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Literature / The Weirdstone of Brisingamen

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The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is a 1960 fantasy novel by Alan Garner. Published originally by Collins, whose head at the time was looking for more fantasy novels in order to cash in on the success of The Lord of the Rings,note  The Weirdstone went on to critical and commercial success at the time and has remained popular ever since (though not so much with its author). There's even a musical adaptation made in the 70s, which was recently re-arranged by goth band Inkubus Sukkubus, though for copyright reasons their version is unlikely to ever see the light of day.

The story of Weirdstone draws heavily on the local folklore of Cheshire, specifically a folk tale called The Wizard Under The Hill which revolved around a wizard guarding a cave in which King Arthur and his knights slept. Garner also borrowed other elements from Norse and Celtic mythologies; the lios and svart-alfar, the Morrigan, Ragnarok and mixed them all together to create a story of his own.


Weirdstone starts out with a retelling of a local tale of the Wizard Under The Hill, who needed a white mare to complete his set of horses for the Sleepers. He buys one from a local farmer at the market, and in the process, the farmer is taken to Fundindelve, the Cave of The Sleepers. Being an avaricious man, he steals away the Weirdstone from the cave, compromising the spells that keep the Sleepers from aging and dying.

Centuries later, Susan and Colin, the child-protagonists, are sent to stay with grumpy farmer Gowther Mossock and during their explorations of nearby Alderly Edge, come to encounter the wizard, Cadellin Silverbrow, who is the guardian of the Cave of The Sleepers. Unbeknownst to either the children or the wizard, Susan's guardian Elizabeth Mossock is a direct descendant of the farmer whom Cadellin purchased the horse from; the stolen Weirdstone became a family heirloom, bequeathed to her, which Susan wears around her wrist in a bracelet. Cadellin fails to notice the bracelet, but its significance is not lost on the malevolent Selina Place and her Morthbrood, who seek to bring about the return of Nastrond, the Spirit of Darkness whom the Sleepers banished centuries ago and whose return they were enchanted to wait for. Continued in The Moon of Gomrath (1963), with a long-delayed conclusion, of sorts, to the trilogy in Boneland (2013).


Contains examples of:

  • Beneath the Earth: It's where the svart-alfar live. Latter portions of the book spend some time in old mine workings and svart caves.
  • Big Bad: The Morrigan, aka Selina Place.
  • Cosmic Keystone: The titular Weirdstone of Brisingamen. It is what powers the enchantment that protects the chosen knights until they need to rise and fight Nastrond.
  • Creepy Crows: Serve as spies to Selina Place, appropriately enough, since she is an Expy of the Morrigan. In Irish mythology, the Morrigan is an aspect of the Goddess Babd, specifically goddess of war, strife and sovereignty who generally appears in the form of a crow.
  • Evil Smells Bad: The svart-alfar, evil magician Grimnir, and Nastrond himself, are all described as accompanied by a foul stench.
  • Exposition of Immortality: Cadellin; when we first encounter him, is purchasing a horse from a farmer in the 17th century. When he's next encountered, unchanged, it's the 20th century.
  • The Fair Folk: Garner's Elves are Dwarf-sized and represent the race as portrayed in Nordic and Celtic myth.
  • Functional Magic: Weirdstone has several different uses of this; there's the Device Magic of the titular stone; which anyone can use, whether they're inherently magical or not and Cadellin and Selina use a more Ritual Magic and Theurgy-esque type.
  • Gratuitous Latin as the Language of Magic: One of the earlier examples of Magic being Latin.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Though it's not a revelation to themselves (rather than bystanders), at the end of the book it is revealed that Cadellin and Grimnir are brothers.
  • Luke Nounverber: Cadellin Silverbrow, Angharad Golden-Hand.
  • Mineral MacGuffin: The titular Weirdstone. It's a magical gemstone, set into a bracelet and it's vitally important to maintaining the spells that keep the Sleepers alive and ageless in Fundindelve.
  • Must Be Invited: The Morrigan and her minions cannot enter a house uninvited. When this is used against her, she retorts that she has allies who don't share that limitation, and they're on their way.
  • No Communities Were Harmed:
    • Alderley Edge, Macclesfield, Mobberly, Lindow and Wilmslow are all real places in Cheshire. Most of the places mentioned in the book along the Edge; The Wizard's Well, Golden Stone, the Beacon and so on are also real. Although Garner is describing the Alderley Edge of fifty years ago, before it became a village for people with lots of money and no taste. South Manchester has also encroached vastly in the fifty years since this book was written. The 2013 successor novel Boneyard is in part a Take That! against the modern Alderley, an entity whose current incarnation is deeply loathed by the author.
    • Redesmere is a genuine lake in Cheshire. Lindow Moss exists at Wilmslow, but has since been swallowed up into Greater Manchester. A prehistoric "Bog Man" was discovered at Lindow, believed to be a human sacrifice from three thousand years ago; the bog naturally preserved and mummified the corpse. Hundreds of similar bodies have been wholly or partially recovered in Northern Europe. The dark magician Grimnir is explicitly based, in looks and smell, on the Lindow Bog Man: the Aesop being that the price paid for eternal life was to look and smell like a zombified drowned corpse.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: The Svart-Alfar, although the name actually means 'dark elves' (but the Norse version from whom they take their name are more like goblins).
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Grimnir, brother of Cadellin. See the note about the Lindow Bog Man, above; Grimnir is a bog-preserved lich.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Cadellin and Selina both date back to the original banishment / imprisonment of Nastrond, several hundred years before the time period the novel is set in.
  • Reset Button: the final battle leaves a lot of non-human corpses lying around in a field in a well-populated area of Britain. These would be of some interest if they were found later. Fortunately the Great Wolf of Nastrond arrives to hoover up the evidence of other sentient species sharing our world, and leaves the snowfield pristine white with no trace or evidence that the human world would find interesting and unsettling. The continuing blizzard keeping everyone else indoors ensures the event passes unseen and unremarked.note 
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Selina Place is also called Shape-shifter.
  • Weird Weather: The climactic action takes place in a world where "normal" rural Cheshire in England overlaps with the older Faerie world. Even though it is early spring, the Mara, a sort of ice troll, bring the "fimbulwinter" with them, seeking to trap the heroes in the open: the world is beset with a magically-generated blizzard and seasonally unrealistic snow, ice and subzero temperature. note