Over Sea, Under Stone Study Guide
Kinds of Artistic Knowledge
Earlier this quarter we suggested that artists employ three kinds of
knowledge in their creative activities:
- Artists must possess the skills necessary for their art (dance
movements, brush strokes, instrumental and/or voice skills, writing
skills, etc). That is, they must be able to actually "do" what it is
that they do. A poet isn't much of a poet if he can't write a poem!
- Artists must also have a knowledge of the conventions within which
they work. Picasso may paint in the cubist tradition, but he is
knowledgeable in the realist tradition as well.
- Artists must have a message, point, thought, or impression to
convey in their work. When Gershwin wrote "Rhapsody in Blue" for piano
and full orchestra, he was trying to suggest that blues could be treated
as serious music.
Over Sea, Under Stone Study Questions
These three points suggest how you might want to go about studying and
writing about the novel you're reading, Over Sea, Under Stone. Below are
some study questions which reflect each of these kinds of knowledge:
A writer must be able to do or manage the skills of writing fiction:
- Plot--What sort of story line has Susan Cooper devised? What happens?
Is it a satisfying story line? Does it seem appropriate for the story?
- Conflict--What is the conflict of the story? What is at stake if
the central characters fail in their quest? Who are the opponents in the
story? How do they complicate the plot?
- Characters--Who are the main characters in the story? What does
Cooper tell you about each one of them? How does each character differ
from the others? How does Cooper compare Simon, Jane, and Barney? What
is each child's personality and why is this personality important to the
story? Why does Cooper choose children as the heroes and heroine of the
story? Why not Great Uncle Merry?
- Setting--Where does the story happen? What is the country side
like? How is this appropriate to the story? Could Cooper set the story
anywhere else and still make it work as effectively as it does now?
- Symbols--What objects in the story take on symbolic meaning? In
what way is the grail a symbol? Rufus the dog? The manuscript? Each of
the characters? The rising tide or the boats? The fact that the grail
is found in a cave? The standing stones?
- Theme--Considering all of the elements mentioned above, what is
Cooper's point (this gets us into the third form of knowledge; see below)?
A writer must know about the Arthurian tradition in general and the
grail tradition particular:
- The grail is an object of great significance and importance. What did
you notice in the stories you read? How does Cooper convey this concept
in her story?
- The grail can be found only by the most perfect of knights. What
qualities do Percival, Galahad, and Bors de Gannis have? Does this
suggest a reason why Cooper decided to send children rather than adults
on the quest?
- Grail knights always demonstrate their perfection by undergoing
severe temptations. What temptations do Percival, Galahad, and Bors
face? What temptations to Simon, Jane, and Barney face?
- In the grail stories the heros live by strict codes of ethics.
Describe the grail knights' value system. What rules do Simon, Jane, and
Barney live by?
- Grail knights always have a spiritual mentor. Who functions in
this role in each story?
- How do boats or other symbols like the wind, the number three, or
color help to make the stories' points?
- Grail stories often center on illusion and false realities. What
illusions do the three grail knights face? How does Cooper suggest that
reality is not what the children believe it to be?
- Grail stories fundamentally center around the quest for perfection
and the test of one's character. How does the quest test each grail
knight or each child in Cooper's story? What does each child learn from
- Grail stories often involve magical, mysterious, or mystical
places like castles or dark forests. Where in Cooper's story do you
notice elements of mystery?
- Grail stories ultimately change how the central character views
life. What is the effect of the search for the grail on each of the
three grail knights? On the three children in Cooper's story?
A writer must have a message, theme, point, or lesson to
- What is Cooper message? What is she trying to say about the human
- In what ways might the children's experience parallel our own
experiences? What do we learn about ourselves from their experience?
- What quests do we have to face? How might/should we go about
accomplishing these quests? What do we learn from the children's
experiences which might guide our quests?
Your assignment for the literature portion of this unit is to write a
review (3-4 pages) of Over Sea, Under Stone. In your review you will
- Briefly summarize the story (1-3 sentences are all that is necessary)
- Explain what you feel Susan Cooper's purpose is in writing the
story (the rest of the first paragraph should be enough).
- Identify aspects of the story where you see Cooper's purpose
evident (see above for suggestions). Illustrate these aspects with
references to the story.
- Relate Cooper's treatment of the grail story to the other grail
stories you've read (see the handouts). What similarities or differences
do you notice? How do these similarities or differences help Cooper
accomplish her purpose? Illustrate your discussion with references to
cessful reviews will provide a succinct summary of the story, will
identify a an appropriate purpose for why Cooper wrote Over Sea, Under
Stone, will illustrate this observation with references to the story,
will clearly indicate that the writer has read the assigned stories, and
will suggest that the writer has creatively understood and interpreted
This project is due before you leave for Thanksgiving vacation. The
only exception is if you have not yet obtained a book and were expecting
to do so during Thanksgiving vacation. You will have another writing
project due when you return from Thanksgiving vacation (instructions will
follow), so you will want to complete this project as quickly as possible.