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.
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?