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The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen : 50th Anniversary Edition

November 23, 2010

I was very pleased to see this classic junior book come across my desk. I have an early edition on my shelves, and it would be fair to say that I am a real fan!

The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen has not been out of print since 1960, which is a real achievement in publishing. There are some really interesting bits of information on this work out there.

From the Fan Site:

The book

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was written by Alan Garner between September 1956 and August 1958.  It was published by William Collins on 10th October 1960 and has never been out of print.  The 10.10.10 events celebrate the 50th anniversary of its publication, and also its lasting effect on generations of young readers.

During the last fifty years, the book has been published in several editions and languages, as can be seen from the images of the covers on this page and in the gallery.  It has been adapted into a stage play, a radio play and is available as an audio book.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was the first of Alan Garner’s novels, and, like most of his work, is underpinned by his knowledge of the landscape and lore of Cheshire.

The story is based on the Legend of Alderley and turns on the role two children, Colin and Susan, play in a battle of good against evil.  They discover a dangerous world of wizards and dwarfs and other strange beings inhabiting the beauty of the Edge.

The Legend

There are several variants of the Legend of Alderley, the oldest being the oral version told to Alan Garner by his grandfather.  The written versions first appear in the nineteenth century and there are examples of these on the Derbyshire Caving Club website.

Here is the legend as Alan Garner heard it.
One day, at the end of October, a farmer from Mobberley set off to Macclesfield Fair to sell his milk-white mare.  By dawn he had reached Thieves’ Hole on Alderley Edge, where he was stopped by an old man, who offered to buy the mare.  The farmer, thinking that he would get a better price at the market, refused to sell.  However, nobody bought the horse.

So, the farmer set off back to Mobberley and arrived at Thieves’ Hole at dusk.  The old man was waiting for him, and this time the farmer did agree to sell.  The old man led the farmer from Thieves’ Hole, by Seven Firs and Golden Stone, to Stormy Point and Saddlebole. Close to Saddlebole they came to a big rock at the side of the path.  The old man touched the rock with his staff, and the rock split open to show a pair of iron gates.

The terrified farmer followed the old man into the hill and they came to a cavern, where there was a company of knights in silver armour, asleep by their sleeping king; and beside all but one was a white horse.  The old man said that the knights were waiting to fight the last battle of the world, and that he was to wake them when that moment came.  But there was one horse missing, which was why he needed the farmer’s mare.

He showed the farmer into another cavern, filled with gold and silver and precious stones, and he told the farmer to take as much of the treasure as he could carry, in payment for his mare.  Then he led him back up and out through the iron gates.  The farmer stepped out onto Saddlebole, and when he turned round, the old man and the gates were gone.

There are versions of the Legend of the Sleeping Hero in other hilly areas in Britain, often linked with old mining sites, but only in the Alderley version is the route taken by the old man and the farmer mentioned.  This version is the core of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.  Alan Garner has his own ideas about the origins of the legend as he reveals in his lecture ‘By Seven Firs and Goldenstone’.

The author

Alan Garner was born in 1934 and grew up in Alderley Edge, where his family has lived for at least four hundred years.  He has spent all his life in Cheshire, except for a brief spell at Oxford University and during National Service. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was written when he was in his early twenties and he has been writing ever since.

He moved to his present home near Jodrell Bank in 1957, and in 2004 co-founded The Blackden Trust to maintain, investigate and record the place where he has lived and worked for several decades but which has been inhabited for millennia.

Links

For information about Alan Garner and his works, visit Alan Garner’s unofficial website.

A very recent portrait of the author can be seen on the website of Andrew Tift, the artist (follow links to the artist’s blog).  The picture itself can be viewed on the artist’s website.

If you want to know more about the underground locations referred to in The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, look at the Derbyshire Caving Club website.

An article about Alderley Edge, the Legend, the mines and the fiftieth anniversary of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was published in Current Archaeology in 2009.

 

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