Cooper, Susan: (01) Over Sea, Under Stone

Over the holidays, I re-read Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone, the first book in The Dark Is Rising series. Widely held to be the weakest of the books, I enjoyed it more than I remembered, though I doubt I’d re-read it if it were a standalone.

Sarah Monette has a number of perceptive spoilery comments about this book, one of which is that this is a sunny book compared to the others. If so, then I might want to wait for spring to read the rest, because I found a couple of sequences in this book surprisingly tense.

Relatedly, this book does introduce what I recall as a regrettable tendency in the series, the use of plot tokens. The Drew children and the reader are forced to take the importance of this book’s quest object, the grail, at another character’s word; by itself it doesn’t seem particularly vital (it’s not, for those unfamiliar with the books, the Holy Grail, but a later creation).

As I re-read the series, I’ll be interested to see whether I feel this book was necessary. The Drews don’t appear at all in the second book, and I don’t remember the third well enough to say what uses it puts the characterization and backstory established here (Speaking of characterization: boy, Simon got on my nerves. And Jane comes off as a sop (or, as Monette more accurately and charitably puts it, as “the collective child’s conscience”).) I believe it’s sufficiently different enough from the rest of the series that it makes sense to skip it at first, but whether I would recommend that non-completists come back to it is another matter.

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  1. I listened to the first four books last year but haven’t been able to get to the fifth, and so haven’t written them up yet.
    Alas, there’s a lot in them that I liked as a child which grates now. Starting with the Chosen One being a) the Chosen One and b) eleven years old. Although I can’t help but wonder if Cooper is examining what life might have been like for the adolescent Christ: fully child, fully God.
    And I have a lot of problems with the Old Ones’ willingness to tamper with mere mortals’ memories (for the mortals’ good, mind, but still), and there’s at least one bit where Merriman completely undermines any sense of jeopardy which makes it all the more plot-token-y.

  2. Also, if you don’t read OSUS first, I don’t think the Drews come off at all well when they meet up with Will in book three.

  3. I tried listening to . . . I think it was _The Dark Is Rising_ . . . out of the library, but thought the narrator was too boring.
    Yeah, I expect to have issues with a lot of the series as I go on, but I think it’ll be interesting because it’s been a while. And interesting point about the Drews in _Greenwitch_; I’ll keep it in mind.

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