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Garner, Alan 1934-

GARNER, Alan 1934-

PERSONAL: Born October 17, 1934, in Cheshire, England; son of Colin and Marjorie Garner; married Ann Cook, 1956 (marriage ended); married Griselda Greaves, 1972; children: (first marriage) Adam, Ellen, Katharine; (second marriage) Joseph, Elizabeth. Education: Attended Magdalen College, Oxford.

ADDRESSES: Home—Blackden, Holmes Chapel, Cheshire CW4 8BY, England.

CAREER: Author; writer and director of documentary films. Military service: British Army; became second lieutenant.

MEMBER: Portico Library Club (Manchester, England).

AWARDS, HONORS: Carnegie Medal, 1967, and Guardian Award, 1968, both for The Owl Service; Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, 1970, for The Weirdstone of Brisingamen; first prize, Chicago International Film Festival, for Images, 1981; Mother Goose Award for A Bag of Moonshine, 1987; Phoenix Award, Children's Book Association, 1996, for The Stone Book.


The Weirdstone of Brisingamen: A Tale of Alderley, Collins (London, England), 1960, published as The Weirdstone: A Tale of Alderley, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1961, revised edition, Walck (New York, NY), 1969, reprinted, Magic Carpet Books (San Diego, CA), 1998.

The Moon of Gomrath, Walck (New York, NY), 1963, published as The Moon of Gomrath: A Tale of Alderley, Magic Carpet Books, (San Diego, CA), 1998.

Elidor, Walck (New York, NY), 1965, reprinted, Magic Carpet Books (San Diego, CA), 1999.

Holly from the Bongs, Collins (London, England), 1966.

The Owl Service, Walck (New York, NY), 1967, reprinted, Magic Carpet Books (San Diego, CA), 1999.

The Old Man of Mow, illustrated by Roger Hill, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1967.

(Editor) A Cavalcade of Goblins, illustrated by Krystyna Turska, Walck (New York, NY), 1969, published as The Hamish Hamilton Book of Goblins, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1969.

Red Shift (also see below), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1973.

The Breadhorse, Collins (London, England), 1975.

The Guizer, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1976.

The Stone Book, Collins (London, England), 1976.

Tom Fobble's Day, Collins (London, England), 1977.

Granny Reardun, Collins (London, England), 1977.

The Aimer Gate, Collins (London, England), 1978.

The Golden Brothers, Collins (London, England), 1979.

The Girl of the Golden Gate, Collins (London, England), 1979.

The Golden Heads of the Well, Collins (London, England), 1979.

The Princess and the Golden Mane, Collins (London, England), 1979.

Alan Garner's Fairytales of Gold, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 1980.

The Lad of the Gad, Collins (London, England), 1980, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 1981.

Alan Garner's Book of British Fairytales, Collins (London, England), 1984.

A Bag of Moonshine (folk stories), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1986.

The Stone Book Quartet, Dell (New York, NY), 1988.

(Reteller) Jack and the Beanstalk, illustrated by Julek Heller, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1992.

Once upon a Time, Though It Wasn't in Your Time, and It Wasn't in My Time, and It Wasn't in Anybody Else's Time. . . . , Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 1993.

The Alan Garner Omnibus (contains Elidor, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and The Moon of Gomrath), Lions, 1994.

(Reteller) Little Red Hen, illustrated by Norman Messenger, D. K. Publishers (New York, NY), 1996.

Strandloper, Harvill Press (London, England), 1996.

Lord Flame (play), Harvill Press (London, England), 1996.

Pentecost (play), Harvill Press (London, England), 1997.

The Voice That Thunders, Harvill Press (London, England), 1997.

(Reteller) The Well of the Wind, D. K. Publishers (New York, NY), 1998.

Thursbitch, Harvill (London, England), 2003.

Also author of play Holly from the Bongs, 1965, and of dance drama The Green Mist, 1970; author of libretti for The Bellybag (music by Richard Morris), 1971, and Potter Thompson (music by Gordon Crosse), 1972; author of plays Lamaload, 1978, Lurga Lom, 1980, To Kill a King, 1980, Sally Water, 1982, and The Keeper, 1983; author of screenplays for documentary films Places and Things, 1978, and Images, 1981, and for feature film Strandloper, 1992; author of film adaptation of Red Shift, 1978. Member of International Editorial Board, Detskaya Literatura Publishers (Moscow), 1991—.

SIDELIGHTS: Considered among the most important children's authors of the later twentieth century, British author Alan Garner is noted for his use of folk traditions and the multiple layers of meaning contained in his stories. His early books, including The Weirdstone of Brisingamen: A Tale of Alderley, The Moon of Gomrath, and Elidor, are reminiscent of the fantasy literature popularized by J. R. R. Tolkien. With more recent works as The Owl Service and The Stone Book Quartet, however, Garner's interest in fantasy has become more closely enmeshed with the realistic English landscape of his childhood, and his efforts to preserve the folk tales and cultural heritage of his native England have been cited as exemplary by several reviewers.

