Over Sea, Under Stone

Cooper, Susan. Over Sea, Under Stone, Aladdin Paperbacks, 1965, 196 p.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Three young people, two boys and a girl, are on a quest to find a mysterious object before it falls into the hands of an evil, almost indestructable man. Along the way, they are befriended by a mysterious, bearded old man who mutters wise things and protects them from bad things. Yes, it's a quest store and no, it has nothing to do with Harry Potter, Ron Weasley or Hermione Granger. Rather this book was written more than 40 years ago, long before J. K. Rowling had her flash of inspiration about a school for wizards and the adventures it held for the students there.

Of course, the quest story is old, going back hundreds of years and the one archetype that continues to inspire authors like Cooper and Rowling is King Arthur. And like Arthur, most of the time we find a Merlin character around to keep the hero out of trouble or at least alive. In Rowling's books, the Merlin character is played by Dumbledore. Here it is Great-Uncle Merry. The Drew children, Simon, Jane, and Barney, nearly worship Merry, who is a bit mysterious and eccentric. Or as we're told "there was something about Great-Uncle Merry that was like the hills, or the sea, or the sky; something ancient, but without age or end."

One summer he invites them to stay with him at The Grey House in a small English sea-side town. Soon enough the children stumble on a mysterious map, which seems to be very old. They quickly decipher clues about the treasure they are sure must wait them if only they're smart enough to follow the map's guidance.

Great-Uncle Merry is enlisted to help them out, after he seems more like one of them than a real adult. With his help they are able to outwit the bad guys who appear at their doorstep one afternoon. The treasure, it seems, is a trophy in the everlasting, on-going battle between good and evil, and it is up to the children to uncover the path to the treasure's hiding place before the evil leader and his followers beat them to it.

The first in a sequence of five books, this is a good start for the series.

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