical forces they're grappling with, the story has a charm and sense of excitement that still endures. As they get drawn into a hunt for the grail, three children start to see that there is more to the world than they ever dreamed of, and isn't that part of what we all want from fantasy?
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