Alan Garner Penelope Farmer - Essay

Penelope Farmer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Short] though it may be, this small precise poem of a book [Tom Fobble's Day], is not simple.

In the past I have found Alan Garner too conscious of his own brilliance. Here his cleverness is nearer understanding. The book is about doing and becoming (and not always avoiding danger in the process); about belonging—to people, to landscape, to their shared past; above all about that total loving attention to substance that is not only the beginning of poetry, meditation even, but also the beginning of true making, whether of a building, or as here, of a sledge.

The import of Tom Fobble's Day, as of The Stone Book, is that to see substance properly is to understand beyond it, though its focus being metal and not stone the message is fittingly a more uncompromising, wintry one. We see metal used creatively, smelted to make sledge-runners. We also see it destructive, even, perhaps, of the man who loves it. For this is a world of air-raids, of guns raining shrapnel, of the grandfather's fears for his absent grandson and of his own tales of slaughter in previous wars. Yet the landscape and its past survives.

Penelope Farmer, "Men of Iron," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1977; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3915, March 25, 1977, p. 360.