Monday, 22 October 2012

"The Voice that Thunders", a book by Alan Garner ~ and two helpful precepts

I have just read Alan Garner's remarkable book, "The Voice that Thunders" and loved it.  I don't often bother to read books that I don't already know as I seldom find anything that holds my interest sufficiently, but this one is an exception: I had the chance to read part of it while staying with a friend, and having returned home realised that I had to read the rest of it as soon as possible.  Fortunately the library had a copy and it was on the shelf.  I read it at a gallop, in two days flat! 

Alan Garner really knows things; most people who talk about ideas and abstract concepts know them from supposition or have made a pastiche from the ideas of others, which I find dull and often argue with.  Alan's book is such a contrast: in it I found much to wonder about and a whole range of ideas and thoughts that were new to me as well as quite a few that I already hold dear and important.  So it was a book of affirmation, of companionship and of great interest.  

It's made up of a series of essays and lectures, which I think makes it more interesting than a stand-alone autobiography or memoir: he is addressing actual groups of people on specific topics, and shows great courage in talking about himself in the context of severe illnesses, mental health difficulties, and a colourful personal life.  

His search for his own place of standing within the family setting of craftsmen and innovators has been challenging as he has explored logic and reason as a Classics scholar at Oxford University, and also explored the richly imaginative alternative realities of quite different groups of people.  While these different outlooks on life may seem to be at odds with each other he says unequivocally, that they are each vital to us, and I agree.  It's not easy but it's true. 

I have known a number of Alan Garner's books from childhood, and four of his books were part of our family collection: "The Weirdstone of Brinsingamen", "The Moon of Gomrath", "Elidor" and "The Owl Service".  Since then I have read "The Stone Book Quartet", which is based on his family history in which generations of craftsmen have lived in the same part of England for hundreds of years.  Of these five books the first four could be described as including disturbing themes, so they are not your average bedtime read, but well worth it.  "The Stone Book Quartet" is quite a different book and really beautiful.   

He describes himself as an exact contemporary of Susan Cooper, who is another writer of first rate children's fantasy.  I find both of their works fascinating!  My favourite Susan Cooper book is "The Dark is Rising".

Having come across "The Voice that Thunders" so unexpectedly I wondered how I had missed seeing it when it was published!  Well, now I have.  Even better, it has brought to light other titles which I have yet to read, so these are treasure in store. 
 
There is so much in this book to reflect on and read again.  I'll share this brief excerpt with you which chimed rather especially with my own views.  It is from pages 25 and 26.  He describes how he and his family were unprepared for the divisive effect of his education:
...None of us was prepared for its effect.  That deep but narrow culture from which I came could not share my excitement over the wonders of the deponent verb.  To them it was an attack on their values, an attempt to make them feel inferior.  A shocking alienation resulted, which we could not resolve.  Only my grandfather sat, and watched me; listened.  He said little, but at least he did not attack.  Then, when he felt the time was ripe, he delivered his coup de grace, from which, once heard, there is no retreat.
     He uttered two precepts.  They are absolutes.  The first was: "Always take as long as the job tells you; because it'll be here when you're not, and you don't want folk saying, 'What fool made that codge?' "
     The second was worse: "If the other feller can do it, let him."  That is: Seek until you find that within you that is your unique quality, and, having found it, pursue it to the exclusion of all else and without thought of cost.
Not easy.  In fact, the more unusual that 'unique quality' is, the tougher the first precept becomes...

It's a great book, and I highly recommend it.

And a word from me to Alan Garner himself:
Alan, I'm doing what I can to gather up and keep safe my own collection of 'the Beauty Things' which I feel sure connect with at least some of yours.  Like you, I share them where I can.  The others I feed in the silence.  God speed, friend, and thank you.