Creator / Alan Garner

Alan Garner, OBE (born 17 October 1934) is an English novelist who is best known for his work in children's fantasy and his retellings of traditional British folk tales. His work is firmly rooted in the landscape, history and folklore of his native county of Cheshire, North West England, being set in the region and making use of the native Cheshire dialect.

He received a lifetime-achievement World Fantasy Award in 2012.

Selected works:

  • The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960)
  • The Moon of Gomrath (1963)
  • Elidor (1965) (made into a television series in 1995)
  • The Owl Service (1967) (made into a television series in 1969)
  • Red Shift (1973)
  • The Stone Book Quartet (1979)
  • Strandloper (1996)
  • Thursbitch (2003)
  • Boneland (2013)


Tropes in his works:

  • Author Tract: Alan Garner is known to loathe the ongoing "gentrification" of Alderley Edge by the rich and tasteless, which elsewhere he has deplored as sucking out the magic and character from a town he loves and still lives nearby to. In comparing the "old" Alderley Edge to the new, and the change that has taken place in the fifty years since The Moon of Gomrath, he is surprisingly restrained, voicing his feelings through incidental asides spoken by Colin. (in Boneland). Colin cannot bear going anywhere near the farmhouse he grew up in, now it has been sold on and "gentrified" and is no longer a working farm. Garner is known to feel the same way about the former working farm that inspired the Mossocks' Highmost Redmanhey.
  • Afraid of Doctors: In the two fantasy novels set in rural Cheshire, especially in The Moon of Gomrath, the old farmer's wife has a strong rural English fear of doctors, displaying great reluctance at having Susan being seen by the medical profession during her coma (brought on by her being possessed by an old Celtic spirit of evil).
  • Broken Masquerade: one interpretation of the ambiguous and multilayered Boneland is that Colin Whisterfield was blessed with Laser-Guided Amnesia as an act of mercy by Cadellin and the Lady, after walking in the magic otherworld and fighting in its battles. This was necessary to preserve the secret of the Sleepers and the peoples of Magic from an ever-encroaching human peril, as well as to protect his own sanity. If this is true, there would also be a need to cover for the (ambiguous) destiny of his sister Susan, thought dead by by the human world, although no body was ever found. But in adulthood, memories and flashbacks and bad dreams are surfacing; it becomes clear the amnesia is not total.
  • Creator Backlash: Garner had strong critical disdain of his first two fantasy novels, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen(1960) and The Moon of Gomrath(1963). He considered them jejeune and childish next to his more evolved later work. However, fans loved them and kept badgering for a sequel to tie up the loose ends. He forced himself to write the sequel Boneland(2013) - some fifty years after the two original books. Deliberately, the style is as unlike the first two books as possible. In style and presentation of its subject material, it has more to do with the deliberate ambiguity of Elidor and Red Shift than with the two prior books in the series.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: people who read "Brinsingamen" and "Gomrath" first, then expected "The Owl Service" or "Elidor" to be more of the same, were invariably dissappointed. The accessibility and straightforward conventional plots of the first two novels were soon supplanted with the shifting landscapes and ambiguous uncertainties of the later writing, where readers really had to work hard to get at the meanings and the psychodramas being played out.
  • Franchise Zombie: After The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, Garner went on to write a long list of books he considered had far more literary merit and worth, and if he didn't actually hate his first two published works, he certainly disdained them. He was certainly annoyed with fans of the first two books who demanded and asked and pleaded for more involving the characters of Colin and Susan (the child protagonists). He made his deep dislike of the books, their premis, and their characters, very clear indeed by taking fifty years to write Boneland. In this book Colin has grown up into an over-educated depressive and borderline sociopath with mental health issues, and Susan apparently drowned herself one night when chasing after elves in the starlight. Boneland is pessimistic, chilly, dark and noir and bleak - with none of the magic or optimism of the books it succeeds. Colin may die on a hospital operating table after ECT for his mental health problems (the book is ambiguous on this). Garner very emphatically answered the fans' request for more by providing exactly the opposite to what they wanted, and by killing off the beloved lead characters. And a lot of the supporting cast.
  • Gainax Ending: The Owl Service ends with a young girl who had been possessed by an incredible supernatural force converting that force from anger - "owls" to peace - "flowers". However, everything else about the characters' relationships (which have been totally wrecked) is left unresolved.
  • The Ghost: Margaret, the mother of Alison in The Owl Service. Many of the events pan out as the characters try desperately to keep her happy, but she never appears in the book. Similarly occurs in the TV series, to the extent that you see parts of her clothing and even hear her play piano in the same room, but never actually hear or see her.
  • The Hecate Sisters: Garner's work retells old folk myths from the British Isles and draws on thousands of years of oral and mythological tradition. The mythology and folklore of the moon and lunar cycles features heavily, as does the symbolism of triads and triples. Observe the triad formed by Susan Whisterfield (the maiden, the waxing moon) Angharad Goldenhand (the Mother, the Full Moon) and Selina Place/The Morrigan (the waning old moon, the Crone)
