The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is fifty years old
October 2, 2010 6:59 AM   Subscribe

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner was first published 50 years ago & has remained in print ever since. Celebratory events have been happening over the year leading up to the anniversary this coming weekend.

Sadly the tours of Alderley Edge itself, both over and underground have sold out, but maybe you can join in by exploring the caves and tunnels that are described so evocatively in the book at the website of the Derbyshire Caving Club

Alternatively, perhaps you'd like to take a look at the Owl Service (scroll down) pottery design that inspired his book of the same name? Or read an interview with the author in Elimae.
posted by pharm (28 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
thank you thank you and dont forget the owl service, read out to us in class in 1976. I found them again a couple of years ago and enjoyed them as an adult
posted by The Lady is a designer at 7:13 AM on October 2, 2010

I never heard of this book and look forward to reading it. What I can't figure out is, why hasn't it been made into a crap movie yet?
posted by Faze at 7:33 AM on October 2, 2010

The Weirdstone of Brasingamen contains an underground sequence that is probably one of the most terrifying things I've ever read, as a claustrophobe at least.

Garner is one of the unsung heroes of fantasy, I think, though off the beaten track as Peake is (though in a different way). TWoB, Elidor, The Owl Service and Red Shift, all startling and unsettling.
posted by Grangousier at 7:44 AM on October 2, 2010

Also interesting that the three books he'd like to have written (one of those annoying journalistic questions) are Waiting for Godot, The Spire and The Box of Delights.
posted by Grangousier at 7:53 AM on October 2, 2010

It's a fantastic work by any standards, not just childrens. Haunting British folk-tale fantasy creeping round the edges of the real world . . .

Another series well worth a read in a very similar vein is Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising. I always assoicate the two having read them within months of each other at the age of about 11, the more I think about the more they both seem to lie at the root what I love in fantasy.

I remember the Owl Service being sinister and terrifying me, but I can't pin down specifics in that memory. Second hand bookshop trawling time, methinks . . .
posted by protorp at 7:54 AM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Red Shift is his real masterwork for my money. I grew up in Cheshire, a bit of a way south a real Garner country, but that added something extra when I read the books as a boy.
posted by Abiezer at 7:58 AM on October 2, 2010

Love Alan Garner. One of the first authors I can remember reading whose books kept me up all night turning pages until dawn. I had family in who lived in Alderley Edge, and just assumed that everyone else did, too, why else would it be a setting for a book? Thank you for this!
posted by biscotti at 8:19 AM on October 2, 2010

Poking further around your links, found this interesting site for a trust Garner helped found to preserve Cheshire heritage, including his own 16th-century home.
posted by Abiezer at 8:19 AM on October 2, 2010

And now I see you did link to the trust. I'll get me coat.
posted by Abiezer at 8:23 AM on October 2, 2010

Good to see some love for Alan Garner on the blue! I ran into an Oxford academic who helps run the Black Den Trust that Abeizer mentions who was bemoaning the fact that there seemed to be so little contemporary interest in his work. Searching the blue, I found almost no mention of him at all, just a comment in a thread on the Dark is Rising, so I thought a post of some sort was required. Finding the original design of the Owl service clinched it for me.

Grangousier: "The Weirdstone of Brasingamen contains an underground sequence that is probably one of the most terrifying things I've ever read, as a claustrophobe at least. "

Yes, especially the bit where sequentially each character is forced to make the choice to commit themselves to the water, not knowing whether there's air further down the tunnel. <shudders>
posted by pharm at 8:26 AM on October 2, 2010

Wow. Megaflashback.
posted by Artw at 8:46 AM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh this is awesome! I love The Weirdstone of Brisingamen so much - I think it changed my life as a child. I actually wrote a letter to Alan Garner when I was nine or ten, asking if I could make it into a play and I got a lovely letter back from his wife saying that I was welcome to adapt it but not to charge money. Alas, at nine I wasn't quite up to adapting it for the stage - I'm still not, at forty something - but I've never forgotten how exciting it was to get that letter, covered with English stamps, that addressed me just like an adult.

