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Source: (consider it) Thread: March Book Group: Boneland by Alan Garner
Tubbs

Miss Congeniality
# 440

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March's book is Boneland by Alan Garner.

Boneland is the sequel to The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath. Colin is now grown-up and a Professor at the nearby Jodrell Bank Observatory.

I'll dig out my copy and post some questions shortly. But thoughts?! Opinions?!

Tubbs

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Brenda Clough
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I reviewed it on a blog, and no less than the great Ursula LeGuin reviewed it in the Guardian. I could post the links.

Did it ever appear in paper format? I have the UK edition in hard covers.

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Sarasa
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I've downloaded this to my Kindle. I haven't read any Alan Garner in years, so I'm looking forward to it.

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Eigon
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I've seen it in paperback, though I got the hardback edition.
I went to a talk at EasterCon last year, squashed into a tiny room, on Alan Garner, and it was very interesting - one of the panel knew Alan Garner personally and spoke about his house, which is occasionally open to the public, as well as talking about exploring Alderley Edge as children.
As the Con was in Manchester, he was a local author, and there were also scientists from Jodrell Bank speaking, who were fascinating!

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Penny S
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I've got it but haven't read it yet. I intended, and still hope to run up to it by re-reading the first two. I haven't much reading time at the moment, though.
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Brenda Clough
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It is just about completely different from the first two books.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
It is just about completely different from the first two books.

It's a bit like Red Shift.

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Tubbs

Miss Congeniality
# 440

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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
It is just about completely different from the first two books.

It's a bit like Red Shift.
Or The Stone Book.

Tubbs

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Penny S
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# 14768

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That I am expecting, but need the reminder of the backstory.
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Brenda Clough
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Brisingamen and Gomrath were heavily influenced, like all the fantasy fiction of that period, by the titanic figure of J.R.R. Tolkien. LOTR's shadow was long in that period, and nearly every novel in the genre involved elves, dwarves, magic, and perilous quests through nasty but low-tech landscapes. Garner also played the well-worn but beloved Arthurian card, as all good British authors should do, and resorted to the popular trope of child adventurers still beloved by J.K. Rowling and so many others.

Boneland does absolutely none of these things. It is (you could make a good case) not a work for young readers at all. Its target audience is clearly us -- the people who read and loved the first two when we were young, and who are now old and gray. And what do we see, when we look back at that old quest story, the brave children hanging out with magicians and light-elves? This book shows us.

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Penny S
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There is also an echo of Masefield in the earlier two, both the Kay Harker books, and a longer poem I recall in which there is travel over a landscape.
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Tubbs

Miss Congeniality
# 440

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quote:
Originally posted by Penny S:
That I am expecting, but need the reminder of the backstory.

Wiki has a reasonable summary:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Weirdstone_of_Brisingamen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Moon_of_Gomrath

I re-read the first two before tackling Boneland, but appreciate not everyone is able to do that.

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Brenda Clough
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Since they are designed for younger readers, the first two are an easy read. In fact they go down as easily as a cup of hot chocolate. I read them when I was ten -- I remember buying the paperback Puffin editions, with their mouthwatering covers, in the bookshop on the mezzanine level of the Mandarin Hotel in the late 1970s, with my own money. (All my money at that period went to books.)

Boneland is absolutely not an easy read. Even Ursula LeGuin said so. It is a book to be read slowly, with much going back and re-reading sentences. If the first two are hot chocolate, liquid and sweet and gulpable, this one is a protein bar from a backpacker's stash -- chew it slowly in small bites, because there's a lot of nutrition to be extracted.

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Eigon
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The other thing about Alan Garner, for both Wierdstone/Gomrath and Boneland, is that the setting is very important. The myth that he starts with, of King Arthur sleeping with his knights under Alderley Edge, is a real local myth, and staying on the Edge is also very important in Boneland.

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Huia
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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
It is just about completely different from the first two books.

It's a bit like Red Shift.
Red Shift was my favourite book for years, but I just couldn't get into Boneland . I must email my middle brother as I gave him a copy of it as he loved all of Alan Garner's books when he was a child, but had never heard of it.

