Alan Garner: Boneland: One Of The Living Greats

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Sep 25, 2014
I just finished Boneland by Alan Garner. What an extraordinary novel. Not an easy read. A numinous, poetic read, it is the story of Colin and Susan, but Susan is now... where? and Colin is an astronomer at Jodrell Bank, and a very troubled man. He seeks his sister in The Pleiades.

Alan Garner wrote YA Science Fantasy before there was any such recognised genre. The readers reviews below this article, offer insights into his most recent novel for adults, Boneland, and earlier work, but also provide insights, rather daunting ones, into his interactions with the world of publishing. No ego, no target market, the tail does not wag the dog, the text alone is king.

Every one of his novels, he said, from Elidor to The Stone Quartet had been recommended for rejection by the publisher's readers on the grounds that it was not like the one before. Only the faith of his editor had got him through, this, despite the fact that by this time, he had The Weirdstone of Brisingamen under his belt.


Kepler by the way, while somewhat sceptical, also practised astrology, and did it darn well, even while employed as District Mathematician at Graz. If you read Boneland, you'll see why I make that mention.

Dualism. This or that. Science OR art, astronomer OR astrologer. It's the bane of modern thinking and the enemy of art.

So happy to see this! And fascinating links. Boneland continues (concludes?) the long mysterious story of Susan and Colin that began with The Weirdstone of Brisingamen published in 1956, a book I loved as a child (though I wouldn’t call Gardener’s work primarily children’s literature). Years later there was The Moon of Gomrath which I read and liked for the psychological troubles hinted at as well as the magic, and now Boneland.

I’ve looked out for a copy of Strandloper (1996 I think) for some years because I wonder about the South African connection in that word. Garner’s one of the most important and ‘place-centred’ writers of fantasy. When I began reading the ‘new Romantic’ nature writers, Robert Macfarlane, Richard Mabey, Kathleen Jamie, Alice Oswald etc, I kept thinking of Garner’s Alderley Edge, his own personal landscape steeped in history and myth. Thanks for the reminder about Boneland. So much writing about neo-pagan myths and the Craft are what I think of as 'magic-lite' and too superficial, while Garner's work is a serious major corrective to that.
Oh, and Kepler, the court mathematician who discovered that planets orbit in an elliptical trajectory, not a circle, had a mother who was tortured as a witch. John Banville wrote a trilogy of novels (Dr Copernicus, Kepler and The Newton Letter) all about Renaissance scientists moving between the 'truths' of myth and intuition and the factual hypotheses that could be tested in scientific method, embracing all kinds of folklorish knowing in defiance of both the Church dogmas and the rigidity of uber-rational scientists.

Kepler too was living in Prague back then, a city both medieval and part of the emerging Renaissance, as it still is in some ways. I have spent time there just looking at jackdaws and thinking about Kafka and women mystics burned at the stake.
I adore Garner, have done since I bought The Weirdstone of Brisingamen with my pocket money from the travelling book van at my village school :) His whole attitude - to writing, to history, to folklore - has coloured my thoughts ever since. Red Shift was one of the reasons I became an archaeologist!
Still not read his "adult" novels but you've given me a boot up the bum, Katie-Ellen. I'm going to buy Boneland RIGHT NOW.
I can also highly recommend First Light, the Unbound anthology with essays on every aspect of Garner's work from a stellar cast (including Margaret Atwood, Stephen Fry and Neil Gaiman). The piece on the ancient house he bought and restored is fantastic; Garner's empathy with the past and recognition of its echoes in the present are truly inspiring.
:) When you read Boneland, @Luciferette, see if you feel that Colin's shrink, Meg, is the Morrigan as featured in The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. There's no right or wrong answer. She may or may not be.
:) When you read Boneland, @Luciferette, see if you feel that Colin's shrink, Meg, is the Morrigan as featured in The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. There's no right or wrong answer. She may or may not be.
Now there's an interesting question! I always found the Morrigan to be an extremely effective villain (ie bloody terrifying). She'd make a great shrink! Can't wait to get home from work and start reading!
Happy terror times :)

...she was a transporter between life and death; a birth Goddess and a death Goddess in that she moved the soul through these cycles. Later writing seems to concentrate on her connection to death, but comes to view her, as warrior societies often do, in a way connected to their own needs (power, energy, enchantment and warfare). Some writing of course does not, she is seen as a healer, the protector of the land and the person who brings Arthur to power.

The Morrigan

Morrigan 2.jpg

Source at bottom of image.
Finished it, @Katie-Ellen Hazeldine - I'm stunned by it. Am sat here in the dark with a bottle of St. Emilion, almost in tears. What a book. Rich and strange, frightening yet somehow comforting. I think you're right that Meg is the Morrigan; right from the off, when she says her hair colour changes by the week, the signs are there. Roaring up on her bike, all clad in black. The rhymes of one, two, three clinched it: the Trinity.
Mentions of Gowther Mossop and the farm took me straight back to reading The Moon of Gomrath, and my dad calling me "The Hermit" when I had to be dragged out of my room, away from the pages, to eat my Sunday tea!
Boneland could only work as an adult book, I think. Not so much the language (most young writerly types could manage it), but the deep-seated fears it faces are most resonant when you've experienced the losses and battles of life a few times round.
Question for you - what do you make of Bert and the taxi firm? Surely not Cadellin? I can't imagine him in cahoots with the Morrigan, but your quote above might be telling; does she become a healer, eventually?
I'm going to pour a glass and look out into the night sky, now. The Wild Hunt might just be on the move...
Dark healing, I felt that, yes :)

Boneland will be beyond most children. I read Red Shift as a teen and got it, partly, but looking back I see, only partly. And this one is another whole level.

I need to re-read The Weirdstone.

Comments from a reviewer on Goodreads:

Meg (who's loving and protective in her relations with Colin) seems to be the mother aspect of the triple Moon goddess, along with Susan (the maiden) and the Morrigan (the crone -- note that the Celtic Morrigan was sometimes depicted as a trinity). The Moon of Gomrath was already hinting at this kind of relationship in the bracelets worn by Angharad Goldenhand, Susan and the Morrigan. This might mean that Meg is Angharad -- but on the other hand Colin's view that Susan has ridden away to the mythical (not the astronomical) Pleiades would seem to be correct, so she and the illusory Susan may be his personal construction of the goddess trinity rather than an external truth.

That said, Meg clearly had some verifiable objective reality, as Colin's doctor knew her. Bert was, I think, just a bloke who she had pressed into her service while she needed him -- Colin meets him in his everyday life at the end.
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