But for those unaware of Garner's works, or those only aware of his 'childrens' books' (I put that in inverted commas as he never intentionally wrote for children, as such) I'd recommend reading his 'Thursbitch' which I count amongst my favourite books. It's a hard book to recommend, however; it's 'pure protein' as far as fiction is concerned (a phrase used by Joseph Campbell to describe James Joyce's prose, as opposed to the works of Thomas Mann whom Campbell describes as full of asides to help the reader understand what's going on); Garner, however, like Joyce, offers no easy explanations of his text - it is what it is, tight, pared down to bare essentials and the reader has to work out what is going on for him/herself.
What's more, Garner peppers his prose with liberal dosings of Cheshire dialect and offers no appendixes to help explain the meanings of the words he uses - this can be hard for the casual reader, for his work often consists of pages of dialogue. But for those who persevere the work is a rich interweaving of stories and themes; it's like stock that has been simmering for centuries until one is left with something deeply rich, like blackened soil - fertile, heavy, dark.
I won't even attempt to summarise the story - just read Garner's own words on his research for the book here to get an idea of the research and preparation that went into the writing of this novel that hovers somewhere between fact and fiction; and the fact is more mysterious than the fiction.
The book inspired me to seek out Thursbitch, a valley in the Peak district, close to the locale that seems to have inspired the Gawain poet six hundred years ago. I found the place strangely deserted on what was a stormy and dark August day 5 years ago now. The valley felt charged with something - lined with ancient standing stones. I took this photo of the view from Thoon - local dialect for 'The Oven', a natural feature that had the feeling of some kind of ancient dolmen.
I'll no doubt return to Thursbitch in a future blog, but for now all I will say is that Garner's book picks up on the strange, numinous atmosphere of the place - an atmosphere that makes one fully believe that some kind of ancient presence still haunts the valley, some 'thyrs' - Anglo-Saxon for 'giant' or 'monster', after whom the valley is named (Bitch comes from the dialect word batch, meaning valley). Having written in my 'Beowulf and Grendel' about ancient fertility cults preserved in the Old English poem it came as a shock and a delight to find Alan Garner had been writing of the same theme in his fiction. Here is a man in tune with our landscape - hence why i am looking forward to Boneland which promises much of the same.