If one book stands out from my childhood then it must surely be Alan Garner’s classic The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, First published in 1960, it has been reprinted countless times over the decades and new copies still stand proud in bookshops to this day. Given that it would shoot Garner into the heady heights of legendary author status it is surprising that he would come to view his debut with an increasing sense of distain.
For others, such as myself, it was a book which captured the imagination in a way few others did. It was accessible in a way Tolkein wasn’t, Garner chose to set the novel in Macclesfield and Alderley Edge in Cheshire, he made use of local folkelore and legends and made this a book as much about landscape and place as it is about fantastical figures. It was a book to encourage the reader to leave the house and explore their own ‘edge’ and to find wonder in the natural landscape.
The novel begins with a map of an area rich in streams, underground caves, moorland and forests. Tall beech trees, a ‘jungle of rhododendron, and holloways build a sense of dark drama as well as introducing the young reader to names all too sadly losing their place in our dictionaries.
My beloved editions were published in the late 1970s, four novels in an enchanting boxset: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath, The Owl Service and Elidor. It was a wonderful time to grow up, children required a strong sense of imagination and escapism to fill their spare time and Garner provided that on every page.
Rereading Garner many years later I am struck by moments of sheer beauty in his writing : ‘Now and again they would come upon a stretch of rock over which the water had washed a delicate curtain. This was to be found where a vein of ore lay just above the roof: the water, trickling through the copper, over the years had spread a film of colours down the wall, ranging from the palest turquoise to the deepest sea-green.‘
Garner went on to write a sequel in The Moon of Gomrath before writing another classic, The Owl Service in 1967. Garner deserves huge credit for his contribution to writing, he transcends children’s literature and fantasy writing through his unique use of place as a natural backdrop to the story. He left an indelible mark on my childhood and for that I am truly grateful.
Categories: The Reading Room