I've reread all of his books as an adult - I keep copies on hand to give out, even, I snatch them up whenever I find them at a used bookstore - and I'm happy to report that they have never, ever been visited by the Suck Fairy.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:48 AM on October 2, 2010

Good lord, I'd forgotten about this excellent book! Had a beaten copy about the house when I was very small and it got more battered as I read it over and over again. Excellent!
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:14 AM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Love, love, love Alan Garner, particularly for Elidor and The Owl Service, but lots of love for this book as well. Those books hold up; Elidor still creeps me out to this day.
posted by OolooKitty at 9:24 AM on October 2, 2010

Thanks for these links, pharm - the Alderley Edge cave photos revived memories of Weirdstone I didn't realise I still had; and I'm fascinated to see the Owl Service & only wish the photos of it were larger & more detailed.
posted by misteraitch at 9:33 AM on October 2, 2010

I didn't even realize just how much of an impact these books have had on me. I am touched by the love pouring out on the blue and humbled by my privileged education which had teachers who introduced these books to us at a young age. I have always loved the way the words rolled around in my mouth "the weirdstone of brisingamen" ...
posted by The Lady is a designer at 9:52 AM on October 2, 2010

Come to think of it, I was just 9 years old at the time and in my forties now, mygothlaundry... did we attend the same post colonial prep school in kuala lumpur?
posted by The Lady is a designer at 9:55 AM on October 2, 2010

Love that book, but surprised no one mentioned the sequel, the Moon of Gomrath, which is even better. As an adult, I re-read it and realized I hadn't really understood the point of the second book, which was that the young female protagonist is just entering womanhood...

And I second the praise for the Dark is Rising series, another 7-book-er, but IMHO much less ponderous than Harry Potter - I did finish all 7 Potters but the last couple were quite a slog, really.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:14 AM on October 2, 2010

As far as rereading 7-er series go, nothing like Narnia (yet another book introduced to as a young 'un by the same teacher, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, bless her)
posted by The Lady is a designer at 10:33 AM on October 2, 2010

What I can't figure out is, why hasn't it been made into a crap movie yet?

Hopefully it never will be. There was a very good TV adaptation of The Owl Service made in 1969 though. There's a clip of the opening titles here, plus some of the opening narration they added to each episode.
posted by permafrost at 12:07 PM on October 2, 2010

Yay, Alan Garner!

It's so good to see his work getting so much love, both via the 50th anniversary celebration, and here in the Blue. Here in the US, he seems to be the sort of writer that only other writers know about, and of course he deserves so much more than that.

For those who haven't read them, his non-YA stuff is pretty amazing, too. I read _Thursbitch_ last summer and can recommend it whole-heartedly.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:35 PM on October 2, 2010

Still creeped out by the underground tunnel over here, too.

I used to reread The Owl Service every few years to see if it was still incredibly creepy (it was, every time; eventually I realised it always would be and stopped) but could never bring myself to read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen again. Maybe now, twenty years on? Or ... maybe let's leave it another ten years. It's unlikely to change, right?
posted by Lebannen at 2:37 PM on October 2, 2010

Seconding palmcorder_yajna - Thursbitch is an astonishing book.
posted by reynir at 3:17 PM on October 2, 2010

I've now spent the whole day shuddering at memories of the svart alfar and their sticky evil fingers. Time to pick up another copy for some fresh shuddering.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:20 PM on October 2, 2010

Apparently there is a beloved children's fantasy classic that I had somehow never heard of until just now. That's bizarre, but, well, it's nice to have something to look forward to. Thanks, MetaFilter!
posted by moss at 7:41 PM on October 2, 2010

The Owl Service is one of my favourite books of all time. The writing is so tight, with no wasted words, and yet almost every time I pick it up I notice something I've overlooked on previous readings.

Red Shift is very difficult to read; it's so harsh. Love it too, though.

There's a DVD available of the 1969 'Owl Service' with a very interesting doco on Garner, although it's not so much a doco as "let's listen to him talk a lot about his writing and inspirations while we film his surroundings". It suits the man and the writing, though.
posted by andraste at 12:13 AM on October 3, 2010

These terrified me as a child too! Re-read The Owl Service recently, it was still awesome. I'm amazed the plates actually exist, how delightfully creepy.
posted by Coaticass at 2:36 AM on October 3, 2010

Wow. When I was a wee 'un, my mother was a childrens' school librarian. My sister and I adored Alan Garner (and Susan Cooper for that matter). In about 1982 we went back to the UK to visit relatives. I don't know quite how we ended up there, but we ended up in Garner's home town in the Peak District. My sister and I would have been 10 and 11 at the time, and my parents got chatting to a local bookstore owner who suggested that we drop in on Alan, who lived 'just up the road'. I suppose my parents thought that having some so far (from Australia), we might as well pop in. Any way, Alan Garner opened his door to four very enthusiastic Australians who wanted to tell him just how much they loved his writing. I must say he took it in very good spirit. He and his wife were evidently on their way out, judging by their coats and boots, so I don't doubt him when he said that he would have had us in for a cup of tea if they weren't in such a hurry.

Whilst as an adult, I'm a little horrified that we did that, I cherish the memory of the warm, if bemused author, and his stunning and evocative books.
posted by tim_in_oz at 3:26 AM on October 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

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