The Gift Alan Garner Gave Me

I discovered a couple of interesting things from a recent episode of the often interesting Coode Street Podcast.  Both of those things relate to one man; a man of some significance in my childhood.  Alan Garner.  The wonderful Alan Garner, I’m tempted to say.

A step back.  Four authors – setting aside Tolkein for now, who rather goes without saying  – four authors whose  fantastical works made a lasting impression on me as a young child: Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, C S Lewis, and Alan Garner.  All of them hitting some sort of sweet spot in my open, pliable child’s mind; immersing me utterly in their magical worlds.  Setting me on a path, perhaps, that I’ve never strayed too far from as the (too many!) years have passed.

Of those four, Cooper and Garner probably left the most indelible imaginative mark upon me.  I remember vividly not so much every detail of their books – it’s many, many years since I read them, after all – but the experience of reading them.  It was a powerful, transporting, absorbing experience of the sort that becomes progressively rarer, at least as far as reading is concerned, as we age.  Those two in particular, I think, because the fantasies they wove were located and entirely, richly rooted in the landscapes and myths of the land I was growing up in.

I don’t know, because I don’t really read them, but I wonder if the children’s and YA fantasies of today encourage children to see the world around them – not an imagined, impossible world, but the one right there, outside their window – with new eyes, to think about it in new ways, to populate it, in their own imaginations, with stories of wonder, of possibility, of magic.  To look outward, and deeper; see, with the mind’s eye, beneath the surface.  As Alan Garner did for me, way back then.

I wouldn’t have articulated or understood it this way at the time, but he was one of the first to introduce me to the idea that the world in which I lived could be seen as the abode of myth and magic, of deep story and deep time.  That is a gift worth the giving.

He gave it to me most potently in the form of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath.  The latter is a direct sequel to the former, but to the young me seemed decidedly, and interestingly, darker and more menacing.  Together, they must be amongst the most important and influential children’s fantasies ever written; they’re certainly amongst the best, if you ask me.  Then, when I was a only a little older, he showed subtler, more troublingly real kinds of magic and myth to me, in The Owl Service and Red Shift, which I guess nowadays would be called YA, but are perfectly suitable for not-so-young adults too.

All of which is by way of explaining why I found the two things I heard interesting.

First up, Alan Garner is getting a 2012 Life Achievement World Fantasy Award.  Seems like an eminently good idea to me.

Second up, and this surprised me a good deal more: a third and final book in the (as it turns out) trilogy started with Weirdstone of Brisingamen is being published in just a month or so.  It’s called Boneland.  Wow.  Its two predecessors were published over forty years ago!  I’m utterly fascinated, because I find it difficult to imagine him writing in quite the same style and voice, or with quite the same sensibility, after so many years and in such a changed world.  But who knows?

Either way, it might make now a good time to give a gift to any children you know, as Alan Garner – and my parents, who no doubt bought me the book – did for me all those years ago.  Let them try The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.  You never know, it might change their minds.  In a good way.

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