Monday, 11 October 2010

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and 10.10.10

It has been an odd few days.  Ian was laid low with the flu and spent Friday and much of Saturday in bed.  Most unfairly all that lying down affected his back so he was doubly stricken.  He is generally so energetic and so rarely ill that it quite takes me by surprise to have him really poleaxed by something.  Heroically he got up on Saturday afternoon and insisted that he was OK to go out in the evening.

The reason for going out was a special occasion: a dinner at The Wizard Inn in Alderley Edge with family and friends of Alan Garner to celebrate the fact that Alan's book "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen" has been in print for fifty years.  In fact its fiftieth birthday was 10.10.10.


I first read the Weirdstone when I was about eleven years old and I can  hardly now remember the time when I did not know the story.  Two children, Colin and Susan, are drawn into a battle with evil forces which seek to capture a bracelet which Susan wears on her wrist.  This is the Firestone.  If it falls into the hands of the morthbrood the world will be powerless against Nastrond, the Spirit of Darkness.  It chilled me, terrified  me, haunted and fascinated me.  It made the world shifting and unreliable because the landscape through which the children are pursued by the mara, nightmare creatures led by the huge, shapeless Morrigan, was a real one, a familiar one.  As a child growing up in the North of England so much of what I read was based in a world I did not know and could only dream about.  Children rode ponies in the New Forest.  The Famous Five camped on an island off the coast of Cornwall.  The places in the South of England were as exotic and unknown to me then as France or Italy.  But the Weirdstone takes place in the real landscape of Cheshire, just down the road.  Alan Garner walked every step of the journey the children took and I had been to some of the places too and walked with my father on Shutlingslow.

The subsequent book was "The Moon of Gomrath" and if anything that one affected me even more strongly.  The rush of the Wild Hunt through the dark, conjured by a fire lit by Colin and Susan, is an image I can still call to mind and certain nights when the moon is full and the wind is high still set off a quiver in my stomach when I go outside.  They remind me of the night I read this book, under the covers by torchlight, long after I should have gone to sleep, with the Pennine wind thrashing the house and the shifting moon spilling through the gap in my bedroom curtains.

It is extraordinary in this world of the passing fad and the throwaway that the book has been continously in print for fifty years.  If you have an imaginative child, boy or girl, of about ten to thirteen or so, give it to them to read and if you haven't got a child to buy it for, read it yourself.  I did not know or appreciate when I read it at eleven that the stories behind the books are the myths and legends of the Celts and the old Norse.

Alan still lives and writes in Cheshire, indeed he gave us an insight into his new book on Saturday evening, a rare thing from someone who dislikes discussing what he is working on.  The house where he has lived for all his adult life is Blackden and he and his wife Griselda, together with others, have formed a trust to protect the house and land after he is gone.  The trust runs courses which draw on the archaeology, the history and the stories which attach to a place which has been occupied for ten thousand years.  Go if you can.  It is a most extraordinary place.
So, although Ian flagged a bit towards the end of the evening, it was an occasion worth getting up for.

Have you read either of these books? Or if not, what did you read as a child which has stayed with you as part of your mental furniture?

28 comments:

  1. Elizabeth - a really interesting read. Glad you were able to make your night out. Flu seems to have hit this part of the world with avengence! Hope Ian is on the mend!

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  2. I did read the Weirdstone when I was young, but I don't remember the story so well now. I do remember 'Over Sea, Under Stone' by Susan Cooper. It was the first book in the five volume series 'The Dark is Rising'. I read all of the others too, but this is the one which stuck with me.

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  3. I have a niece who would probably love these books - thank you for the suggestion.
    I was a dull sort of girly-girl and loved all the Louisa May Alcott stories, and What Katy Did and What Katy Did Next, etc etc

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  4. No I haven't Elizabeth but i have heard of them and think a Christmas present for one of the children may be in the offing. I think I may have heard a Radio 4 programme about him and this book too? Hope Ian is well now x

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  5. Dear Elizabeth, Yes, I did read 'The Weirdstone of Brisingamen' as a child and much enjoyed it. He is a highly imaginative and very engaging storyteller. What a wonderful evening you all must have had.

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  6. Thanks for that. I haven't read any of his books but can perhaps understand the hold. Books do stay with you, don't they? Maybe you'd like 'The Crock of Gold' by James Stephens to which my own writing owes a great deal. It's a wonderful Irish tale full of leprechauns and philosophers and the Great God Pan. By turns inspirations and sad, uplifting and philosophical. But then there are those stalwarts of childhood - where wouldn't I have been without Winnie the Pooh and (We can't all and some of us don't) Eeyore and AA Milne's poetry and Beatrix Potter, too, (my over use of the lovely word 'vexed' is entirely down to her). Later came Enid Blyton, of course, and Biggles and wonderful, wonderful books like The Once and Future King. Sorry, rabbiting as usual. But you are so right!

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  8. I havent heard of either of these books which is a pity as they would definately have appealed to me as a child. I may even seek them out to read now. I find myself becoming increasingly interested in the myths and legends of the celts and also how they ran their communities etc particularly before the catholic church got hold.
    Hope Ian is better now

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  9. I think I must read his books now! I have many that captivated me in childhood, but I really loved George Macdonald's "The Princess and The Goblins" (and its sequel "...and Curdie") - although I completely missed the religious allegory side of it!

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  10. Those are two of my favourite books! Still! As a child I read them under the covers with a torch, unable to stop until I had finished, gripped by the adventure and by fear. I still re-read them occasionally. I am jealous you got to eat with the man himself.

