The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner (1960) 284 p.
Alan Garner is widely considered one of England’s most beloved children’s authors, so naturally I had to investigate what the fuss was about. The problem with beloved children’s authors is that a lot of people love them because they were raised on them, and if you come onto the scene decades later as an adult, you may fail to see what the appeal is, only to be met with wintry glares from everybody else, trying to enjoy their nostalgia binge.
That’s certainly how I feel about The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Garner’s first novel, and the first part of a trilogy. Cardboard cut-outs Susan and Colin (I just finished the book and still had to check their names) are sent to live in rural Cheshire with friends of their parents, who have gone overseas on business. In the habit of rural London children throughout the annals of fantasy, they soon find themselves embroiled in a magical adventure involving wizards, dwarves, goblins and magic stones.
Obviously this is a children’s book, but I feel capable of judging children’s books based on their own merits (see – The Neverending Story and The Thief of Always), and I feel that The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is deeply flawed however you judge it. It starts off promisingly enough, with a well-realised rural setting and a sense of rustic mystery and adventure, but as soon as the monsters and warlocks get involved it goes off the rails. There are multiple antagonists with no particular characteristics to separate them from each other bar their weird names, and the children are assisted in their quest by a pair of interchangeable, stereotypical dwarves who speak in a grating “prithee” and “well met” and “mine eyes” fantasy argot, which reads as though Garner had just finished The Lord of the Rings. The problem with such hollow characters, of course, is that it’s impossible for the readers to care about the world you’ve created for them or the difficult circumstances you’ve put them in. I was bored by The Weirdstone of Brisingamen halfway through, and doubt I would have been any more interested if I were fifteen years younger.
Interestingly, however, Garner wrote the second book in the trilogy, The Moon of Gomrath, in 1963; but he then became bored with his creations and later disassociated himself from them, saying he had moved on and developed as an author, and had no intention of finishing the trilogy. But eventually he did write a third book after all, Boneland, published in 2012 – a staggering fifty-two years after the original. By all accounts, and as you’d expect, it’s a very different book. I find that fascinating, and despite not enjoying The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, I plan to push on with the trilogy purely out of curiosity to see what Boneland is like.