Thursday 14 October 2010

Book Review: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner

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When Colin and Susan are pursued by eerie creatures across Alderley Edge, they are saved by the Wizard. He takes them into the caves of Fundindelve, where he watches over the enchanted sleep of one hundred and forty knights.

But the heart of the magic that binds them – Firefrost, also known as the Weirdstone of Brisingamen – has been lost. The Wizard has been searching for the stone for more than 100 years, but the forces of evil are closing in, determined to possess and destroy its special power.

Colin and Susan realise at last that they are the key to the Weirdstone’s return. But how can two children defeat the Morrigan and her deadly brood?


Books have a sense of permanence that’s deceptive, I think. You order a novel from Amazon, read it, slip it between this and that on your bookshelf, and perhaps, if it’s exceptional, you read it a couple more times – frolicking in fond memories or else realising your error – before you die, at which point, if it hasn’t disintegrated, it passes to your next of kin, or else a charity shop, or (God forbid) the tip. And excepting that latter, that’s a fine fate for fiction.

But how many print runs do you think the latest Neal Asher or Shaun Hutson’s going to see? Eventually, even Scott Lynch will fall out of print. Do you imagine, in 50 years – and let’s be honest: that’s a generous estimate – you’ll be able to pick up a copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora in the Borders or Waterstone’s of tomorrow? Times will change; the Gentlemen Bastards sequence will be completed, and with no new entries to bolster sales of the series, they’ll fade from view: a hundred hundred other more relevant authors will eventually edge Scott Lynch from the shelves, and there’s no shame in that.

It takes a truly outstanding novel to survive the inexorable passage of time. A novel like The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Carnegie award-winner Alan Garner’s extraordinary debut. The first part of a loose duology completed in The Moon of Gomrath, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen came before Elidor and The Owl Service, stories I know many hold close to their breasts; it came before Garner won over academia and began an on-again, off-again relationship with fiction to rival his American contemporary Cormac McCarthy’s, post-The Road.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen has been continually in print for 50 years… an incredible achievement. Generations of parents who read it out loud to their children each night, chapter by delicious chapter, have passed into stories themselves, and their children, perhaps even their children’s children, have grown old; old enough now to delight in sharing the grand and exquisitely English adventures of Colin and Susan with their own children.

I was one of the many generations reared on Alan Garner, and so yes, it hardly bears saying that The Weirdstone of Brisingamen holds a special place in my heart. I adore this book. Young or old, I would advise – nay, insist – you all go out and buy The Weirdstone of Brisingamen at once. Don’t go digging out your dog-eared old copies either, if you have them: plunk a tenner down for the lavish 50th anniversary edition Harper Collins have just put out. Lavishly bound in a rich forest green, featuring lovely, lovely maps, a fascinating postscript from the publisher, and moreover a rare appearance from Garner himself, whose lengthy introduction alone will be worth the price of entry, for some.

Now The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is half a century old – have I mentioned that already? – and in places, sure, it shows: Colin says “Ye-es” rather a lot and Susan has rather a habit of fainting everywhere. But there is a strength of character to this book, an ageless innocence to the tale bound between its pages, that will outlive us all.

Go to it, then. If not for your own sake then for your children’s, and mine


The Weirdstone of Brisingamen
(50th Anniversary Edition)
by Alan Garner

UK Publication: September 2010, Harper Collins Children's

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  1. This has just made my day. Though I am too chicken shit to ruin my childhood love of Weirdstone(and Something Wicked this Way Comes) with an adult re-read, I'm reduced to grinning warm-fuzzies every time I read a modern glowing review :)

  2. Haha...I however will have to curse (in a good way) TSS for trailing this one over the last couple of months: I loved Alan Garner when I was younger and this reprint is too tasty to resist. :)

    Should be plopping through my letterbox on Saturday.

    Mind you, Celine, - re-read Alice in Wonderland (which I read many times as a child) and The Wind In The Willows not so long ago and they were as good as I remember if the book is good enough (which I understand SWTWC is) you may not be disappointed!



  3. We were obviously the same weird kid, Solarbridge! Alice in Wonderland ( and even more so Alice Through the Looking Glass) were also childhood favourites and are still high on -perhaps even top of - my list ( I have so many editions of the Alice books that it's ridiculous.) They certain do live up to the re-read.

    Am never sure why 'Wonderland' is more highly regarded than 'Looking Glass' though. 'Looking Glass' is far trippier I suppose, does this put folks off, I wonder?

  4. Hmm, interesting question! I have to admit that I've never really separated the two books, as every edition that I've had of it has been a twofer of Wonderland/Looking Glass.

    I suspect that you're probably right. If you are, it's a shame for the people that disregard it - Looking Glass probably does make you work a little harder initially, but (and at the risk of making it sound like flat-pack furniture) it's a wonderfully engineered novel. The way that the whole thing comes together still wows me.

  5. i am reading this book for school and detest it it is just not my stle and he has played on the scottish words quite a bit i am scottish and from a strong scottish aria and if you heard me speek or most of the other pepole from my nabour hood you would find non of his languig in our talk it is just in acurat but i agree that you should hold on to books for ever