Sam Thompson

Writer

Alan Garner: Old Stone, Deep Time

In 2012 Alan Garner published Boneland, completing a trilogy with his classic 1960s children’s novels The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath. I wrote a piece in the Honest Ulsterman about Boneland and how it connects with all of Garner’s other work.

Alan Garner’s grandfather told him that, under Alderley Edge, a king lay in an enchanted sleep with one hundred and forty-nine knights, watched over by a wizard until the time came for them to wake and fight in the world’s last battle. Versions of this legend are common in European folklore — many hills have their mythical sleepers, sometimes identified as folk-heroes like King Arthur, Fionn mac Cumhaill or Frederick Barbarossa, and sometimes nameless, as in the Alderley story — but for the Garners the analogues were unknown and unimportant. Their legend was the remnant of an oral tradition passed down the generations that had lived on Alderley Edge, a sandstone escarpment near Macclesfield, since the sixteenth century. It buried itself deeply in Garner’s imagination, and emerged as the basis of his first novel The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960). The process was painful. Garner has written about the ‘shocking alienation’ that he experienced as a first-generation grammar-school boy, coming from a line of skilled but virtually unlettered rural craftsmen, attending Manchester Grammar School, reading classics at Oxford and eventually finding himself a stranger to the oral culture in which he had grown up. The Alderley Legend could only become the source of his novel because for him it had ceased to be a living tradition: he has commented that, as he began to write, the legend ‘stood for all that I’d had to give up in order to understand what I’d had to give up’. Five decades later Garner was still puzzling over what had been lost, returning in his ninth novel Boneland (2012) to the myth of the Sleepers in the Hill.

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