Thursday, May 31, 2007

The road not taken ... yet

You don’t hear that much about Alan Garner any more, which is a shame because his fantasy books (or most of them) are wonderful. Like Tolkien and Lewis, he plumbed mythology — mainly the Celtic and Norse — to provide depth and context for the struggles of his characters. Like Charles Williams, he brought that mythological past into the present, situating it right alongside everyday people going about everyday business, unaware. More recently, J.K. Rowling has taken this same approach, setting her magical world alongside the unsuspecting Muggle world. But unlike Tolkien and Lewis and Rowling, Garner’s landscapes and landmarks really exist.

Thinking especially of the Alderley Edge books (The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath), that landscape, the real Alderley Edge, is in modern-day Cheshire. And almost all of the natural landmarks Garner describes in Colin and Susan’s adventures were — and are — really there. The Old Quarry, the Wizard’s Well, Goldenstone, Radnor Mere, Redesmere, Macclesfield, and on and on. A visitor to north central England could, without too much difficulty, find these spots and retrace the characters’ steps. And some have actually done so!

How fantastic would that be? Can you imagine exploring the many mines and caves that dot the place, on the lookout for the svart alfar? Taking care not to get stuck in the Earldelving (which really scared me as a kid). It's no wonder Alderley inspired Garner to write stories like Weirdstone. The very landscape is so evocative and so little changed.


  1. Use Ordnance Survey Pathfinder Map #759 (Macclesfield and Alderley Edge) to race much of the movement of Colin and Susan in The Wierdstone (2.5 inches=1 mile).

  2. Thanks, Dale; and for anybody else reading along, I should have mentioned that I got most of the links in this post from Dale in the first place. I love maps myself (like Bilbo), so I should try combining a reading of the book with a reading of the map, as you've described doing. In fact, in that sense, the Ordnance Survey map sort of becomes part of the paratext (and more specifically, the peritext) of Weirdstone.

    A combined book/map reading might be the next best thing to actually visiting Cheshire. That's not likely to happen soon; and besides, the first time I do get to England, I'll be hunting bigger game anyway (e.g., The Eagle and Child).

  3. Maybe I should mention two additional maps, which I haven't seen, but which would bring in more of the Brisingamen locale, perhaps; Pathfinders 741 (which includes Wilmslow, to the north of the Edge), and 776 (Congleton, south of Macclesfield).

    I think of Weirdstone as what someone (might have been David Daiches) called a "topographic romance," which dates back anyway to Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped. Perhaps some of John Buchan's thrillers have action that one could trace in real places. It's even possible that the terrain of Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male could be traced... I don't know.

    But as for fantasy - - well, Richard Adams's Watership Down is a real place (but not much of the area in countryside any more, I guess), and his Plague Dogs travel over real terrain. I wonder if the children's book The Little Grey Men by Denys Watkins-Pitchford (beautifully illustrated in black and white by the author) is set in a real location? Perhaps not, but it has the feeling of love of real English countryside.

  4. I have sent an email to you care of I hope you get it. I have asked some questions re the links in this post.

    I found your "Northern Mythological Traditions in The Weirdstone of Brisingamen" at Journey to the Sea.

    My email address is

    I wish to ask you about "The Moon of Gomrath" and "The Dark is Rising" quintet.

    Kind regards
    Thoth Hermes

  5. Hi, TH. I got your email and will reply separately. In the meantime, yes, sadly some of the links to photos of various sites along Alderly Edge are now broken. Unfortunately, that happens all too often with Internet content.