Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Over Sea, Under Stone, by Susan Cooper


Quite good. I can see why it's a classic. Children respond to the adventures of other children, and Cooper deftly places the Drews at the center of the action, where they can live out the fantasies of their readers. Indeed, it almost seems as if the children know they are in a story at times. The book is full of coincidences and hunches and "I just know" moments, which are conveniently explained away by Arthurian magic, when they are explained at all, but which bear a striking resemblance to classic fairy stories--the characters act as they do because they could never do anything else. It was always a given that they would find the whatsit or look in the right place or even take off after something or other, simply trusting that others would know where they had gone. The dog will always know the answer, and great uncles must be trusted implicitly in a way that parents are not. And the Drews themselves seem almost to be aware of this, trusting that they will be guided to the right outcome by the story itself.

Of course, reading this through adult eyes, I was horrified at the risks the Drews took, and their willingness to attempt herculean tasks or face terrifying villains, simply trusting that it would all work out. Fortunately, this is a children's book, so it does all work out.

The most striking example of this blind but effective faith is, I think, the Drews' uncanny ability to identify the "bad guys." At one point, shortly after meeting a seemingly harmless character, Jane Drew observes: "I don't like him . .. I wonder why?" This is representative of the whole story. The children do things, say things, think things, and feel things without being able to understand why.

Whether it's the magic of Arthur guiding them, or the story making itself known to its characters, the result is well worth reading.

(The audiobook is quite good, as well.)

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