Born into a family of craftsmen who have lived for several generations near Alderley Edge in Cheshire, England, Garner proved unsuited for pursuing the way of life that had been in his family for many years. Following an education at Manchester Grammar School, Garner attended Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read classics. Returning to Cheshire without completing his degree, he began working on his first work of fiction, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. His development as a writer was closely related to his embrace of his Cheshire homeland and dialect, reflecting what Roderick McGillis in the Dictionary of Literary Biography called his "romantic quest to rediscover the mother tongue."

Though Garner was once considered a "children's" author, the increasing complexity of his stories has led many reviewers to reevaluate their original assessment of his work. For many, the turning point in his status was the publication of The Owl Service, an eerie tale of supernatural forces that interweaves ancient symbolism from Welsh folklore with a modern plot and original details. A story "remarkable not only for its sustained and evocative atmosphere, but for its implications," The Owl Service is "a drama of young people confronted with the challenge of a moral choice; at the same time it reveals, like diminishing reflections in a mirror, the eternal recurrence of the dilemma with each generation," according to a writer in Children's Book World. A critic from the Christian Science Monitor described it as "a daring juxtaposition of legend from the Mabinogion, and the complex relationship of two lads and a girl [in which] old loves and hates are . . . reenacted. Mr. Garner sets his tale in a Welsh valley and touches with pity and terror the minds of the reader who will let himself feel its atmosphere. This is not a book 'for children'; its subtle truth is for anyone who will reach for it." A writer for the Times Literary Supplement echoed this sentiment, noting that with The Owl Service "Garner has moved away from the world of children's books and has emerged as a writer unconfined by reference to agegroups; a writer whose imaginative vein is rich enough to reward his readers on several different levels."

In an essay excerpted in the Times Literary Supplement, Garner himself alluded to the many levels of meaning in his work. Speaking of his readers, he explained: "The age of the individual does not necessarily relate to the maturity. Therefore, in order to connect, the book must be written for all levels of experience. This means that any given piece of text must work at simple plot level, so that the reader feels compelled to turn the page, if only to find out what happens next; and it must also work for me, and for every stage between. . . . I try to write onions."

One book by Garner that is so complex that some critics have viewed it as almost impenetrable is Red Shift, a novel comprised of three different stories with separate sets of characters who are linked only by a Bronze Age axe-head, which functions as a talisman, and a rural setting in Cheshire. Composed almost wholly of dialogue, Red Shift jump-cuts from the days of the Roman conquest to the seventeenth century to the present time. Writing in Horn Book, Aidan Chambers compared the book to "a decorated prism which turns to show—incident by incident—first one face, then another. In the last section, the prism spins so fast that the three faces merge into one color, one time, one place, one set of people, one meaning." Michael Benton believed that Red Shift "expresses the significance of place and the insignificance of time. . . . Certainly in style and structure the book is uncompromising: the familiar literary surface of the conventional novel is stripped away and one is constantly picking up hints, catching at clues, making associations and allowing the chiselled quality of the writing to suggest new mental landscapes."

Despite the fact that Garner's novels are difficult, especially for young American readers unfamiliar with the local British dialects he employs so freely, Garner "takes his craft very seriously, gives far more time to each book than the majority of present-day writers and has probably given more thought to the theory and practice of writing for children than anyone else," wrote Frank Eyre in British Children's Books in the Twentieth Century.

Derived from the folklore of the British Isles, Garner's A Bag of Moonshine presents twenty-two short stories that some have described as fables of human cunning and folly. Critics have praised Garner's use of the folk tradition, including what E. F. Bleiler in the Washington Post Book World termed "fascinating rustic and archaic turns of phrase." Neil Philip concurred in the Times Educational Supplement, observing that "Garner has taken a number of lesser-known English and Welsh stories and, as it were, set them to music, establishing in each text a tune or cadence based on local speech patterns." Also a unique retelling of folk tales for children, Garner's Once upon a Time presents "The Fox, the Hare, and the Cock," "The Girl and the Geese"—both Russian tales—and "Battibeth," which Joanne Schott of Quill & Quire described as "a surrealistic and dreamlike story of a girl's search for her mother's missing knife."

Alan Garner's Fairytales of Gold employs the author's successful technique of drawing upon the plots and themes of traditional stories and then embellishing this material with a highly original use of language and detail. The collection presents four English tales: "The Golden Brothers," "The Girl of the Golden Gate," "The Three Golden Heads of the Well," and "The Princess and the Golden Mane." Reviewers observed that Garner's retellings maintain the general moral perspective, along with many of the thematic tenets of the original stories: the magic power of words, the use of incantations, the motif of fantastic quests, and the morality of kindness rewarded and evil punished. "Garner's interest is in reanimating a tradition of British stories; he laments the passing of traditional fairy tales that were meant for the whole family, not just the children," commented Roderick McGillis in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. "The fairy tales he recreates are a link to the British past, and, as he writes, 'a healthy future grows from its past.'"