Huia

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Penny S
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I have read it and am bemused. I am reminded a bit of Penelope Farmer's 'A Castle of Bone', but am not able to check that as I no longer have my copy. I was bemused by that as well. It's not just the title. It is the sense that this is about something I cannot enter.
I may now read 'Strandloper' to get a grip on Garner's mature work. Not sure if I have 'Red Shift' any more, either.
Not apropos of this, apart from the linking of now and ***lithic times, I live a couple of miles from Stig's dump. That book is trivial compared with 'Boneland'.
And I have no problem with finding pre-glacial artefacts in recent soil, on post-glacial subsoil. The country is full of people who pick things up and drop them. You can find lumps of alien rock in the gutter of a London street. (That's alien as from somewhere else on Earth.) A faience shabti was found in a garden in a village not far from here. No-one thinks it arrived here with an Ancient Egyptian.

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Brenda Clough
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Here is the review of the book from the GUARDIAN, authored by Ursula K. LeGuin. There are spoilers! But you can read that she had difficulty with it too.

And, again with spoilers,

the review I wrote for Book View Cafe's blog.

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andras
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How interesting that Ursula K Leguin worries a little about a serious novel with a witch or goddess in it. Or is A Wizard of Earthsea not a serious novel?

That said, I must read the book!

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Penny S
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I had the idea that Bert was some sort of psychopomp, like Hermes/Mercury, but the comment links to the Gawain poem beneath Ursula Le Guin's review have another suggestion (though the Green Man is also a guide of a candidate to initiation). (And the Mabinogion links to the corvid Bran are also interesting there, since in Malory, Gawain, on his death at Dover, ordains his head to be placed on the Castle Hill as protection for the country, like Bran's at the Tower of London. I thought Malory simply pinched the story, but maybe not.)

It's interesting to look for this sort of thing, but doesn't entirely satisfy with regard to understanding a particular story such as this.

I read a book once by a Stan Gooch, ostensibly on the brain, in which he revealed that he did not like women magic workers in stories. Men, he claimed, were either good wizards, or evil, but women good be either, and you would not know how to approach them safely. (They weren't as good at magic, anyway. It was very odd to read a supposedly scientific book which contained ideas which seemed to think magic was real, and qualifiable in this way.) I always felt that with the women, you got what you gave them. Speak nicely to Baba Yaga (who is at the beginning of 'Boneland'), and she deals with you well. Approach aggressively, and she is not nice at all. And why not? I'm not sure if this applies to the Morrigan.

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Brenda Clough
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Once everyone has read the book we should discuss the role of women in it (and the earlier works).

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ArachnidinElmet
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I've been meaning to reading Boneland after re-reading the earlier books but will do it backwards. The library supplied a copy and it looks like a fairly speedy read.

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andras
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Well through it at the moment. Interesting, but I'm not sure it'll be one I enjoy coming back to.

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Adrian Plass

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Brenda Clough
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No, I think we can agree that it has none of the pleasures of the first two. Entirely a different literary animal.

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andras
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Now finished. Interesting!

Not sure of the various references to Sir Gawain, which in my view is the finest literary work of the Middle Ages, and I had seriously misread Meg, who I had assumed to be the Morrigan back again.

Do we need the prehistory? Unsure.

I found myself thinking of Hogfather, which deals with several of the same issues but I think does it rather better. And I like Susan Death better than Meg!

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Sir Kevin
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# 3492

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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
I reviewed it on a blog, and no less than the great Ursula LeGuin reviewed it in the Guardian. I could post the links.

.

Would you please? If it's good enough for her, it's good enough for us!

The only SF book I have currently read is the two-part novel written by my lovely bride and she is moving it along very slowly as she also works as a full-time high school English teacher!

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Brenda Clough
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The links are posted upthread, about 7 posts up from this one.

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Sarasa
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Well I finished it, but I think I'm more puzzled than anything else by it. Do you think it would have helped if I could have remembered anything about the first two books that I read forty plus years ago?

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Brenda Clough
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Only somewhat. Over the length of his career Garner seems to have made a policy of giving less and less help to his readers, so even if you know the previous two works well you may be at a loss.

