Alan Garner Margaret Meek - Essay

Margaret Meek

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

To distil the message from Alan Garner's quartet of books which, so far, includes The Stone Book, Tom Fobble's Day, and now, Granny Reardun, the reader has to locate himself in the landscape at a point in time. Chronologically Granny Reardun comes before Tom Fobble's Day, but each, in Alan Garner's terms, is its own onion of craft, time, place and family. Time is caught in stone walls and steeples made by Joseph's grandfather, so that when Joseph at the beginning of Granny Reardun lies on a hill and watches a family moving out of its house, which later provides stone for his grandfather to finish a wall, history turns. Joseph's decision to be a smith ushers in a new era.

The synchronic layers and surfaces of Alan Garner's telling defy linear description by their very transparency. By reading the text aloud one catches the movement in time of objects that have symbolic permanence: stone, spires, anvil, forge fire, hills. The speech is quarried from the landscape….

Joseph blows his cornet and the music moves the world. Like the chords of a hymn tune, the harmony of story and narration, character and setting cannot be separated even to be appreciated. The contrast of the view from the top of the steeple with the deep dark of the quarry which made such a powerful statement in The Stone Book has no counterpart in Joseph's tale, but Alan Garner still makes us feel that the grandmother's child is calling to another elemental power that makes musical instruments and bends in fire.

Margaret Meek, "Reaching below the Surface," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1977; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3949, December 2, 1977, p. 1413.∗