Literary Affairs

Theatre of the Mind: Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath

If you loved The Hobbit, you’ll really enjoy the beginning of Alan Garner’s The Alderley Tales, which are composed of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath. But don’t take my word for it, read what our reviewer says:

On the surface, these two books, known collectively as The Alderley Tales, are the adventures of two children who spend a summer in the country and encounter a magical world of elves, wizards, evil witches, and magic. The stories employ magical creatures, the waking of old magic, kindly adult guardians who trust the children to do right, and the age old struggle between good and evil.

All the standard stuff one would expect, you may be thinking, but if you only scratched the surface of these books, you would be missing the layered symbolism, the philosophical conversation about rationalism in magic, the nature of deity, and the weaving of this world and the Celtic otherworld, that brings readers, young and old, back for just one more read.

The Alderley Tales are not a straightforward reinterpretation of one of the great British Isles myths, as are Elidor (Arthurian) and The Owl Service (Welsh Mabinogi). Here Garner pieces together local legends and minor characters from Celtic mythology, whose stories may have gone untold until now.

Got that? Good. Now let’s discuss the audiobook. Let’s keep in mind that I listened to Boneland, the third work in The Alderley Tales sequence, which trust me bears no resemblance what-so-ever to the tales told here. And unlike the crisp, accent free narration of that book by Robert Powell, these books are voiced by Philip Madoc who is both Welsh and lived in that area where The Alderley Tales are set.

The result is that this superb quest tale is one where you really must pay attention to the story, as Madoc’s accent is, to put it mildly, fairly thick. Charming but thick. But it does create a theatre of the mind that allowed me at least to fully believe that this tale is taking place in a part of rural Britain that is long, long gone.

What I found fascinating was that this was the first works by Garner and it’s an odd if (once again) charming mix of English, Welsh, Irish, Scottish, and Nordic mythologies in ways that mostly work and sometimes really don’t if you know these mythologies, but the storytelling is g’enough that any weirdness in the way the mythologies used by Garner is overcome by the sheer pace of the storytelling here. It’s not terribly well polished like later works such as Boneland or The Owl Service are but it’s quite entertaining.

It’s not at all akin to Robert Holdstock’s Ryhope Wood series in the way that Boneland was, another indication that it’s an early work as his later novels all are deeply, madly mythopoeic.

Good voicing, entertaining story, well-used music (much more here than in Boneland), and superb production — folks, we have yet another winner from Naxos Audio! Now excuse me as a walk through the grounds here is on tap so I can start listening to the Elidor audiobook…

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