This is a book that friends have been recommending to me for years, but I never quite got around to it, which is a pity, because this is a great book.
First published in 1957, at which time it received outstanding reviews, the author and his work have somehow fallen out of fashion with all but a few die-hard fans, and parents wanting books for their children. As such, despite almost nobody outside of parenting circles talking about it, Alan Garner’s work remains steadfastly in the top ten of Amazon’s children’s fiction categories.
Fabulous, but oddly less well known than some of its contemporaries…
WHAT IS THE SETTING? Alderley Edge in Contemporary (1950’s) England.
Written with a contemporary setting to when the book was first released in 1957, this book would probably be best described as set in the nostalgic version of England after the second world war, when many aspects of life had changed little over the previous generations, especially in rural areas, where the rhythms of the countryside and long established traditions still held sway.
The story unfolds in the historic village of Alderly Edge, in Cheshire. Where the ‘Edge’ contained in its name is derived from the wooded hillside leading up to the nearby moorland, and which looms over the village and surrounding Cheshire plain. A moorland that is dusted with old mine shafts, caves and hollows, as well as standing stones and ancient pathways.
Part of a trilogy, but with each book standing firmly on its own!
But in addition to providing an engaging rural landscape as a backdrop, like many old English towns and villages, the history of Alderley is tightly woven with local legends and folklore, including the ancient fable that it is in a cave hidden beneath the Edge that King Arthur and his Knights of the round table lie waiting for the time when England would once more have need of them.
SO WHAT’S THE STORY ABOUT – A low fantasy Arthurian tale.
Well, put the setting of Alderley Edge with all its countless caves and hollows, together with adventurous young people on holiday in the countryside, along with the legend of King Arthur, and the story almost tells itself…
Alderley, like many Old English towns and villages, is steeped in legend and folklore…
But to say that, doesn’t really do justice to Garner’s skill as an author. Because what really elevates this story from being a good, but ordinary kids story, is the fact that Garner also creates a credible reason for the characters of myth to come into contact with the two youngsters who have just come to Alderley for a summer holiday, and that reason is the very Weirdstone mentioned in the title.
In Garner’s story, the Weirdstone is a jewel which contains the magical power that keeps King Arthur and his Knights slumbering in their cave beneath the Edge, a jewel which was stolen from the cave when the guardian of sleeping knights, a Merlin like figure, invites a local farmer into the cave in order to buy a horse from him for the King.
A Merlin like figure guards the sleeping king and the knights of the round-table, until England had need of them again…
How this particular jewel finds its way from the farmer several centuries ago, to one of the children sent on holiday in Alderley is handled very well, but of course, until that jewel finds its way back to the cave, then the magical slumber of the knights and their king is in peril, and there are forces working against the guardian of the cave, who would like nothing better than to find the stone and use its power for their own purposes, irrespective of the impact it would have on the future of England and the once and future king.
BUT IS THE STORY ANY GOOD? Yes, and it isn’t just for kids!
It would be very easy for me to just say that this is a great older children’s book, written in the style of The Railway Children, Swallows and Amazons or No Boats on Bannermere, The Famous Five. Thrilling titles that youngsters could read by themselves without parents needing to worry about their contents. But the truth is, Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of the Brisingamen is a good enough story for adults to enjoy also. Its true, the England it describes doesn’t exist anymore, so it might be a nostalgic read for some, but the setting and characters are all solid, as are the plot devices and overall story, and I think that’s enough to allow adults to enjoy this too.
Classic children’s books enjoyable for adults too…
SO, WILL I BE READING MORE IN THE SERIES? Yes, but perhaps not straight away.
Having read this first book, I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy the other books in the series, so its all to tempting to rush through them, but I think I’ll enjoy these books, much like I enjoy Charles Dickens’ stories, i.e. Every once in while, when I’m in just the right mood.
Garner’s books are quick and easy reading for adults, perfect holiday reading, or for those occasions when you know you’ve got a solid few hours to read and enjoy.
The Weirdstone of the Brisingamen isn’t bullet-proof. As an adult, if you’ve got an eye for detail, then you may well notice the odd inconsistency, details make what is happening in the story seem convenient or unlikely. But, the instances of this a very few and far between, so if you can overlook that kind of thing then its well worth doing so.
Finally, as you may expect from this being a children’s story written back in the 1950’s there is no grotesque violence or other adult content, but one of the real joys of this story is it’s optimistic and positive tone. What could be a better antidote to today’s growing fixation graphic detail.
REVIEWED BY PETER KNYTE
Peter is the author of the Flames of Time archaeological adventure trilogy, and the Glass Darkly Dieselpunk series amongst other works.
Africa keeps its secrets well,
and its ancient secrets best of all.
Untouched by the stock market crash of 1929, Kenya is the glamorous retreat for many seeking to escape the privations of the western world.
After being drawn into a strange shamanic ritual, an ages old secret is revealed, which puts a group of friends onto a path they cannot help but follow.
But along the way after recovering a number of ancient artefacts, their search attracts the attention of those for whom keeping such secrets buried is a solemn duty.
Above a world so like their own,
but not their own…
As lightning flashes between the tall buildings of Manhattan island, a strange craft of huge proportions suddenly appears, a metallic airship bristling with weapons.
But the ship is clearly damaged, with large holes that reveal a dark and lifeless interior.
Despite its appearance, the captain and some of the crew cling to life… along with the enemy has nearly destroyed them.