The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

At the heart of this story is an old Welsh legend from the fourth branch of Mabinogion. The legend is that of Blodeuwedd, the woman of flowers whom Gwydion the magician created for Lleu Llaw Gyffes, after his mother, Arianrhod, decreed that he would not wed a mortal woman. Blodeuwedd fell in love with Gronw Pebyr and plotted with him to kill Lleu. Lleu was turned into an eagle and later rescued by Gwydion, but Blodeuwedd, as a punishment, became an owl. Alan Garner takes up the idea of this eternal triangle and translates it to modern Wales.

The story opens by introducing a family newly created by the marriage of the mother and father, who bring with them daughter Alison and son Roger, respectively. There are tensions within the family as the members get to know one another, and also between Nancy, the housekeeper, and her son Gwyn, whom she has brought up outside the valley, which she hates, although she cannot get it out of her mind. Gwyn, as he admits, knows as much about the place as does his mother, although he has never lived there. In particular, Nancy is concerned that he should not consort with Huw Halfbacon, known as Huw the Flitch, the handyman and gardener, who seems to be half-witted.

In the midst of these tensions, Alison hears strange scratching noises in the attic above her room. When Gwyn investigates, he discovers a pile of plates decorated with patterns, in which Alison can see owls. Meanwhile, Roger, her stepbrother,...

(The entire section is 515 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

A prosperous modern English family is taking a long vacation in one of the mountain valleys of North Wales on an estate which the daughter,...

(The entire section is 517 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Owl Service is beautifully written, but in a way that rarely calls attention to itself. The book starts with a line of breezy...

(The entire section is 503 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Owl Service is rooted in social inequity. Gwyn's life plans are at risk because he belongs to a class of whom little is expected....

(The entire section is 404 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Gwyn knows he is of a lower class than Alison and Roger. How does his language, when he talks to each of them, show he resents this...

(The entire section is 201 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Read the story of Blodeuwedd in the Fourth Branch of The Mabinogion (Garner used the G. Jones and T. Jones translation [1949],...

(The entire section is 218 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Garner's earlier fantasies, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, are generally cheerful adventure stories...

(The entire section is 474 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Chambers, Nancy, ed. The Signal Approach to Children's Books. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1981. Contains a long, intense interview...

(The entire section is 279 words.)