Blast from the Past is a new feature where I discuss the books and authors that, over a lifetime, have meant something to me. These are the stories I grew up with; the books which inspired me, changed the way I thought and started me off on a journey of discovery through imagined worlds.
I remember my mum sitting on the edge of my bed, my hands clutching at the covers, as she told me the tale of Colin and Susan and their adventures with goblins and demon dogs, with warlocks, witches and wizards, and the forces for good and evil. I remember my heart beating faster, my eyes widening in anticipation, as the heroes started out on an adventure which was equal parts exciting, enthralling and terrifying. I was walking hand in hand with Colin and Susan to Alderley Edge; I was following them deeper underground, with the earth closing up around me and the forces of darkness at my heels. I was part of their adventure. For me, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen really did inspire a love of fantasy fiction which has lasted a lifetime.
Garner’s first tale of Alderley is rooted in folklore and local mythology, and is ultimately about the battle between the powers of good and evil. The book follows the story of two children, Colin and Susan, a brother and sister who are deposited by unwitting parents at a family friend’s house near Alderley Edge. Unknowingly, Susan has in her possession the Weirdstone – a magical jewel incorporated into a bracelet, and passed down to Susan as a family heirloom. This jewel holds the only magic which can defeat the evil spirit Nastrond.
When evil stirs, Colin and Susan must embark on a quest to return the Weirdstone to the wizard Cadellin, who guards an army of sleeping warriors in the dwarven caves of Fundindelve. Through tunnels and caves, forests and mountain; the children must outrun the creatures of evil who pursue them and keep the Weirdstone from falling into enemy hands. Their very lives depend on it.
As a child, living not far from Alderley, we made frequent visits to the Edge. I spent my childhood playing in the woods and standing on the sandstone ridge, staring out onto the plains and peaks beyond. We would become witches and sorcerers at the Wizard’s Well and hunt for fairies in the Druid’s Circle. We even made trips down the old mines which riddled the area – dark tunnels breaking out into huge, earthy caves; the red sandstone glittering with coppery green. Alderley Edge was a place of magic and adventure, and there is nothing quite like discovering that your fantasy world is real. That every bird you see above you is an enemy spy, and that deep underground, under the very earth you stand on, dwarven caves and mines host an army of sleeping warriors. This wasn’t fiction – It was reality.
A few years later I was sat in a classroom, legs crossed on the floor with thirty other children, as my teacher told us the tale of the Weirdstone and how two young siblings, much like us, embarked on a journey to return it to where it belonged. After countless readings, I was delighted to find myself back in a world which, to me, epitomised adventure. I have gone back to Alan Garner’s world of Alderley time and time again, and will in all likelihood continue to do so. I love The Weirdstone of Brisingamen as much now as I did then. And perhaps there’s still something in me that sees the furtive looks between birds, and hears the rumblings from underground, and truly believes that the world of fantasy is closer than we think.