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Garner, Alan

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1934-    ) UK author whose early work was primarily for children; he has lived all his life near Alderley Edge, Cheshire, the setting for nearly all his fiction. Garner is widely thought one of the finest, though most difficult, children's writers of his generation; he ceased publishing for younger audiences after about 1980; after a long hiatus, he published two adult novels, Strandloper (1996) and Thursbitch (2003), each of them Equipoisal between realistic depictions of his home ground and narratives told with an extreme intensity, as though the Mythologies they re-enact had been new-minted. The revelatory intensity of his summatory return to children's tales in Treacle Walker (2021) takes its light from the whole of his work.

Most of Garner's is Fantasy, rooted in his knowledge of local archaeology and the lore of the region. His first two books form the Alderley Edge series for children: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen: A Tale of Alderley (1960; vt The Weirdstone: A Tale of Alderley 1961) and The Moon of Gomrath (1963), followed many years later by Boneland (2012), in which Colin, the co-protagonist of the original tales, is now 30 or 40 years older – a troubled astrophysicist (and also a kind of shaman with a responsibility to care for Alderley Edge) whose Amnesia blocks his childhood life, and who recovers that life and its meaning. His third novel, Elidor (1965), which has been assembled with the first two as Alan Garner Omnibus (omni 1994), can be read as borderline sf; the mood here darkens in a story of teenagers faced with a threat (and a quest) from a Parallel World, which impinges menacingly on their own. Garner's first fully mature work is The Owl Service (1967), in which a bitter Welsh legend re-enacts itself among modern children, faced with fully adult problems of love, jealousy and death; this novel won the Carnegie Medal, and was televised as The Owl Service (1969-1970 8 episodes). Garner's central lines of story have always involved a kind of Time Travel, but the time is inner and psychic, and any literal transfers from one time to another are presented, gnomically, in terms of Timeslip. The central burden of his stories lies not in sf explanations of events, but in the reworking of archetypal patterns, usually involving pain, loss, desire, rage and the need for an almost unattainable courage.

Garner's next book, Red Shift (1973), is in no conventional sense a children's book (see also Children's SF). In compressed, elliptical prose, primarily couched as dialogue, he reverts to the theme of the past working out its problems in the present, as a time shift, focused on a Neolithic axe-head, moves the protagonist backwards and forwards in a choppy and wrenching way between alter egos in the twilight of the Roman Empire in Britain, the Civil War of the seventeenth century, and now. It was televised as Red Shift (1978).

Garner's last fiction of note for children is a sparely written, quasi-autobiographical tetralogy, ostensibly for rather younger children: The Stone Book (1976 chap), Tom Fobble's Day (1977 chap), Granny Reardun (1977 chap) and The Aimer Gate (1978 chap), all four assembled as The Stone Book Quartet (omni 1983). Though these books are neither sf nor fantasy, the old themes recur, but with such stripped-down apodictic intensity – Garner is perhaps an even more "difficult" writer for children than William Mayne – that it is unsurprising that he fell into a silence beyond words for almost two decades. He was a 2012 recipient of the World Fantasy Award for life achievement. [PN/JC/DRL]

see also: Radio.

Alan Garner

born Alderley Edge, Cheshire: 17 October 1934



Alderley Edge

Stone Quartet

  • The Stone Book (London: Collins, 1977) [chap: Stone Quartet: hb/Michael Foreman]
  • Tom Fobble's Day (London: Collins, 1977) [chap: Stone Quartet: hb/Michael Foreman]
  • Granny Reardun (London: Collins, 1977) [chap: Stone Quartet: hb/Michael Foreman]
  • The Aimer Gate (London: Collins, 1978) [chap: Stone Quartet: hb/Michael Foreman]

Fairytales of Gold

individual titles

  • Elidor (London: Collins, 1965) [later republished in Alan Garner Omnibus, see above: hb/Charles Keeping]
  • Holly from the Bongs: A Nativity Play (London: Collins, 1966) with music by William Mayne [play: chap: hb/Roger Hill]
  • The Old Man of Mow (London: Collins, 1967) [story: graph: book is dated 1966, but some material is copyright 1967: hb/Roger Hill]
  • The Owl Service (London: Collins, 1967) [hb/Kenneth Farnhill]
  • Red Shift (London: Collins, 1973) [hb/Arthur Smith]
  • The Breadhorse (London: Collins, 1975) with Albin Trowski [story: graph: hb/Albin Trowski]
  • Strandloper (London: The Harvill Press, 1996) [hb/Richard Haughton]
  • The Well of the Wind (London: Dorling Kindersley, 1998) [story: chap: hb/Hervé Blondon]
  • Thursbitch (London: The Harvill Press, 2003) [hb/Errol Forbes]
  • Treacle Walker (London: Fourth Estate, 2021) [hb/]

works adapted/edited from traditional sources


about the author


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