Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Alan Garner: Fantastical Adventures


These books above are, unfortunately, the only books I have by Alan Garner, the great and legendary fantasy writer.  The first one I read was The Owl Service, from 1967, which is set in Wales and incorporated the ancient Welsh tales of the Mabinogian  beginning with a mysterious scrabbling sound in a dusty attic and the discovery of old dinner plates found there, decorated with an intriguing owl pattern.  This book is strange, but rather bewitching in a way, I also watched the 1969 film of it as well.

 I didn't grow to really appreciate Alan Garner's writing until the summer before last, when I read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.  This wonderful and exciting book completely captivated me and I found it hard to put down.   It was written in 1960, and concerns brother and sister Colin and Susan, who come to the countryside for a few months whilst their parents are abroad. On their rambles they very soon get caught up in a terrifying adventure with evil goblins, a good wizard, elves and so on.  They have some harrowing experiences which are even scarier because they are running about exploring in an unfamiliar landscape, with a freedom that children rarely have today. 
"Once over the ridge,  they found themselves in a dell, bracken and boulder filled, and edged with rocks, in which were cracks, and fissures, and small caves; and before them a high-vaulted beech wood marched steeply down into the dusk.  The air was still and heavy, as though waiting for thunder; the only sound the concentrated whine of mosquitoes; and the thick sweet smell of bracken and flies was everywhere.  'I...I don't like this place, Colin,' said Susan:  'I feel that we're being watched.'  Colin did not laugh at her as he might normally have done.  He, too, had that feeling between the shoulder-blades, and he could have easily have imagined that something was moving among the shadows of the rocks; something that managed to keep out of sight.  So he gladly turned to climb back to the path."
After reading this one, I immediately had to buy the book that continues the story:  'The Moon of Gomrath.'  
"They hurried now.  Whether the change was in themselves or in the wood, Colin and Susan felt it.  The Edge had suddenly become, not quite malevolent, but alien, unsafe.  And they longed to be clear of the trees:  for either the light, or nerves, or both, seemed to be playing still further tricks on them.  They kept imagining that there was white movement among the tree tops-nothing clear, but suggested, and elusive."
 I read little of fantasy type books but there are some I've enjoyed very much and I intend to add more Alan Garner titles to my library in the future ( indeed I've just bought a copy of Elidor which is also a Lions edition, like the last two).  He weaves many threads into his stories, using fantasy, mythology, Celtic legends, history, and uses the landscape in such a way that makes it extremely important. The landscape is a dominant character; it's hills and stones and trees and wildness are the backdrop to everything.  Many of his books are listed as children/young adult fiction, but with all good writings of that genre, the stories are for anyone of any age who enjoys a good tale.  
Alan Garner portrait by Andrew Tift
 

 

6 comments:

  1. It's years since I read Garner but I do remember liking his books very much, particularly Elidor. Wasn't so keen on Red Shift though! Maybe time to rediscover these....

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    1. I don't think I'd like Red Shift either, but I have seen a book of fairy tales and A Stone Book trilogy I think it is, and some other titles that look intriguing. Let me know if you find a really good one I must read!

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  2. The details are lost in the mists of time, but I remember being in the junior library and hoping to find a book by Alan Garner I hadn't read before. I did re-read The Owl Service a few years ago, I loved it, and I should really track down his other books one day.

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    1. Yes there are many that look very interesting. I found a piece of paper from a few years ago where I had printed out all his titles and the year they were published, so now feel organised in my book search.

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  3. Oh and did you know he wrote a third instalment of the Brisingamen series very recently? Boneland, it's supposed to be very different in style from the other two. I too should read more. If you read some more, let us know what you think of them!

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    1. Hello Helen, I only heard about Boneland last week, read it somewhere, and they did say it was very different, don't know if it would appeal, the description seemed a bit bleak. My copy of Elidor should be here any day now. There was an audio adaptation on BBC Radio 4 extra , but they had "updated" it as the children had mobile phones, so I didn't carry on with it! Yes I will let you know if I read more Alan Garner, and you do the same.

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