The Weirdstone of Brisingamen

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen : A Tale of Alderley

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Neither Susan nor her brother, Colin, ever thought that war would be waged over a simple gemstone in her bracelet. But that's what happens when the children visit Alderley Edge, a spooky place in a remote part of England. There, they meet the wizard Cadellin, who needs the stone to rouse his allies in the never-ending battle between good and evil. But when the stone vanishes, Susan and Colin must find it before the forces of evil use it to destroy all the goodness that ever existed in the world. "Includes an afterword by the author."
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Product details

  • 12-17
  • Paperback | 272 pages
  • 129.54 x 187.96 x 20.32mm | 272.15g
  • Odyssey Classics
  • United States
  • English
  • Reissue
  • black & white illustrations
  • 015205636X
  • 9780152056360
  • 540,133

Review quote

"Marvelously exciting . . . the story is ferocious and deeply felt."--"New Statesman"
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Rating details

5,649 ratings
3.99 out of 5 stars
5 37% (2,095)
4 34% (1,928)
3 21% (1,212)
2 6% (312)
1 2% (102)

Our customer reviews

I've been going through piles of my older books lately, digging up books I used to like as a child myself for my son to read. One of the books I dug out of cold storage was my old copy of "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen" by Alan Garner (a children's fantasy novel first published in 1960). I read and re-read this book many times as a child, along with it's sequel The Moon of Gomrath: A Tale of Alderley (published in 1963). Having dug it out, I promptly sat down and re-read it, and found myself enjoying it all over again. Steeped in Celtic, Norse and Arthurian legends and mythologies, the book takes the reader into an adventure where powerful figures from the past stalk Alderley Edge in Cheshire. The writing style is easygoing but maintains a pagthe reader, especially a younger reader! The characters are well developed and easily identified with (and of course by using) archetypal figures from myth and legend, the bad guys take on deep shadows. I would recommend this book to all ages: for adults who have yet to discover it, it's an enchanting read, for older children and teens it's an absorbing and highly entertaining novel. Garner, who besides being a writer of fiction is also a noted scholar of British folklore, tells us a story at the beginning of the book, a story about a wizard, and a sleeping king, and a farmer from Mobberley who had a milk-white mare. It's a true story - or at least, a genuine piece of Cheshire folk tradition - and it becomes the foundation for the story, which is set in and around Macclesfield and Alderley Edge (real locations) in Cheshire, and tells the story of two children, Colin and Susan, who are staying with some old friends of their mother's while their parents are overseas. Susan possesses a family heirloom, a small tear-shaped jewel held in a bracelet: unknown to her, this is the Weirdstone of the title and could bring great power to the forces of evil that could turn the tide in the imminent battle of the last days. As the nature of the Weirdstone is revealed, the children find themselves pursued by sinister eldritch creatures controlled by the Morrigan, the norse goddess of war and destruction as well as by the minions of the dark spirit Nastrond who, centuries before, had been defeated and banished by a powerful king. The backbone of the tale is a kind of "reverse quest" -- that is, a quest not to retrieve something, but to get rid of it. Susan must deliver the Weirdstone into the safe keeping of the wizard Cadellin Silverbrow. The bulk of the novel is an exilic journey in which the protagonists' only goal is to evade capture until they can put the Weirdstone into more capable hands and return to their normal lives. Garner finds magic and mystery in the English landscape, in the beautiful strangeness of Alderley Edge, in the maze of mines and tunnels that underlies Cheshire. Their quest to return the stone to its keeper leads them on a desperate chase through mines and caves, and into a countryside transformed by a fierce and unseasonable winter (the fimbulwinter). Colin and Susan, dragged bewildered into the magical country interwoven with their own, find themselves on an adventure more thrilling than they have ever dreamed of. What no review can really adequately convey is the solid reality of Garner's English landscape, and the way in which the magical creatures stand squarely on the ground with everyone else. In The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (as with its successor, The Moon of Gomrath) Alan Garner succeeds in the greatest magic of all: creating a world of imagination as absolutely believable as our own. Many of the locations in the book and its sequel are actual places which Garner knew from his childhood. These include the sandstone escarpment of the Edge, the Wizard's Well and its inscription, the open mine pits, and the Beacon. Garner grew up and still lives in Cheshire, a county in northern England. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen includes real landmarks from Cheshire -- the Wizard's Well, Goldenstone, and Clulow Cross -- as well as other familiar features of the countryside -- abandoned copper mines, the old quarry, Radnor Mere, and so on. The Wizard's Well and its inscription, for example, are given a magical explanation: there really is a wizard! The landmark is well-known to Cheshire-folk, though no one remembers the true story of the carven image and inscription. In The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Garner offers readers his own fictive explanation, the wizard Cadellin. This contributes to the novel's verisimilitude (one can actually retrace the protagonists' steps on their journey), but more than that, Garner associates them with supernatural and mythic underpinnings. But while the story is set in the environs of the very real Alderley Edge, its backdrop is an intricately woven tapestry of mythological influences drawn from the traditions of that region. Historically and geographically, Cheshire finds itself at something of a mythic crossroads, where Celtic, Old English, and Old Norse strands once met and mingled. The epic poems of legends of the Celtic Mabinogion, the Norse Eddas, and the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf were probably all known and appreciated in equal measure in this chilly northern county. The story borrows extensively from Celtic, Norse and Arthurian legends as well as local folkloric elements, the author claims that all names of legendary beings were taken directly from mythology, although some are used