The Moon of Gomrath

“Almost they wished that they had never discovered enchantment: They found it unbearable that the woods for them should be empty of anything but loveliness, that the boulder that hid the iron gates should remain a boulder, that the cliff above the Holywell should be just a cliff.”

In The Moon of Gomrath Alan Garner returns to the setting of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. I couldn’t reread one and not the other! The previous novel should definitely be read first to get an idea of the background, but this sequel does not depend too heavily on prior events.

After the rescue of the Weirdstone Colin and Susan are changed by their brush with magic, reluctant to go back to a safer but ordinary lifestyle. This is especially difficult for Susan because she still wears her bracelet, which binds her to that other world more strongly than she yet knows. But here lies the danger, for even though the children have met successfully with the Morrigan in the past they are ignorant of the hidden evils and ancient powers that lurk in the Alderly hills. So during the Moon of Gomrath, when the buried Old Magic is at its peak, they accidentally summon the Wild Hunt, even while Cadellin and his allies are focused on relocating the insidious Brollachan. Soon it comes once again to a showdown of good and evil, with unforeseen consequences.

The focus here is the contrast between the High Magic of the last book, embodied by the wizard Cadellin, and the ancient fundamental Old Magic that was buried because it could not be controlled.Instead of incantations this magic is tied to the moon and stars; Garner also aligns the two sides as male and female, with Susan feeling the stronger pull. Under the Moon of Gomrath there is a shift in the balance of magic in this region. While The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was an exciting quest, here the plot is almost adolescent in nature: the changing magical landscape, the hidden secrets let loose, and the frustration Colin and Susan feel with trying to get involved. Sometimes while reading I felt a small inexplicable sense of sadness.

In addition the memories of old magic we meet the lios-afar, an elven race mentioned in the last book, and new allies Uthecar the dwarf and Albanac the rider. Surprisingly there is no mention of Fenodyree, who had been portrayed as a companion of Cadellin. I understand that Uthecar’s role is closer to the plot, but would have expected at least an appearance of him at Fundindelve.

I mentioned before that these books remind me of Tolkien’s work in their epic nature and sense of wonder. But though their effect is the same the methods are nearly exact opposites. Tolkien painstakingly created an entire world with its own geography, characters, and history, while Garner drew heavily on existing material. He himself grew up on the Alderly Edge playing aroung landmarks such as the Holywell or the Beacon, here endowed with magical significance.  Character names and roles are all drawn from existing mythologies, though juggled slightly to fit events. In the back of this book he lists some sources, and it looks like websites have done a more complete analysis. Even the legend of the sleeping knights, around which the first book is based, is a common story told in the region which he heard as a child. Garner’s talent is that he weaves all these elements together in a compelling fashion to make them seem real.

Once again Garner gives almost no denouement after the climax, and though there aren’t that many loose ends (except the plight of the elves), I felt an even greater need than before to know what happens next. And here is my biggest issue–there is no way of knowing. These were Garner’s first two books back in the 1960s, and though he has written others since, including some fantasy, according to Wikipedia he has openly refused to return to Alderly. I can understand his claim that continuing the story would lessen the emotional impact; left as it is, we can imagine that Susan and Colin’s association with magic lasted throughout their lives. This is similar to the reason I have yet to finish Harry Potter, or The Chronicles of Narnia, or even A Series of Unfortunate Events. There is no sense of loss or ending, as with Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles or even Lord of the Rings. But like Colin and Susan, I’ve become enchanted by the magic of Alderly and am loath to leave it behind.

Published in: on October 7, 2009 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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