Book name: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen
Author: Alan Garner
Publisher: William Collins
Format: ebook, print, audiobook
Genre: Fantasy, vintage children’s fiction
Publication Date: 1960
Star Rating: 5/5
The books you read over and over in childhood stay with you throughout your life as well as influencing your reading choices into adulthood.
That's certainly the case with The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, published in 1960 and one of the earliest fantasy novels for children I can remember reading.
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is a delightful tale that marries full-on fantasy action of the sword and sorcery variety with wry humour in the face of mortal danger.
The story is set in Cheshire, in and around Alderley Edge where Garner grew up. It's drenched in the sort of detail that an author can bring to creating fictional locations, such as the farm at Highmost Redmanhey or The Wizard inn just down the road, by drawing upon the places they explored as a youngster.
Colin and Susan, for reasons that are barely alluded to, go to stay with their mother's old nurse, Bess, who is now married to Farmer Mossock, while their parents are abroad. The train that bears the children to Wilmslow Station to be collected in the farmer's horse and cart is the only intrusion of modern life.
After that, location, character and action have a uniquely ageless feel that makes the sword and sorcery element easier to assimilate.
Susan carries a flawless crystal given to her by her mother that contains a twisting column of blue fire when she looks at it the right way. She calls it her Tear because the crystal is shaped like a raindrop. Bess calls it 'The Bridestone' and explains that she gave the crystal to Susan and Colin's mother years ago.
The children are soon pursued by evil Selina Place and also glimpse svarts (orcs), both of which are searching for the Weirdstone of Brisingamen, which legend says disappeared from a local cavern when a wizard invited a greedy farmer to fill his pockets with treasure.
Ever since then, it's been lost, out in the world, with both good and evil forces trying to find it.
Finally, Susan guesses that her Tear is the missing weirdstone. She can be forgiven for her blindness, but Cadellin Silverbrow, the wizard who befriends and advises the children along with Fenodyree (a dwarf), berates himself for having been so dense.
Most of the book is a quest epic once the characters are established and the premise put on a firm footing. Losing the weirdstone, recovering it and fleeing from the svarts, Selina Place and her evil sidekick Grimnir take up most of the two hundred pages.
The action moves along nicely, and the presence of Gowther as a sort of Tom Bombadil figure reassures the reader that the children are safe travelling incognito with a wizard, dwarf and lost heir to a throne for company.
There's a lightness of tone appropriate to fantasy for young readers, since children are in general fearful of nothing much under the sun and usually have an unerring sense for which stranger they can trust and which is likely to lead them into mortal peril.
The narrative of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is very satisfying and concludes the immediate tale effectively while simultaneously opening up the story to the subsequent books in the series.
I love this book, and re-reading it is like stepping back into childhood again for a few hours, something that seems to feel more important with every year that passes.
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