with vastly different meanings from their traditional roots. The forces of evil include elements of all three mythologies. The Great Enemy is called Nastrond, and his home is Ragnarok, both terms drawn from Old Norse mythology. But in the Old Norse, Nastrond is a place, not a person, while Ragnarok is an event, not a place. As another example, the svart alfar, represent the dark elves of the Old Norse tradition; here in The Weirdstone, they represent something analogous to the goblins of folklore. And where there are "dark elves," there must also be "light elves" -- and in this book the lios alfar make a quick appearance (they are more important in the sequel, The Moon of Gomrath). Later in the story, the forces of evil summon the fimbulwinter, a preternatural storm of snow, ice, and deadly cold invoked through dark magic, which also dates back to the Old Norse Eddic tradition. The evil hoards against which Colin, Susan, and their allies find themselves pitted include a group of witches and warlocks called the morthbrood. This is clearly resurrected from Old English (morth `death, destruction, perdition' + bród `brood'). Another part of the dark forces are the Lyblacs -- a strange-sounding name for the equally strange scarecrow-like creatures it represents. But for those in the know, not so alien after all -- lyblác is a kind of dark Anglo-Saxon magic. The word means `sorcery, witchcraft, the art of using drugs or potions for the purpose of poisoning, or for magical purposes.' And finally, we have the Mara, great troll-like women, practically indestructible, and one of the most significant threats to our protagonists. These, too, are not mere invention on Garner's part. The mara is a mingled Norse / English representation of the nightmare personified. The Old Norse word mara means a `nightmare, incubus,' while in Old English there is the mære, mara, or mera `a night-mare, a monster oppressing men during sleep'. Garner's principal witch, and the leader of the morthbrood, is called the Morrigan. This is a direct reference to a kind of sorceress archetype in Celtic mythology. One of the heroes, too, the dwarf Fenodyree, has Celtic origins. His cousin, Durathror, on the other hand, owes his name to Norse myth. But their mysterious ally, Gaberlunzie, is also a Celtic figure, as are Angharad Goldenhand and the distant realm of Prydein, to which some of the characters allude. Prydein lies outside the immediate map of the action, but it represents Northern Scotland, mythologized in the tradition of the Mabinogion. In most cases, Garner draws little more than these distant names into his tale, like herbs and spices added to an already rich stew. There are at least a dozen other elements from these three major mythologies -- the Weirdstone of Brisingamen itself refers to the necklace of the Norse goddess Freyja -- but half the fun is in stumbling upon them for yourself. Indeed, these mythological landmarks are analogous, within the novel, to the actual landmarks of Cheshire and Alderley Edge, around which Garner built his fantasy adventure. Any walking excursion in the real, present-day countryside will reveal one ancient sight after another, and Garner wants to remind us that these landmarks have genuine stories -- stories whose distant echoes in England's early mythology can still be heard, if one stops to listen. And perhaps even a little of the magic lingers there as well. Lastly, a few notes about the author: Alan Garner was born in his grandmother's front room in Congleton, Cheshire, on 17 October 1934 and grew up in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, where his father's family have lived for more than three hundred years, being craftsmen in the area. During his childhood he suffered a number of major illnesses including pneumonia, and meningitis (during which he recalls overhearing the doctor pronounce his case as terminal). He was educated at Alderley Edge Primary School, Manchester Grammar School (where he excelled at sprinting, being rated in 1952 "the fastest schoolboy sprinter in Great Britain", and where the Junior Library is now named for him) and at Magdalen College, Oxford - leaving, however, before he completed his degree in classics. Whilst at Oxford he met both J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis, but has read neither The Lord of the Rings or the Narnia books (he has commented that he does not read fiction because he doesn't want to be subconsciously influenced). He completed two years' national service in the Royal Artillery as a Second Lieutenant. He began writing his first novel, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, at the age of twenty-two. Since that time he has consistently followed his own path, treating writing as yet another craft, like the stonemasons and blacksmiths from which he is descended, reinventing and revitalising the numinous and the mythic within contemporary settings. Alan Garner continues to live in Cheshire and draws much of the power of his writing from his sense of place and history, and that of his and his family's history within that place. His works are much influenced also by Cheshire dialect (Garner points out that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (A New Verse Translation)was written in this dialect). Many of his works, including The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath: A Tale of Alderley, are drawn from local legends and locations. His early books were fantasy, marketed for children, although he was never comfortable with being labeled simply as a "children's writer", saying that he had no intention one way or the other about writing specifically for children. His more recent works, Strandloper and Thursbitch, are more suited for adult readers. The Stone Book (which received the Phoenix Award in 1996) is poetic in style and inspiration. Garner pays particular attention to language, and strives to render the cadence of the Cheshire tongue in modern English. This he explains by the sense of anger he felt on reading "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight": the footnotes would not have been needed by his father. His works have won the Guardian Award, the Carnegie Medal, and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, as well as the Chicago International Film Festival 1st Prize for his educational film Images. His collection of essays and public talks, The Voice That Thunders: Essays and Lectures, contains much autobiographical material (including an account of his life with bipolar disorder), as well as critical reflection upon folklore and language, literature and education, the nature of myth and time. Garner was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to literature in the 2001 New Year's Honours more
by Nigel Hayhurst
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