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Over Sea, Under Stone

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About The Book

Three siblings embark on an epic quest for a mythic grail in this first installment of Susan Cooper’s epic and award-winning The Dark Is Rising Sequence, now with a brand-new look!

All through time, the two great forces of Light and Dark have battled for control of the world. Now, after centuries of balance, the Dark is summoning its terrifying forces to rise once more…and three children find themselves caught in the conflict.

The Drew siblings—Simon, Jane, and Barney—are on a family holiday in Cornwall when they discover an ancient map in the attic of the house they are sharing with their Great Uncle Merry. They know immediately that the map is special but have no way of knowing how much. For the map leads to a grail: a vital weapon for the Light’s fight against evil. In taking on the quest to find the grail, the Drews will have to race against the sinister human beings who serve the dreadful power of the dark—an adventure that puts their own lives in grave peril.

Reading Group Guide

About the Book

On a summer holiday to Cornwall, siblings Simon, Jane, and Barnabas Drew find an ancient and mysterious map that draws them into a timeless battle between good and evil. With their larger-than-life great-uncle Merry to guide them, the kids soon learn that the map is one half of a puzzle that, once solved, will lead them to the location of a golden chalice, a Thing of Power the forces of the Light must have in their final war against the rising Dark. The children encounter numerous threats in their quest, culminating in a dramatic decision that, if unsuccessful, could be the end of the world as they know it.

Discussion Questions

1. Simon, Jane, and Barney work together to locate and retrieve the grail. What individual character traits does each sibling have that helps them accomplish their goals? How does Barney’s fascination with the legend of King Arthur contribute to their success in finding the chalice? How does the image of the knight Bedwin give him the courage to move through the dark cave? (p. 246)

2. Merriman Lyon, Great-Uncle Merry to the children, is introduced on page three. How does the author use descriptive language to help you visualize this character? In the Epilogue, Barney considers the name Merriman Lyon, “Merry Lyon . . . Merlion. . . Merlin,” and briefly considers the possibility that his great-uncle is Merlin. Discuss the character of Merlin in the King Arthur legend. Do you think that Great-Uncle Merry is Merlin? Why or why not? Use text evidence to defend your opinion.

3. In Over Sea, Under Stone, the author regularly employs foreshadowing (inserting hints of what is to come) into the story. For example:

Great-Uncle Merry . . . had suddenly stopped in his tracks in the middle of the road. He was gazing down at the sea; and she realised that he had caught sight of the yacht. What startled her was the expression on his face. Standing there like a craggy towering statue, he was frowning, fierce and intense, almost as if he were looking and listening with senses other than his eyes and ears. He could never look frightened, she thought, but this was the nearest thing to it that she had ever seen. Cautious, startled, alarmed . . . what was the matter with him? Was there something strange about the yacht? (p. 8)

Discuss additional examples of foreshadowing in the text and what events they portend.

4. What is a quest? What types of stories typically include a quest? How does the children’s desire for adventure lead them into what at first is a game, but quickly becomes a dangerous undertaking?

5. Over Sea, Under Stone is at its core a tale of good versus evil:

“Once upon a time . . . a long time ago . . . things that happened once, perhaps, but have been talked about for so long that nobody really knows. And underneath all the bits that people have added, the magic swords and lamps, they’re all about one thing―the good hero fighting the giant, or the witch, or the wicked uncle. Good against bad. Good against evil.” (p. 84)

Some classic tales of good versus evil are mentioned: Cinderella, Aladdin, and Jack the Giant-killer. Discuss and list other examples of good versus evil stories, both classic and contemporary, and what the hero in these stories had to overcome in their fight against evil forces. How are those stories similar to Over Sea, Under Stone?

6. In chapter eleven, Jane asks Simon why their adversaries so desperately want the manuscript. Simon replies, “‘Well . . . it’s the grail they want, isn’t it? Because it stands for something, somehow. And that’s why Gumerry wants to find it as well. It’s like two armies fighting in history. You’re never quite sure what they’re actually fighting about, but only that one wants to beat the other.’” In what other ways can you compare the battle of good versus evil to a war?

7. Why do you think Rufus’s howl was able to break the spell that Mr. Hastings put on Barney? The author describes the howl as “a freezing inhuman wail that had in it all the warning and terror that ever was in the world.” (p. 216) Why do you think Rufus knew that Barney was in danger? How is Rufus a metaphor for the Light? What qualities does he have that make him so good?

8. In the epilogue, Great-Uncle Merry tells the children that Mr. Hastings fooled people by the power of suggestion. Discuss what this means. Think of and discuss examples of the power of suggestion in your day-to-day life. How can the power of suggestion be both negative and positive?

Extension Activities

- Oh, Britannia! Over Sea, Under Stone is set in Cornwall, on the west coast of England. The author provides many detailed descriptions of this rugged terrain, describing topographical features such as a headland (also known as heads), which is a coastal landform, a point of land usually high and often with a sheer drop, that extends into a body of water. Travel the same paths explored by Simon, Jane, and Barney on a web tour of rugged, majestic Cornwall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VU8vqnITmtY

After viewing the video, discuss aspects that connect to Over Sea, Under Stone.

- In Camelot. In chapter one, readers learn that, “Ever since he had learned to read, Barney’s greatest heroes had been King Arthur and his knights. In his dreams he fought imaginary battles as a member of the Round Table, rescuing fair ladies and slaying false knights.” Determine how much students know about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Present students with a broad overview of this heroic figure (https://www.pbs.org/mythsandheroes/myths_four_arthur.html#:~:text=He%20was%20a%20warrior%2C%20a,all%20over%20the%20world%20today.), and as students are reading Over Sea, Under Stone, begin a read-aloud of one of many novels that tell the legend of King Arthur.

- The Mother of Romance (Languages). Latin is the language of ancient Rome and its empire. Latin is also the foundation of what are known as the Romance languages, which include French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish. The English language, while not a Romance language, features many words with Latin roots that provide keys to a word’s meaning. In Over Sea, Under Stone, portions of the document the children find in the attic is written in Latin. To acquaint students with this ancient language, begin a unit on common Latin roots and how these roots appear in English. To begin, visit this resource: https://www.readingrockets.org/article/root-words-roots-and-affixes.

- X Marks the Spot. The Drew children find and use a map to help them uncover the location of the grail. Have students work in pairs to create a treasure map. If your school grounds allow, work outside so students can select an area to represent on a hand-drawn map. The following resources will help you get started: https://www.natgeokids.com/uk/home-is-good/how-to-make-treasure-map/

Guide created by Colleen Carroll, literacy educator, content creator, and author of the How Artists See series (Abbeville Kids). Learn more about Colleen at www.colleencarroll.us.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.

About The Author

Photograph © Tsar Fedorsky Photography 2013

Susan Cooper is one of our foremost fantasy authors; her classic five-book fantasy sequence The Dark Is Rising has sold millions of copies worldwide. Her books’ accolades include the Newbery Medal, a Newbery Honor, the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, and five shortlists for the Carnegie Medal. She combines fantasy with history in Victory (a Washington Post Top Ten Books for Children pick), King of Shadows, Ghost Hawk, and her magical The Boggart and the Monster, second in a trilogy, which won the Scottish Arts Council’s Children’s Book Award. Susan Cooper lives on a saltmarsh island in Massachusetts, and you can visit her online at TheLostLand.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (November 14, 2023)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665932912
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 830L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®
  • Fountas & Pinnell™ X These books have been officially leveled by using the F&P Text Level Gradient™ Leveling System

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