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.)