  • Innocence Lost: Colin Whisterfield in the multi-level, multi-ambiguous, ever-shifting Bonelands. Is he - in reality - a survivor of child sex abuse? Whose trauma was then compounded when his sister drowned accidentally? That his memories of dealing with an evil witch in a primal fight against evil , abducted to her by her dwarf servant, are really of sexual trauma.
  • Invisible Writing: The bracelet given to apprentice white witch Susan, in The Moon of Gomrath, is apparently of plain silver with nondescript black inlay. But in times of great need, it manifests readable writing, which when spoken by her becomes a spell of great potency and confounds the creations of evil.
  • Ley Line: In The Moon of Gomrath, the young hero has to follow a ley line in specific circumstances to find a magical plant.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: In The Owl Service, Gwyn has just found proof that Huw, the mad gardener, killed his mother's lover Bertram and accuses Huw of killing his father. Huw then reveals that he is Gwyn's father.
  • Meaningful Name: also a Bilingual Bonus and a case, perhaps, of Readers Are Geniuses. In The Moon of Gomrath, the dwarf reflects on the name "Colin" and says it is that of a great hero. He even calls Colin the "Grey Dog". Colin, of course, is a modern form of the Irish hero's name Cu Chulain, the Hound of Ulster, the original Grey Dog.
  • Meanwhile, in the Future: Thursbitch uses this trope with some crossover between times in a small hamlet in England.
    • In Boneland, Colin and the Watcher are playing out the same issues of loss and trauma, in much the same geological place but separated by up to half a million years in time. Both are struggling to work out what is happening to them according to their conditioning and cultural preconceptions. Garner even hints that Recursion is happening and they are somehow directly linked.
  • The Nameless: Boneland deals with what happened to the protaganists of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath after the end of the latter novel. The central character here is Colin, grown to adulthood and working on the Edge as a university scientist with psychological problems. His long-missing sister Susan is referred to but is never, ever, named in the book. Garner at one point puts a Lamp Shade on this.
  • Ominous Fog: Ominous fogs and mists are a part of Alan Garner's fantasy trilogy beginning with The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, continuing in The Moon of Gomrath and ending - more metaphorically and symbolically - in Boneland. The dark lich Grimnir rises out of Lindow Moss bog in a twilight mist; the battles are fought in fog and mist and snow; and the adult Colin wrestles with the symbolic fog that has settled over his early life and memories, blotting out good and bad together save for flash-frame glimpses.
  • Our non-human but humanoid races are different The svart-alfar, called into being for the novel The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. The name literally means dark Elves, but the underground creatures have far more in common with Orcs or Goblins. In the sucessor novel The Moon of Gomrath, the place of evil footsoldier is taken by the bodachs from far Albany: these are a more lizard-like sort of goblin, still humanoid and intelligent enough to forge metal and organise as war-bands. The concluding novel in the trilogy, Boneland, pays Homage to a well-founded theory that as newer sub-species of the human race arose, the predecessor races they co-existed with and then suceeded over inevitably became the goblins, dwarves and Elves of our legend. The Watcher is clearly of a different sub-species to the Homo Sapiens/Cro-Magnons who rescue him.
  • Possession Burnout: In The Moon of Gomrath, an ancient Celtic demonic entity, the Brollochan, is released from its prison cell by human interference. The Brollochan is an entity that lives vicariously through the senses of people and animals it serially possesses - but no host can contain it for long without burning from the inside and crumbling to death.
  • Public Domain Artifact: The Four Treasures of Ireland show up in Elidor.
  • Saved by the Phlebotinum: Susan, after her brother's quest into Faerie brings back the enchanted flower that will restore her soul to her body.
  • Sequel Gap: 2013's Boneland is the continuation of his 1960 and 1963 novels The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath - some fifty years after the original books. Garner so disliked the original novels, as atypical of what he wanted to be remembered for, that it took him half a century to write the third concluding part of the trilogy.
  • Translation Convention: Red Shift is split between three time periods in the same part of northern England - the then current 1970s, the mid-1600s, and early Roman Britain in the first century AD. The first two groups are left untranslated, the present day characters obviously speaking modern English, and the 17th century ones speaking a more-or-less accurate dialect of early modern English. However, the Roman characters - a squad of low-ranking soldiers - are translated into a slang-heavy form of modern English reminiscent of Vietnam-era US military slang.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Boneland is deliberately vague and ambiguous. But it is hinted that this is a possible reason for Colin's inability to recall anything that happened to him before his thirteenth birthday. His medical records reveal that he was struck by a freak lightning bolt on top of Stormy Point.note  He is also note  given a hospital MRI-scan where inexplicable brain damage is discovered.
  • Unicorn: In Elidor the four children are instructed to track down the unicorn Findhorn.
  • The Wild Hunt: In The Moon of Gomrath; Colin and Susan accidentally summon the Wild Hunt.

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