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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by Alan Garner

I recently re-read Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (see here for a brief Wikipedia article on the book). The book I have was published by Ballantine of New York in 1960.

Although the book has two children, perhaps 11 or 12 years old, as two of the main characters, it's not particularly a children's book. I am giving away parts of the plot in the post.

This is Garner's first published novel, and has, I suppose, some faults because of that inexperience. It is fantastic literature. The children, and their guardians, interact with elves, witches, and other fantastic creatures. One fault is that Garner throws in a lot of mythology, and from at least two different sources. (He may have made some of it up, too.) Brisingamen (who does not appear as a character, but, of course, provides part of the title) is from Norse mythology, while Angharad, who appears, is from Celtic lore. Much of the material in the book is Norse in origin. Garner is a native of Cheshire, England, and some of the book is said to be based on local legends. New entities, whatever their source, appear with little or no explanation.

In spite of the legend-dropping, the book is compelling. I wish to mention two features.

One of them is that Garner holds back a relationship between two of the main characters -- they are brothers, perhaps identical twins -- until the end of the book. He writes that one of them, the evil one, became evil because he made a bad choice ". . . in his lust for knowledge he practised the forbidden arts, and black magic made a monster of him." (55-56) In the end, this evil character redeems himself as he dies by helping his good brother, also a wizard.

This theme, of studying things that should not be studied, occurs elsewhere, of course. Saruman is an example. Unfortunately, Saruman, though he had the opportunity in Tolkien's novels, did not redeem himself at all.

The other aspect is an underground journey that gives me chills whenever I read it, and I must have read it at least five times over the years. (I confess -- I have a little claustrophobia) Colin and Susan, brother and sister, travel, with two dwarves, through caves and mines where they don't know whether they are ever going to see the light of day again, and where they have to squeeze, swim under water, and gasp for breath. Garner describes this in enough detail to make it really scary, at least to me. It's the main thing I remember about this book.

Thanks for reading!


Dougald Hine said...

Yes! That underground journey is truly gripping: it's years since I last read the book, but I still remember how it made my stomach tighten.

If you haven't come across them, Garner's more recent novels ('Strandloper' and 'Thursbitch') are quite remarkable. He's come a long way since 'The Weirdstone...'

Happy reading!


Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for your comment, dougald hine. I haven't seen those books. I have read a couple more of Garner's earlier works.