How it used to look; 1; Alan Garner

Stormy-Point Alderley Edge

Here’s the opening of my section on Alan Garner from my M.Phil Thesis (I Will Take the Ring, University of London, 1984.)

It’s now like a glimpse into a distant past, when people still worried about whether children should be allowed to read Fantasy at all. (I felt obliged to devote my main introduction to a plea for acceptance of fantasy!)

Ever since the publication, in 1960, of his first Fantasy novel for children Alan Garner has attracted the attention of critics, teachers, librarians and children to an amazing extent. In his excellent book on Garner, Neil Philip includes a “select” bibliography of articles, essays, reviews and criticism, running to just over four closely-printed sides. [2] Some of this critical interest has been hostile, and particularly within the world of children’s books there has been much debate on whether or not the books, particularly the later ones, are suitable for children to read. There are fears that Garner includes too much sex, too much violent emotion, and too much “difficulty” in language and plot for younger readers.

Parallel with this debate has run the attempt to define Gardener’s works in terms of Fantasy – is, or is not, any particular work a Fantasy, and if so is it a “good” Fantasy? Philip is at pains, in his preface, to dissociate himself as far as possible from the definition debate;

“Everything Alan Garner has published has been published for children. This simple fact has seriously distorted criticism of Garner’s work; …… My concern, therefore, will be with the words on the page and with the space between the words. Only when the quality of the words is established does the nature of their audience become more than a matter for parochial concern. …… It seems best simply to leave the books to be enjoyed by those who enjoy them, adults or children, and to judge them on their purely literary qualities.” [3]

Philip’s study of Garner’s work is carried out in accordance with this statement of intention; but in drawing on his book as a major source for this section, I will necessarily take what may seem, in these terms, the retrograde step of looking at the related questions of how far the books chosen for study are Fantasy, and how far they are specifically related to the needs of a young – particularly an adolescent – readership.

Hard to believe that (a) that snitty-sounding young person is me and (b) that these were the kinds of things we worried about in the 1980s.

Next time, a look at what I said about Ursula Le Guin.

Meanwhile, I Will Take the Ring is on Academia.…


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