The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner

Rating 9.7/10
A serious contender for the best children’s fantasy book ever written.

When Colin and Susan are pursued by eerie creatures across Alderley Edge, the wizard - Cadellin Silverbrow – takes them to safety deep in the caves of Fundindelve. Here he watches over the sleep of one hundred and forty knights, awaiting the fated hour when they must rise and fight.

But the Weirdstone of Brisingamen is lost, and without it the wizard cannot hold back the forces of evil for long. The children realise that they are the key to its return, but how can mere children stand against an ancient evil bent on destroying the world.

On the tenth day, of the tenth month, of the tenth year of this millennium, HarperCollins published the 50th anniversary edition of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. First published in 1960, The Weirdstone was the debut novel of Cheshire based author, Alan Garner and over the past half century has come to be recognised alongside the finest works of children’s fantasy.

‘The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is one of the most important books in children’s fantasy. It has been an enormous inspiration to me and countless other writers, and is as enjoyable and fascinating now as it was when I first read it, wide-eyed and mesmerised at the age of ten.’ Garth Nix

‘Alan Garner is indisputably the great originator, the most important British writer of fantasy since Tolkien.’ Philip Pullman

‘Alan Garner’s fiction is something special. Garner’s fantasies were smart and challenging, based in the here and now, in which real English places emerged from the shadow of folklore, and in which people found themselves walking, living and battling their way through the dreams and patterns of myth.’ Neil Gaimen

‘The wonderful debut by one of our greatest writers. Garner writes books that really matter, books driven by powerful forces within himself, our history, our language, our mythology, our world.’ David Almond

‘I have forgotten most of the books I ever read, even the ones that felt unforgettable at the time. But a glimpse of the Weirdstone of Brisingamen puts me straight back into that underground tunnel with Colin and Susan. The book has been haunting me for forty years and seems determined to follow me to the afterlife.’ Michel Faber

It is thirty years since I first read the Weirdstone of Brisingamen and, like many others of my generation; it was my English teacher who introduced me to Colin and Susan. I must have been nine or ten years old – a few years shy of wandering through the Mines of Moria, ring in hand. However, I had already developed an interest in Greek and Norse mythology and also the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

The Weirdstone was my favourite fantasy book as a child, read and re-read until the cover was ripped and the pages dog-eared. But I must admit to losing track of my copy at some time in the past, probably during a move and not replacing it. When the chance to review the book came along, I was at first honoured, but then extremely nervous. What if I read it again with cynical, world weary, adult eyes and it was not as good as my childhood memories suggested? It was therefore, with a fair degree of trepidation that I ventured back to Alderley Edge.

Garner begins the book with a map of The Edge, followed by the prologue - The Legend of Alderley, which was first printed in the Manchester Mail in 1805. The prologue sets the tone perfectly for a story that is based in the woods and caves surrounding Alderley, but where the ‘real’ world collides with myths and legends.

Many people have, over the years, followed the maps in the book and retraced the steps taken by the children during the story. Every one of the landmarks can be visited, from the Thieves Hole, to Stormy Point. The old copper mines can be seen – but it is not advisable to enter, after all, who knows when the svart alfar might re-emerge! This grounding in reality is a huge strength for Garner, he describes the area so vividly that it is easy for the reader to enter the story and move around with the characters.

Colin and Susan are the stars of the book, their mother has been summoned abroad and they are to spend the summer with her old nurse, Bess Mossock and her husband, Gowther in Highmost Redmanhey, which borders the Alderley Edge.

A chance encounter with a local woman, Selena Place sets in motion a chain of events that result in them meeting Cadellin Silverbrow, the wizard tasked with guarding the sleepers in Fundindelve until the last battle. Unfortunately, the wizard has lost the Weirdstone of Brisingamen, a jewel, which is the focus for the magic that keeps the sleepers young. If it were to fall into the wrong hands, the sleepers could be awakened prematurely and evil would triumph.

Sometime later, Susan realises that her ‘Tear’ a small gem set into a bracelet, is actually the lost Weirdstone and the rest of the book details their quest to reunite gem and wizard to save the world.

There are some sections of the quest that are as good as anything ever written in any genre. For example; I defy the reader not to feel claustrophobic during the journey through the caves. The story also contains numerous references to myths and legends, a mixture of Celtic, Norse and Anglo-Saxon along the way and part of the fun is investigating where they have come from – for example Brisingamen was the necklace of the Norse goddess, Freya. Ragnarok and Nastrond also have their root in Norse mythology, whereas the Lady of the Lake and the sleeping knights of Fundindelve are very Arthurian in origin.

The greatest strength of the book is that Alan Garner manages to successfully weave these legends into a fast paced, modern tale of epic fantasy that appeals to both adults and children alike.

Some adults reading the book for the first time may feel that there is not enough depth to the characters. Susan and Colin especially are lacking physical description and some of the support characters are quite one dimensional, but I feel that anyone who takes that approach is missing the point. This is a book aimed at children of all ages, especially those who have a vivid imagination. I don’t need to have every wart and hair described, because I can clearly picture the characters in my mind’s eye – of course they will look different to me than to the next reader, but that is part of the charm. Garner provides enough broad brush-strokes to spark the imagination, but only focuses on the tiniest of details when it will add to the atmosphere of the story. It is this style that stops the story becoming bogged down with unnecessary detail and allows it to flow along at a fair pace.

I devoured this book in one sitting – I couldn’t put it down, losing myself in both the story and the memories that it evoked of my own childhood. I think that this is a serious contender for the best children’s fantasy – certainly high or epic fantasy ever written, it is certainly the best I have been privileged to read. I acknowledge that others may not feel the same and might not get it – fair enough, after all, some people criticise Gemmell, Brooks, Lewis, Rowling – even Tolkien has people who just don’t buy into their work.

But if you are a genuine fan of epic fantasy, get a copy of this book, read it and then share it with your children – they will never forget it.

This The Weirdstone of Brisingamen book review was written by

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The Weirdstone of Brisingamen reader reviews

from Fitz

7-stars

I never read this as a child, but as the third has just been released I decided to give these a go and maybe it's because I'm an adult and have read all sorts of fantasy, but I wouldn't say that these books are as good as the above reviewers think. Maybe you need the nostalgia of reading them as a child, and not to say that they're bad - the stories are very imaginative - but they're dated and both this and its sequel don't have a proper ending. They just stop, right at the climax of the book - it feels like a chapter is missing from the end of both, and I don't think enough time is spent on developing each character.

from Surrey

10-stars

Thank you , thank you , THANK YOU! I have just returned to my childhood because this review reminded me of the title of this book. For 25 years I have been getting flashbacks to an amazing book I read at middle school, I could nevet remember the name of it,only Susan and Colin from the book. This book started my love of fantastic worlds and opened my uneducated eyes to the wonders of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Without this book I may have missed fantasy fiction all together and not read about Pug, Tyrion or Garion and all the other amazing feats of imigination authors have provided us with over the years. I will now be reading this to my 2 girls alongside other great children's books by Tolkien, Cooper, Rowling and Blyton, it's that good and it sits very comfortably by these authors and their works. I just wish I had not forgotten its name for so long...

8.9/10 from 3 reviews

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