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Listening to tales told by his blacksmith grandfather in the semi-darkness of his fire-lit forge, Alan Garner absorbed the Cheshire folklore that he then transformed into a classic work of fiction – The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. Inspired by Garner’s story, archaeologists have recently begun to unravel the truth behind the legends of Alderley Edge, as Chris Catling reports.

right Fifty years old and still a gripping bestseller, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen left One of the settings that inspired the author.

BeloW Alderley Edge: “a broad track cut straight through the wood ... this, the wizard said, was once an elf-road, and some of the old magic still lingered.”

Alan Garner went up to Oxford to read Classics, but he was restless and decided that formal academic study was not for him – instead he wanted to write. His tutor struck a gentleman’s agreement: ‘go away,’ he said, ‘and find out if you have an original mind; and if you discover that you have not, come back and devote your life to discovering those that had.’

Those parting words left the door open for Alan’s return, but he never needed to retread the Oxford road. On 10 October 1959, he received a letter from William Collins, the publisher, accepting his first novel – The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. Fifty years on he is acknowledged to be, in the words of Philip Pullman (who ought to know), ‘one of the very greatest writers of books that children read’ (Pullman and Garner share a dislike of the limitations implied by the term ‘books for children’).

Fantasy and reality

For all its apparent fantasy, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen contains much literal description of the landscape in which Garner grew up. Alderley Edge, the setting for the novel, is a prominent sandstone ridge that rises dramatically out of the Cheshire plain, some 12 miles south of 

: CPC

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| Issue 238

www.archaeology.co.uk | current archaeology

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