|Great cover, no?|
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (and The Moon of Gomrath, the sequel) are disturbing, honest and, on the surface, quite simple books, but with such depth and long lasting power that it's no surprise Alan Garner is widely recognised as one of the great classic children's writers, and he isn't even dead yet. The stories, which can appear quite straightforward, almost seem less important that the sense of ancient magic and deep, deep danger that Garner is able to write about without you ever quite knowing how he does it. That's the depth - that ability he has to leave you with impressions of thing you can't quite put into words, to make you scared of things he never mentions, to leave you feeling like you know places you've never even been to.
I got this book off my mum years ago - it's one of her favourite books, and we were holidaying in deepest Wales when we first started reading it. Wales is a good country for books like this. Not high fantasy, with epic battles and flashy magic, but fantasy earthed in the land and the myths you can feel in the hills. I remember one dark night in a small, rented cottage, an old place surrounded by old trees under an old moon, when I stopped reading Weirdstone 'cause it scared me. That's good writing, that is.
I do have criticism for Garner. Both these books have as their central theme a single challenge to be overcome, and once that task is complete, he just... ends. Stops. The pen freezes in his hand, I suppose, and there's no need to carry on. No wrapping up. No bothering about loose ends. Perhaps it's a compliment to readers - we can sort that stuff out on our own, we don't need telling and babying. But imagine Lord of the Rings ending just as Frodo drops the ring in Mt Doom. Yes, technically, they've won, but there has to be more story - the return home, the coronation, the cleaning up of all the mess.
Not in Garner books. Things end when the adventure is over and it's up to you to either sulk and want more or just imagine for yourself what happened in the end end. Maybe that is a strength. Maybe it's not anything. It certainly helped me know what kind of books I want to write.
And one day I shall write a book about a small, old cottage in Wales, and the ancient magic that stirs nearby...