Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is one of the challenge books. I couldn't remember if I'd actually read it before or not. I read a number of similar books by Alan Garner's contemporaries when I was a kid. I couldn't remember any of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen this time around, so it's unlikely that I did read it, although I know I did read some Alan Garner.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is the first of Alan Garner's children's fantasy novels. It's set in the Cheshire area where Garner himself grew up, and I believe still lives in, and is largely based on local legends told to him by his grandfather.

Colin and Susan think that living in rural Cheshire with their mother's old friend Beth and her husband Gowther, while their parents are away overseas, will be a bit of an adventure. They don't realise exactly what sort of an adventure they're getting into.

Initially the hills near the farm, riddled with old copper mines and being mysterious and the site of so many stories and legends are a wonderful playground for two adventurous children, that is until they're chased by some queer little men and meet up with the legendary wizard Cadellin. It turns out that the legend of the sleeping warriors under the hill is true and that Susan has the legendary weirdstone in her bracelet, the stone that will waken the warriors, but cause untold trouble for the world if it falls into the hands of the Grimnir or the Morrigan and their allies.

It's a fast moving story with well defined characters. I was particularly impressed by Susan. Girls in stories from this era were often stereo typed as 'girly girls' who just tagged along with the boys and were largely a nuisance. Susan isn't. She takes the lead often and is the one who puts her brother Colin in his place. She's also the possessor of the weirdstone, so is referred to by Cadellin and his two dwarvish allies; Fenodyree and his cousin Durathror, as Stonemaiden. I could quite easily see Susan growing into someone like Catherine Velis (the heroine of Katherine Neville's marvelous book The Eight). Also coming up for a mention is the way Garner handled the adults in the story. Often I found adults in children's adventure or fantasies are pushed to one side as something inconvenient or too hard to deal with, either that or they're the villains of the piece. Alan Garner didn't do that and Gowther becomes one of the heroes of the piece.

To write The Weirdstone of Brisingamen Alan Garner combined local legends, Norse mythology, some Celtic mythology and even a little Arthurian legend to create a fresh and original story that has delighted readers for over 50 years.

If anyone wanted to read on or read something similar Alan Garner wrote a sequel called The Moon of Gomrath, plus a number of other books for children that are unrelated. Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence is also similar in tone, although I wasn't greatly impressed reading the opening book; Over Sea Under Stone, as an adult.

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