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ClassicsOnline Home » GARNER, A.: Weirdstone of Brisingamen (The) (Unabridged)
‘The heart of the magic was sealed with Firefrost, the Weirdstone of Brisingamen…should Nastrond destroy the stone, then the magic will die away.’ When Colin and Susan are pursued by eerie creatures across Alderley Edge, the Wizard—Cadellin Silverbrow—takes them to safety deep in the caves of Fundindelve. Here, he watches over the enchanted sleep of one hundred and forty knights, awaiting the fated hour when they must rise and fight. But the Weirdstone of Brisingamen is lost and the forces of evil are closing in. The children realise that they are the key to its return, but how can they defeat the powerful magic of the Morrigan and her deadly brood? First published in 1960, four decades before Harry Potter, Alan Garner’s novel of magic and wizards has endured and become a modern classic of children’s literature.
By Iain Nicholas Mackenzie
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen
About 150 years ago, my great-greatgrandfather,
Robert Garner carved the face
of an old man with long hair and beard in
the rock of a cliff on a hill where my family
has lived for at least 400 years, and still does.
He carved the face above a well that is much
older. How much older, no one knows, but
it’s centuries older, or even more. And why
did he carve it? He carved it to mark that
here is the Wizard’s Well.
About 68 years ago, Robert’s grandson,
Joseph, told his own grandson how, under
the earth, inside the hill, there was, and still
is, an army of knights sleeping an enchanted
sleep from which they will wake one day to
fight the last battle of the world. But until
that day comes, they must not be woken.
I am Joseph’s grandson, and I grew up
on that hill, Alderley Edge in Cheshire, aware
of its magic and accepting it. I didn’t know
that it wasn’t the same for everyone. I didn’t
know that not all children played, by day and
by night, the year long, on a wooded hill
where heroes slept in the ground.
Yet there were strange things. Below
another ancient well, the Holy Well, a rock
lies in a bog. It fell from the cliff above in 1740 and made the Garners’ cottage shake.
It landed on an old woman and her cow
that, for some reason, were standing in the
bog, and, as a result, are still there. When I
was seven, the bog was dangerous for
somebody of my size and I once got stuck in
it and thought I was going to drown, even
though I sank only to my hips; but I
managed to reach the rock and to climb up
it to where a fallen tree was lodged, which
spanned the bog, and by sliding along the
trunk I was able to reach firm land. Nearby,
under the leaf mould, is a layer of white clay
that we used as soap to wash ourselves
before we went home after playing. But
there wasn’t anything I could do about my
clothes, and Grandad was not pleased.
That is how children grew up on the
Edge. We knew it in every way: whether it
was to find soap or to avoid the Devil in his
My father taught me about the Devil.
One afternoon, when I was about 4, he
asked me whether I should like to go up the
Edge. I was amazed. My father normally
would have been having his Sunday snooze.
So off we went and climbed the hill, and we walked through the woods, past Thieves’
Hole and Seven Firs to Stormy Point, where
the Edge is a barren plunge of sand and
stone to the plain beneath. At the top
there’s a trench cut into the rock, which
goes to a small cavern. There’s a hole in the
roof, partly closed by a hewn block. This
cavern is the Devil’s Grave.
My father stood and looked at the
enormous view that lay before us; and then
he told me that the block in the hole was the
Devil’s Gravestone and that if anybody ran
round the stone three times widdershins the
Devil would come out and get them. ‘Is it
true?’ I said. ‘It’s what they say,’ said my
father. ‘Can I have a go?’ I said. ‘If you like,’
said my father. So I set off widdershins
running around the rock; once; twice. I
looked at him. He was watching the sky.
From inside the cavern beneath us there
came a screech and a scream. Twigs,
pebbles and sand were thrown up out of the
hole between the block and the rim. There
was fiendish noise; and more screaming.
This time the screams were from me as I
fled. I tripped over a tree root, and lay
waiting for the Devil to grab me. Instead, I
heard two men laughing. I looked. It was
my father and his brother, my uncle Syd. They had planned the whole thing the night
before in the pub. Uncle Syd would be in
place at three o’clock and my father would
have me there at five past. They had
decided that I was of an age to understand
the Devil’s Grave. And I did.
In such ways the children of the Edge
learn their place, in every sense. But one
thing we never messed with. The mines.
The copper mines, worked on and off for
4,000 years until nearly 100 years ago, killed
people. But those people were always
strangers, never local children. We had lost
too many of our families as miners there.
The mines were one place we did not go.
The Edge is a land of two worlds: above
and below. It took me my childhood to
learn about above; when I was 19, I went to
learn the wonders of below: a world of
darkness and silence, so dark that you can
see the lights of brain cells discharging; so
silent that blood in the veins can be heard.
Yet, shine a lamp and the eye is washed with
colour; the colour of minerals with
marvellous names: malachite, azurite,
galena. They glisten in caves bigger than a
church and the size of a cathedral; and on
the roof, in places, there are the marks of
ripples in the sand, of a sea upside down
and hung to dry.
No miner ever found the sleeping
knights. But there is a place on the hill I
know, where, if you put your ear to the
ground and listen, and if the weather’s
right and the air is still, you may hear the
knights snoring and the clink of harness.
And have I heard them? No. Not yet. But
my cousin has.
Notes by Alan Garner
The music on this recording is taken from the NAXOS catalogue
BAX Symphonic Poems
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, David Lloyd-Jones
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Barry Wordsworth
Music programmed by Sarah Butcher
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