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the need to kill and the need to make…

By Dave Snowden  ·  December 30, 2012  ·  Christmas Blogs

I've mentioned the terror of the Earldelving before and recommended Alan Garner's books, based around Alderley Edge in Cheshire, that synthesise a hodgepodge of different magical traditions.  The first, Weirdstone of Brisingamen was again discovered through the BBC's children's hour and with its sequel The Moon of Gomrath were read and reread when I was young.  My children discovered them through audio books and interestingly both of them independently listed them in their top three when I asked them last week.  There are also related books in Elidor and The Owl Service which occupy a similar world albeit with different characters.  His later books are very different and very adult, as is the concluding part to the Weirdstone sequence Boneland published this year was around 50 years too late!  I can't help thinking that if he had written it back in the 60s it would have been in the same style as the earlier works and we have lost something in the process.  The critics have blown hot and cold about Garner and I suspect he was his own worst critic;   Weirdstone was his first book written in his early 20s.  The net result is that he has lost a lot of the simplicity of the earlier works, moving into a more abstract and ambiguous style.  So just a warning, don't pick up Boneland expecting any resolution of the plot lines left hanging at the end of The Moon of Gomrath, and it is very definately not for children

The charm of the books is what they are often criticised for, namely they mix up all manner of celtic, norse and manx legends with a spice of local cheshire legends thrown in for good measure.  Like many a great book for children they follow a form of hero's journey in which ordinary children are driven by extraordinary circumstances to achieve prodigious feats of endurance and moral courage.  The journey to Shutlingsloe and the sacrifice of  Durathror in the face of Nastrond's great wolf Fenrir is a wonderful piece of story telling, from the initial passive threat of the Morthbrood to confrontation with the Mara after the Fimbulwinter has been summoned.  In fact the two journeys, that through the Earldelving and the trek to Shutlingsloe provide the main narrative structure of the first book.  

By the time we get to Moon of Gomrath the writing style has improved and Garner explores the world that the children have been drawn into and from which they cannot escape.  In Boneland that confusion between the two worlds is drawn into a near psychotic astro physicist Colin seeking his sister who, as custodian of the Mark of Fohla has now moved into the realm of moon magic for ever.  There is a deep metaphor underpinning this book which contrasts the emotional old magic with the intellectual new magic of the Wizards.  In a sense it celebrates something a little more human, less sterile if messy.  Again this is no easy book where only the bad guys get it, many deaths are required to rescue Colin from the Morrigan.  There is no happy ending, these books are more in the tradition of European Fairy stories that teach through narrative and through realistic consequences of actions in those stories. 

The title of this post comes from Susan's encounter with the Hunter and the Herlathing, it emphasises the relationship between people and the land which is the main theme of Garner's adult books