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Brenda Clough
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Missed the edit window. Here is the Wikipedia entry for WEIRDSTONE, which thoroughly summarizes the plot and characters.

And here is the similar entry for MOON OF GOMRATH. The covers used to illustrate these entries are the editions I own, from the '60s. Much more beautiful and evocative than the modern ones.

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andras
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I'm not at all sure that it works as a sequel to the earlier books. One 'living' character in common isn't enough, surely.

Do we ever learn why the Edge has to be watched? I don't think we do. And as someone who used to live nearby while lecturing at Manchester University, I feel that the Edge, while fascinating, doesn't have the numinous quality of, say, Glastonbury or Long Meg, both places that give me the willies.

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Brenda Clough
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It seems to me that, in the earlier 2 books, the Edge had to be watched because, mysteriously, the king and his knights sleeping under the hill were not very well secured. (No perimeter; no gate with a security guard, no ID badges or retinal scanners. Honestly.) And so their suspended-animation had to be carefully guarded. This at least fits in well with the way the first two books are plotted.

In Boneland it seems to tie into that caveman guy, the original guardian. I would appreciate theories from others. Is it a British thing?

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Penny S
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Lud's Church, where the caveman hung out, is some 15 miles from the Edge, so the connection isn't clear to me. Colin is on the Edge, not at Lud's Church. (That was used by Lollards as a secret worshipping place in the Middle Ages, which has no relevance at all to the story, but does mean that part of its history has been left out. Wikipedia suggests that the name may originate from one of the arrested worshippers, but has alternatives. It doesn't seem to have been attributed to the Lud of Ludgate, who is also an invention and no ancient deity at all.) Jodrell Bank is about 6 miles from the Edge.
I walked along the Edge once - very exciting to spot the place where there was the crack from which the swart alfar emerged, and the well. I probably drank from it.

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andras
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# 2065

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There's a Ludchurch in Pembrokeshire too, but the Welsh name is Eglwys Lwyd, that is Lloyd's Church.

I suggest the same derivation for the Cheshire one. After all, Lindow is certainly Welsh (Black Lake).

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God's on holiday.
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Adrian Plass

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Tubbs

Miss Congeniality
# 440

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It's really hard to come up with questions on Boneland, but I had a go. (I'd forgotten how strange Boneland was when I offered to host):

Did all of the things in the first two books actually take place, or did Colin invent them as part of a delusion created because of childhood trauma?


How important is place to Garner’s stories?


Is this trilogy ending you were hoping for?


Feel free to add others!

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Brenda Clough
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I have always wondered:

Who is the caveman guy? Is he one of Colin's delusions/dreams? Or is he in any sense real? Does he have anything to do with Cadellin, the guardian in the first two books?

What actually happened to sister Susan? We have one narrative, the fantasy fiction one -- she magically becomes one of the Pleiades. There is a mundane one, the one in the papers, that she wandered off into a pond and drowned. Are both of these true? Neither?

(On a totally different front) Is it really possible to live in a cave like that, or in a house that backs onto a cave? It sounds like a recipe for damp and chill.

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andras
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# 2065

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Yes, it really is possible to live in a house like that!

At Bridgenorth in Shropshire the sandstone cliffs below the town still have the very Regency-style front doors of the cliff houses. I think the last occupants didn't move out until the 1950s.

Otherwise, no, neither the ending I was expecting nor is it satisfactory. The events​ of the first two books are just brushed aside, with little obvious connection to the final book. Better seen as a standalone, perhaps.

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Sarasa
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# 12271

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I was totally puzzled by the whole thing, but admittedly I didn't invest a lot of time in trying to work it out. I assumed the caveman was part of Colin's imagination (what was all that stuff with the wolf), but then at the end it seemed that even the modern day characters Bert and Meg that I thought were 'real' maybe weren't.
Which brings me to Meg. What did people think of her as a character. I found her way of talking irritating and the slight flirtation with Colin weird, but she did seem an identifiable person, and more or less believable, which I didn't really find the case with Colin.

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Brenda Clough
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Does Meg in this book have anything to do with the Morrigan in the previous books?