With The Stone Book, Garner presents a "quartet" of interrelated stories depicting four generations of a working-class family in Cheshire, England, spanning the mid-nineteenth-century through the World War II era. Set in Victorian England, the first volume of the series, The Stone Book, tells the story of a young girl who begins to learn the significance of history, cultural meaning, and time when her father takes her to a remote cave and tells her to "read" the ancient paintings on the wall. "The ultimate idea [of the book] shines through with an elemental wisdom," asserted Paul Heins in Horn Book, noting that the book reflects "the continuity of life, the perception of a collective past." Granny Reardun, the second volume of the series, treats the theme of family and history through another angle, depicting a boy who decides to abandon his grandfather's stone masonry trade in favor of apprenticeship to a blacksmith. The saga continues with the final stories of the quartet, The Aimer Gate, in which the destructive impact of World War I is addressed, followed by Tom Fobble's Day, a coming-of-age story in which a young boy acquires the courage and confidence to sled down one of the highest hills he can find. Although reviewers occasionally question the accessibility of Garner's historical setting and English idiom to contemporary American children, The Stone Book has consistently received high praise for the multilayered quality of its treatment of the theme of family history. Offering a laudatory assessment of the series in Times Literary Supplement, Margaret Meek commented: "In the Stone Book Quartet we have moved away from a kind of nineteenth-century writing which is still found in books for twentieth-century children. This is a book of our day, for all its Victorian and Edwardian settings."

Reviewing Garner's The Well of the Wind, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the piece "a thought-provoking fantasy full of enchantment," in which a quest taken by abandoned siblings ends in the brother and sister finding their parents. In Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin commented that The Well of the Wind "is pure fantasy, and the language, lyrical and quiet, is replete with imagery that blossoms outward" from the plot. Thursbitch unveils an eighteenth-century mystery surrounding the death of a packman in the snow. The body is found eerily surrounded by a woman's footprints. M. John Harrison, reviewing the novel for the London Guardian, commented that, as a demanding novel, Thursbitch "isn't a story that takes life lightly, nor does it expect to be taken lightly in turn."

Garner's 1997 essay collection The Voice That Thunders is a work that Shelley Cox described in a Library Journal review as "an informal autobiography," one that contains both talks and lectures. In Commonweal Daria Donnelly praised the collection, noting that while Garner consistently "extends the reach of children's literature," in his essays in particular "he argues that the rise of a separate sphere called children's literature has had spirit-wasting effects. It has put adults beyond the reach of myth and tales that they urgently need." In addition, Donnelly noted, according to Garner "it has left children vulnerable to the didactic and the reductive in both literature and the teaching of literature."



British Children's Books in the Twentieth Century, Dutton (New York, NY), 1971.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 17, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 161: British Children's Writers since 1960, First Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Booklist, March 1, 1981, p. 963; August 1998, p. 2006.

Books for Keeps, May, 1987, p. 15.

Children's Book World, November 3, 1968.

Children's Literature in Education, March, 1974.

Christian Science Monitor, November 2, 1967.

Commonweal, April 7, 2000, Daria Donnelly, review of The Voice That Thunders, p. 23; June 16, 2000, p. 26.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 4, 1987.

Guardian, October 18, 2003, M. John Harrison, review of Thursbitch.

Horn Book, October, 1969, p. 531; February, 1970, p. 45; October, 1973; December, 1976, p. 636; April, 1979, p. 192; October, 1979, p. 533.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1993, p. 1523.

Library Journal, December 15, 1970, p. 4349; October 15, 1998, p. 70.

New York Times Book Review, October 22, 1967, p. 62; October 28, 1973; July 22, 1979.

Observer (London, England), October 7, 1979, p. 39.

Publishers Weekly, September 14, 1998, p. 68.

Quill & Quire, January, 1994, p. 39.

School Library Journal, October, 1976, p. 116; March, 1981, p. 132; March, 1982, p. 157; April, 1987, p. 94; March, 1994, p. 215.

Spectator, April 12, 1975, p. 493.

Times Educational Supplement, December 5, 1986, p. 25.

Times Literary Supplement, May 25, 1967; November 30, 1967; September 28, 1973; March 25, 1977; December 2, 1977; September 29, 1978; November 30, 1984; November 28, 1986, p. 1346, December 5, 1995; May 24, 1996, p. 24.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), November 10, 1985.

Village Voice, December 25, 1978.

Washington Post Book World, July 8, 1979; November 10, 1985; November 9, 1986, p. 19; November 8, 1992, p. 11.*

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