“The passage ended, and they stepped into a cave, and there a wondrous sight met the farmer’s eyes–a hundred and forty knights in silver armor, and by the side of all but one a milk white mare.
‘Here they lie in enchanted sleep,’ said the wizard, ‘until the day will come–and it will–when England will be in direst peril, and England’s mothers weep. Then out from the hill these must ride, and in a battle thrice lost, thrice won, upon the plain, drive the enemy into the sea.'”
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is in the minority: a favorite from childhood that I’ve never reread. I was a bit nervous that Alan Garner’s marvelous tale would fall short of my expectations after so much time, but I found it just as enchanting.
The wizard Cadellin keeps guard over these slumbering knights, with the powerful magic of the Weirdstone to prevent them from aging. But when the stone is lost evil forces begin gathering to find and destroy it. Young Colin and Susan become caught up in the adventure upon discovering the Weirdstone, and soon must undertake a harrowing journey with the help of dwarfs to ensure that the proper balance is restored.
This is the kind of fantasy I love. Sometimes I have trouble accepting complex new worlds, but here Garner takes modern day Great Britain and draws on ancient myths. Even they are stories, they almost ring true because they are the type of story that has been told for centuries. The similarities to Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series and especially Tolkien’s stories are probably due to this common folklore–wizards as wise old men, sprawling dwarf mines, creatures of evil that move by night, and ancient prophesies and magic. Though classified as a children/YA book because younger readers will appreciate it (I was 11), it appeals to fans of all ages and relies on depth, not sugar-coating.
The immediacy of the plot is especially compelling. You can feel the fear of Susan and Colin as they flee the goblin-like svarts, the amazement at being drawn into this unknown world, the urgency of the quest for the stone. While I was reading I could picture everything in my mind as Garner described the twists and turns of the tunnels, or the crackle of brush in the woods.
My only complaint is the ending, because compared to the detail of everything else it felt rushed (which is probably how it seemed to the characters after their endless journey). I read it and thought, okay what just happened? I don’t like when fantasy books have a big let-down at the end of the adventure, especially like The Return of the King, but this seemed to much the other extreme.
Garner did later write a second Tale of Alderly, The Moon of Gomrath, which has the same characters but a mostly unrelated plot.