This is the sequel to The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, in which Colin and Susan, with the assistance of a couple of dwarfs, helped magician Cadellin find the lost Weirdstone, fighting off the forces of wickedness led by evil witch The Morrigan.
The Moon of Gomrath finds the two again fighting the Morrigan, this time with the aid of Susan's magical bracelet, another dwarf and a troop of elves. In the course of their adventures they light a fire on the Beacon on the eve of the Moon of Gomrath, "one of the four nights of the year when Time and Forever mingle" (Ch 11). This conjures up The Wild Hunt, with Herne the Hunter at their head, and assorted aspects of Old Magic.
As always, whenever all seems lost a dwarf or an elf or The Wild Hunt or another piece of magic come to the aid of the children: the book, like its predecessor, solves all problems with such a deus ex machina. It makes a cracking read and the battle near the end is superbly told. But even that, in the context of the plot, is futile and meaningless; one can understand the frustration of the dying elves.
There are times when the author writes prose at least as magical as any of the spells cast:
- "voices that were like an ache and a desolation of the soul." (Ch 14)
- "It was a wind that would take hair from a horse, and moor-grass from the ground: it would take heather from the hill, and willow from the root: it would take the limpet from the crag, and the eagle from its young: and it came over the gritstone peaks, howling and raging, in blazing sparks of fire." (Ch 14)
- "The world of Magic that lies as near and unknown to us as the back part of a shadow." (Ch 2)
- "I thought it was time for me to take my legs along with me." (Ch 4)
- "Who now brings fire to the mound at the Eve of Gomrath?" (Ch 9) This question, awakening the Hunt, at near enough the centre of the story, is a phrase that I can remember from when I first read this book, aged about ten, in the Puffin edition priced 3/6d that I still have.
- "We shall have to act quickly, or wide numbers will go to sleep with light in their eyes, and only the raven will find profit." (Ch 10)
It may seem strange to modern sensibilities that a book written for children, starring two pre-teens, has so much slaughter in it. The death of a friend is traumatic and much mourned, but the death of scores of goblins and wildcats and others is reckoned as no more than notches on the swords. There is a limit. When Colin suggests the use of guns the response from the efficient killer that is the chief dwarf is: "You may look here, and find us at the slaughter, but we know the cost of each death, since we see the eyes of those we send to darkness, and the blood on our hands, and each killing is the first for us.I tell you, life is true then, and its worth is clear. But to kill at a distance is not to know, and that is man's destruction." (Ch 18) A strange sentiment for the author, an ex-lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, perhaps. But even with this proviso, even with the elf-leader bitterly counting the cost to his folk for saving a single human boy from captivity ("One life to save a man"; Ch 17), much of the book seems to celebrate killing.
Nevertheless, this remains a book from which I can quote when more than fifty years have lapsed. It's hugely strong narrative arc and the brilliance of its descriptions carried me along with the story then, as they do now. And if my adult self finds it poorly plotted it still impresses with the beauty of its prose.
October 2020; 168 pages
Garner is author of a number of novels, mostly aimed at children, in which ancient legends and magical worlds impact upon everyday life:
- The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, its sequel The Moon of Gomrath, and the distinctively different concluding part to the 'trilogy', Boneland.
- Elidor, a Narnia-style children's fantasy
- The utterly brilliant Owl Service (aimed at young adults)
- Red Shift, also aimed at young adults and perhaps the darkest of Garner's novels. A line in Elidor - "The legend says that there was once a ploughboy in Elidor: an idiot, given to fits. But in his fit he spoke clearly, and was thought to prophesy." (C 6) - seems to be a link with one of the characters in Red Shift.
- The definitively adult Thursbitch