Classic Children's Literature · WeeksEnd Notes

Week’s End Notes (22) – and Over Sea, Under Stone

  • I know it’s only the fourth of January and I haven’t been to work yet this year, but I do feel the year has been off to a good start. I’ve been crossing tasks off my list (okay, and adding to it too), most importantly of which was finally reorganizing my bookshelves. They’re not dramatically different, but I had a couple stacks of books sitting around that had never been shelved and I had to get a bit creative with my shelving so that they could all fit while still meeting my exacting organizational and aesthetic standards (if it’s not bad enough that I have a particular organizational system, I toss looks into the mix as well–madness!). I guess I either have to get more shelves or rid of some books before I can add any more books to my collection.
  • Cover: Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan CooperI’ve also finished my first book for the year (technically started in 2015), a reread of Susan Coopers 1965 Fantasy-Mystery Over Sea, Under Stone. It just squeaks in at “old enough” for my completely arbitrary “children’s classic” definition (50 years), but really, I think doesn’t feel that old. I don’t have too much to say about it; Over Sea, Under Stone is probably my least favorite of the entire Dark is Rising Sequence, and I really just reread it to get to the next one, for which the series is named. In brief, it is the story of the three Drew children, Simon, Jane, and Barney, who are spending their summer holidays with their family–including their somewhat mysterious Great-Uncle Merry–in Cornwall. A rainy day leads to the discovery of an old manuscript and map which leads them on a search for an Arthurian grail, and in the tradition of much of children’s fantasy literature, they find themselves facing off against the forces of evil. The evil here is somewhat ill-defined. That is, we know who is evil, but we are never given a solid ground indication as to what their evilness means. Why are we to call the “bad guys” evil, other than that they are in opposition to the children, who as our heroes are of course, good? If I recall correctly, this definition will be given in the later books, but its absence here perhaps goes some way towards explaining my ambivalence to the first book in the series. That and–and I’m going by vague memory now, so I could be off–I believe I found the later books to be more traditionally “fantasy,” that is, they had a stronger sense of “magic.” This one is a little more pedestrian, with only one or two indications that anything supernatural might be at play (and those indications largely noticed because I know the trajectory of the series). The element of mystery is certainly stronger than fantasy here. But obviously it was sufficient–or maybe my fondness for the characters–that I pursued reading the entire series when I was in elementary school. (I think. I might have been in middle school by then.) I will likely leave the next book in the series for the end of the month or early next in favor of older books.
  • I’ve also started Pinocchio for the RAL. Actually, I’ve started the Italian, which I’d said I wasn’t going to read, and so I’m not actually trying to understand everything, just get the general gist of it, but I’m surprised at how much better it’s going than my previous attempt. I guess the practice I had in reading in Spanish last year is helping with my Italian! I’ll still read an English translation for the RAL, but it’s been fun to attempt some of the original.
  • Of course, the next question is, what else shall I read this month? I confess, despite hosting the Classic Children’s Lit event, I haven’t put too much thought into this. I have a couple candidates pulled off my shelves (The Little Prince, Treasure Island), but I might also request something from the library. Or maybe read Part 2 of Little Women, which I never managed to get to two years ago when I reread Part 1. Anyone want to try to sway me to a particular favorite?
  • Have a happy reading week!
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7 thoughts on “Week’s End Notes (22) – and Over Sea, Under Stone

  1. I do love Over Sea, Under Stone but you’re right, it’s kind of ill-defined. It was, in fact, written as a stand-alone a good 20 years before the other books, so you can’t even say that she meant it to become clearer in later volumes! I think she meant it as more of an Enid Blyton-esque holiday adventure story, with some magic-or-not? overtones. As in a Blyton adventure or, heck, Indiana Jones, the bad guys are bad because they want the item for personal gain and possible evil ends rather than for unselfish motives. It belongs in a museum! Or, in the hands of those who will use its powers for good. And we don’t need to get more specific than good guys and bad guys, because it’s an adventure story. 🙂

    1. I knew there was a gap between the books, but I wasn’t sure if this was because the first book had been originally intended as a stand-alone, of it later stories had always been planned–it certainly leaves room for a follow-up. Thank you for the information! Perhaps part of my problem is that I’ve never read any Blyton. 🙂 I will say, it never bothered me growing up why the bad guys were bad, so that’s amanda the adult reader interfering.

    1. Thanks! I’ve only had my Italian copy for 12 years, so it’s about time I did something with it…fortunately there’s a lot of overlap with Spanish and I’ve been working on recapturing the Italian I’ve forgotten in those 12 years.

      I wouldn’t call encouraging a Pinocchio readalong “damage.” Then again, I guess I haven’t finished it yet!

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