Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Alan Garner Liketh Not Narnia

So, thanks to Doug A. and Janice for drawing my attention the following interview with Alan Garner in a recent issue of The Guardian.

Alan Garner: ‘The Chronicles of Narnia are atrociously written’

The author on the lascivious subtexts of Catullus, mistaking Lord of the Flies for a satanic text and CS Lewis’s ‘totalitarian’ fantasy epics

First Quote: 

The book I could never read again
"I never enjoyed CS Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. I read the books with horrid fascination. They were, in my opinion, and remain, nasty, manipulative, morbid, misanthropic, hectoring, totalitarian and atrociously written."

Sounds to me like Garner is putting on his Philip Pullman hat here.

I've never been that big a fan of Alan Garner, who I think of primarily as one of the first wave of fantasy writers to follow Tolkien, including Joy Chant and Peter S. Beagle. I read, and liked, THE WEIRDSTONE OF BRISENGAMEN well enough, though I liked what he was trying to do more than the way he'd done it. The follow up book, MOON OF GOMRATH, I thought a falling off but still readable (judgements I stand by on the basis of re-readings). THE OWL SERVICE I disliked quite a lot -- so much so, in fact, that I more or less gave up reading his work at the point, especially since this book had been highly praised by friends who admire AG's work. A good while later I tried either ELIDOR or RED SHIFT, I forget which, and cdn't even get through the first chapter. And then there was some Tolkien-bashing --not much, but enough to put me off his work.

After that I concluded Garner was not the author for me. There were books a plenty by other authors I wanted to read, and Garner seemed to have readers enough.

Fast forward a lot of years and I'm reading TREACLE WALKER, which reminded me of what a novelization of one of Gaiman's comic scripts must have been like. I'm sorry to see his Lewis-bashing, not because I disagree with some of his criticisms but because it came across as a less successful author growsing about a more succesful one.

Second Quote (the ominous one):

The writer who changed my mind

Aeschylus. Reading his Oresteia aged 17 made me aware more than any other text of the power of language, and its examination of matricide came at an opportune moment.

--wait, what? 

--John R.

current reading: KA.


Looking at this another way, you could say that Narnia is a cult and Susan is the only one who got out.


Wurmbrand said...

If I could ask Garner one question about his Narnian remarks, it would be, "How long ago did you last read the books?"

I'm not implying that if, as I suspect, it was a long time ago, and he were to read one or more of them now, his opinion would change. But it doesn't sound like he's reflecting a fresh reading. I wonder if Garner's remark is like an answer to a sort of question interviewers ask him when he'd rather talk about something else. His comment might not be much more of a considered opinion than Tolkien's impatient remark about some author -- that he hadn't read him or her and would like him or her if he had.

Dale Nelson

Matt Fisher said...

When I read that interview, I didn't view Garner's comment about Narnia as a "less successful author growsing about a more successful one." I've long had the impression that Garner is a person of very strong opinions, and so this comment of his fits with that. In that regard he is similar to Philip Pullman. The difference is that I enjoy Garner's work whereas I didn't enjoy reading Pullman.

What is your reaction to Treacle Walker?

Wurmbrand said...

Sorry -- I meant Tolkien's remark that he WOULDN'T like such-and-such an author if he did read him or her.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Dale N.

I don't doubt that Garner's negative opinion of Narnia goes back a long ways, if only because it'd be a bit odd if he were reading it now for the first time at the age of eighty-seven. Though it's my impression that a goodly number of those who don't like the Narnia books first read them in adulthood. --JDR

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Matt
I wdn't want to judge Garner's work as a whole on the basis of this one short, late piece ---a bit like judging Tolkien entirely by SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR. Luckily I've read a few of his famous books and have at least some sense of his work as a whole.
TREACLE WALKER felt a bit lightweight to me like it was a potentially interesting idea that didn't get wherever it was going. By far my favorite part was the homage/parody of the old WW II era comic books. Without my having read the originals he based this on he totally convinced me they were just like he retold them.
What was yr response to the book?
--John R.

David Bratman said...

If I judged Tolkien solely on the basis of Smith of Wootton Major my opinion of him would be even higher than it is already. I love that story, as I think you already know.

My opinion of Garner's work is mixed. As "stories in the Tolkien tradit9ion," which is how I read them, I found Weirdstone and Moon a bit half-baked, but I felt the same about Lloyd Alexander and everything else of that kind I read before Watership Down. Elidor and The Owl Service I thought brilliant as I read them, but I've never re-read either, which is a sign. His later work I found difficult.

Matt Fisher said...

Garner is a writer that I enjoy reading...but I also recognize that he can be difficult to read (particularly the later books). So I'm not surprised by David's comment. For me, the rewards of reading his work outweigh the difficulties. Even something like STRANDLOPER, which I would describe as ultimately unsuccessful, was a book I enjoyed reading.

I found TREACLE WALKER more engaging and comprehensible than BONELAND, but still cryptic the first time through. I want to re-read it again before classes start in less than two weeks.