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  11. I haven't read them but the more I hear about them the more I wish I had!
    I loved books by Henry Treece, 'The Children's Crusade' and the ones about the Vikings. My favourite was his book about Hereward the Wake 'Man with a Sword' because I lived in the fens and could imagine the scenes acted out on our fields.
    Celia

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  12. Molly - I hate flu, don't you? Horrible thing!
    H - loved Over Sea, Under Stone as well and all that series and remember that one vividly too.
    Pondside - I loved Louisa May Alcott and What Katy did too! I think they call it eclectic tastes! Basically I loved most things.
    Pipany - yes there was a Radio 4 programme and I am sure you have an imaginative child who might like these!
    Edith - ah another lover of the Weirdstone! It was a great evening and a privilege to be there.
    Fennie - like the sound of the Crock of Gold. I will look out for it. And yes to your other choices too!

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  13. Helen - I would love to know what you think if you do read them. It is hard to imagine coming to them as an adult.
    Rachel - I missed any religious allegory totally too. I also loved the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and was surprised to discover that there was a religious theme to that too!
    Janet - another lover of Garner and another torch reader! Do you think the two go together?
    Celia - I think you would have loved them, might still love them if you read them now. I liked Henry Treece too and Rosemary Sutcliffe. Did you read her?

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  14. Well done Ian.
    An evening out like this provides everything: stimulating conversation, a special occasion, friends and something new.
    What's not to get up for?

    EM, I wouldn't have read the books as a child unless they had been translated. I suppose it is a bit late now as an adult?

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  15. I loved these books as a child too, but I don't have copies of either of them anymore... I think I see a future treat in store!

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  16. Thanks for sharing this and the reminder. I read this book to my kids some years ago now but it stays with me really vividly. It contains a scene where the children are crawling through smaller and smaller tunnels and I have *never* been so frightened reading a book ever (and I was the grown up!). I loved the fact that they are set in a real place, it adds something essential to the story.
    much love
    martine

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  17. Elizabeth - this is extraordinary - I'm so glad I popped over here tonight. Can you believe that I was in the Wizard on Friday night. We could so nearly have been in the same room without even knowing it! I was at a work do with N so the room was heaving with accountants. I was dreading the evening, frankly, but it turned out to be surprisingly good fun.

    I'm also intrigued by the book and I shall certainly buy it now for my daughters to read. I was aware of the shadowy goings-on at the Edge - I find that whole area rather spooky actually.

    I'm trying to think of a book which shaped me in childhood, or at least stayed with me into adulthood. I was not a great reader as a child, I have to admit, and I've never been very good with fantasies and highly imaginative stuff. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe certainly left an imprint though; also Lord of the Flies (though I read this as an older child), Tom Sawyer and Knight Crusader (by Ronald Welch) which was about a 17 year old French knight's experiences against the Saracens in the Holy Land in the 12th century. Strangely atmospheric and informative. As a younger child I loved the stories of Mary Plain, a little bear in Berne. So funny, but very old-fashioned now really.

    Still can't believe we were so nearly at the Wizard together! We really SHOULD organise a get-together one of these fine days.

    Do hope Ian is feeling better and that you have not now succombed to the lurgy too...

    PS: love the new header photo - assume it is the view from your house. Reminds me a lot of mine, though your sky looks bigger. Beautiful. So peaceful.

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  20. Sorry - my comment seemed to appear in triplicate so have deleted unnecessary versions!

    PS: also know Shutlingslow well. Very beautiful too.

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  21. I have never heard of these books before. Books that have stayed in my memory from when I was a child are The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.......and The Box of Delights........I'm sure I would have enjoyed The Weirdstone of Brisingamen as a child.......and I think the child in me would love to discover, read and enjoy them now.
    florrie x

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  22. Friko - I think you might find these interesting even as an adult. Alan is an extraordinarily knowledgeable and learned man although he wears his knowledge quite lightly. The mythology which is part of these stories is fascinating in its own right.
    Chris - I would love to know what you think of these if you read them again now. Do tell me if you read them.
    Martine - yes it was the crawling through tunnels which I found overwhelming as a child!
    HOTH - how lovely to see you here again! I adored Mary Plain when I was little and also the Teddy Robinson stories.
    Florrie - hi and thanks for commenting. I think if you liked The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and The Box of Delights you would have liked The Weirdstone and The Moon of Gomrath. Fascinating how some people came across it and some never did!

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  23. How could you not love a book called The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. I am always enchanted by stories with stories behind them, especially when based in the in-between worlds. Will definitely look for this author.
    My favourite book as a child? The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart.

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  24. Have not read any of Alan Garner's books but must make a determined effort being a Cheshire resident. The book that made the biggest impact on me as a child was Johanna Spyri's 'Heidi' ~ she was the little girl that I would have willingly swapped places with :) Hope that Ian is well and truly on the mend.

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  25. I loved both when I was a child and read them under the bedclothes too! I'll never forget the feeling of reading for the first time the bit where Susan calls up the Wild Hunt - I think it was the most exciting thing I'd ever read. I'm not sure what started my lifelong interest in myths and legends, but Alan Garner certainly fed it. I'd forgotten that Weirdstone was celebrating such an important birthday - I also blogged about Garner's writing recently on (Geranium Cat's Bookshelf) and I've added a belated link to your lovely post.

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  26. Hi Elizabeth, although I haven't read Alan Garner's books I thought you might like to have a look at my blog site as it covers a lot of the sites Alan has written about in his books. You can visit it at www.ludchurchmyblog.wordpress.com

    regards Gary

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  27. I've only just seen this post - I love both these books and am familiar with the places in them as I grew up in Macclesfield and have known Alderley Edge all my life. I had my wedding reception at The Wizard nearly 40 years ago. I haven't read Thursbitch yet but intend to remedy that omission immediately.

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  28. Part of the fabric of my childhood and the beauty of the riders in the sky in the Moon of Gomrath still moves me to tears.

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