Which brings us around to what Garner calls women magic or moon magic. In the first two books this all hangs together reasonably well: the phases of the moon representing both the menstrual cycle and the pagan Tripartite Goddess, maiden, mother and crone, all symbolized by the bracelets (silver, a moon metal). It even makes a vague sense then with Susan being caught up by the star ladies, galloping off into the sky.

The problem when we roll up to Boneland is that Colin is a) a guy and b) mentally disturbed and thus a very unreliable narrator. So we doubly and trebly can't get a clear picture of what's going on.

It is unreasonable and impossible for any mortal to be an enemy of the Tripartite Goddess; the whole point of worshiping her is that everybody is her subject. Everybody is born from a mother, everybody (mostly) wants to have sex and reproduce, everybody dies. And therefore Colin (and Cadellin in the previous books, who may or may not be Colin now and/or the caveman guy) has to make his peace with the Goddess and by extension all women. I dimly get a sense that this is what is going on with Meg. It is significant that he is not married.

Garner (IMO) has a basic problem with endings. The boniness and scantness of his prose works against him here. It was the same with GOMRATH, which ended with a confusing bang. If he would just explain a titch more we would have a better sense of conclusion.

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agingjb
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I've not worked out just how Colin was put into contact with Meg. Bert seems to have just appeared at the beginning, but both apparently fade into the myth by the end.

I don't find Garner rereadable, unlike C.S.Lewis (who Garner detested) who when readable is also rereadable.

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andras
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# 2065

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In Rome, of course, men were excluded from the worship of the Bona Dea, which led to all sorts of lewd speculation about just what went on in those gatherings.

Presumably the wolf is the caveman's totem animal? And Colin, as we are reminded in the Weirdstone, means 'little dog' so there's a link of sorts there.

The direct (and slightly mis-translated) quotation from Sir Gawain puzzles me. In what way does Colin link to Gawain? Gawain, after all, is on a heroic knight-errant quest to find the Green Knight and - he believes - to have his head cut off as part of the Knight's jolly Christmas game. None of that is true of Colin, surely, though perhaps there's a link between the Green Chapel and Lud's Church.

Or not. Who knows? The book strikes me as a mishmash which should have been seriously pruned and then rewritten. I don't mind being taken for an interesting journey, but there's a difference between that and being simply taken for a ride!

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Jengie jon

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# 273

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Taken from this webpage

quote:

Alderley Edge has a history of attracting those with unusual outlooks on life. John Evans (1883 - 1933) lived as a hermit in the old quarry not far from the car park at Alderley Edge. Though his wooden cabin has long since vanished, you can still find the stone-marked terraces of his garden at the bottom of the quarry and the small tunnel that he used as a larder. Some say he lived there because he did not like women; others say he worked on the Edge, maintaining the paths and planting trees. His death was a mystery; was it murder, or suicide?

Maybe useful.

Jengie

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Walking 18 miles to help Refugees get an education.

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Brenda Clough
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# 18061

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quote:
Originally posted by andras:

The book strikes me as a mishmash which should have been seriously pruned and then rewritten. I don't mind being taken for an interesting journey, but there's a difference between that and being simply taken for a ride!

I wonder about that. I've (God pity me) plowed through many a mishmash which cried out for a rewrite. This is not like that. This strikes me as not ill-conceived, but possibly -overly- rewritten. I think Garner knows what he's doing and what's happening to Colin. It's just that, after rewriting and polishing it so often, he no longer realizes that he has failed to convey the information to us.

What he needed was a couple trustworthy beta readers, to come to it with a fresh eye and then whimper in pathetic bewilderment and force him to explain more. OR, his editor should have cracked the whip.

As to Gawain: he is another guy hero who gets in too deep. It is significant that he was going to lose his head. One of the really good things about Boneland is its dissection of the downside of epic fantasy adventure. It was a grand quest, evil defeated and good upheld, but it does not go well for the survivors even though they were on the side of the angels. You can win, but at too high a cost. Think Frodo, another good example.

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Penny S
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# 14768

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I can't rid myself of the thought that the bone land is the brain - though I know it was another writer who used that idea - Penelope Farmer in "A Castle of Bone". And that thus all that happens is inside Colin's head.

I can't see him rewriting Selina Place's Morrigan as Meg, though. That version was one without a possibility of showing a positive side, though the Morrigan, like other female magical characters in story, can be a help as well as a destruction. In the earlier Alderley stories, that is not an option. Moreover, in those stories, she is not shown in full Celtic power, but is very much an inferior servant of a greater evil.

Someone commenting on another site has pointed out that Meg is one of the bynames derived from Margaret, which means pearl, and the Green Knight poet also wrote a poem called Pearl about his lost female child. Has Garner any lilies in the book?

[ 28. March 2017, 16:59: Message edited by: Penny S ]

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Brenda Clough
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# 18061

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Another angle: Colin lives in a cave, famously a female place. The original scenario, the hundred knights and their king in a cave in stasis until the moment of England's greatest need, is a childbirth image. (We all hope that a savior will be born in time.) The children's passage through the original cave system was significant, analyzed this way. Tight passageways. Water hazards. The danger of getting stuck. I wonder if Garner has ever undergone Freudian analysis.
Are the women characters perceived and presented differently than the male ones?

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Penny S
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# 14768

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Further thoughts since last posting.

If Colin means "little dog" (apparently it does not, but is derived from Nicholas, and has a meaning of victory to the people) then that would link Colin to Cuchulain, the hound of Ulster, whose name does have the dog meaning. Cuchulain has close links with Gawaine - both face the beheading challenge, for example, and also has serious history with the Morrigan. (There are books about this. Cuchulain is the son of Lugh, a solar deity, and Gawaine is the son of Lot of Orkney, whose name is also suggestive of light. His mother, Morgause, is the sister of Morgan le Fay, who has nothing to do with the Morrigan, as her name derives from the word for the sea. The Morrigan derives her name from a suffix linked to ruling and the prefix associated with the element 'mare' found in nightmare. Apparently. But Gawaine's name has a similar similarity with Cuchulain's, despite apparently having something to do with hawks.

Garner has clearly read about Cuchulain, since one of the dwarves in the earlier book has a death close to that of Cuchulain, fighting while bound to a stone, until one of Morrigan's crows lands on the dead body.

Garner based his descriptions of the children's passage through the mines on his own childhood explorations, so they may not have anything to do with Freudian analysis. What I want to know about this sort of thing is why every one of them - 'She', 'Indiana Jones', and Weirdstone and others always involve crossing a deep deep abyss on a ricketty racketty plank or similar. That has nothing to do with borth, I think.

[ 28. March 2017, 18:41: Message edited by: Penny S ]

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agingjb
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# 16555

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Probably not relevant, but I'm reminded of G.M.Hopkins' poem Spring and Fall, to a young child:

"It is Margaret you mourn for."

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Penny S
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Which has led me to another book I couldn't get into. 'Goldengrove Unleaving' by Jill Paton Walsh.
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andras
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# 2065

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Gawain's name in Welsh is Gwalchmai. Gwalch is Welsh for Osprey, so the name means May Hawk. Mythologically speaking he is a debased sun God, whose strength increases until noon and then declines.

But then, the basis of the whole Arthurian corpus is mythological - in the oldest Welsh versions of the stories he invades Annwfn, the world of the dead, for example.

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Brenda Clough
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# 18061

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Speaking of which, I can recommend Hawk of May by Gillian Bradshaw and its sequels. Superb Arthurian novels.

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Brenda Clough
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# 18061

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quote:
Originally posted by Penny S:
What I want to know about this sort of thing is why every one of them - 'She', 'Indiana Jones', and Weirdstone and others always involve crossing a deep deep abyss on a ricketty racketty plank or similar. That has nothing to do with borth, I think.

Oh, that's an easy one. Probably is rooted in our primate ancestry, when we were climbing trees -- human beings are always and forever nervous about a narrow unsteady footing, over a drop. We are also nervous about the dark, especially things jumping at us out of the dark, and about high-pitched screaming noises (hence ambulances).
Writers spend hours, days, entire lifetimes, figuring out what is the most disturbing thing to happen to the characters. The narrow footing over a drop is an easy and classic situation, resorted to by everybody -- I had my hero standing on a rotting catwalk in the tower of Durham Cathedral, precisely for this reason. Everybody does it.

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