The Owl Service by Alan Garner


I loved Alan Garner’s books as a child and his name was the first that came into my head when I thought about the Childhood Favourites Reading.

But, because I always borrowed his books from the library and have never owned any of them, this was the first time I have held one of his books in several decades.

It was a risk to go back but I had faith in the quality of Alan Garner’s writing, and so I took the chance and ordered up a copy of “The Owl Service” from Cornwall County Library’s fiction reserve.

The copy that arrived dates back to the sixties, so it could even be the very same volume I read as a child.

“The Owl Service” is a wonderful story that brings Welsh mythology to life in a modern day setting.

Alison hears scratching above her ceiling when in bed with a stomachache. The cook’s son Gwyn helps her to open the hatch leading to the loft so they can investigate. All they find is a pile of plates.

The plates have what looks like an abstract patterned border. Alison discovers though that when she traces around the pattern on pieces of paper and fit them together they form tiny paper owls.

And then strange things start to happen. The pattern disappears from plates brought down from the attic and, however many owls Alison constructs, they all disappear.

Gwyn’s mother is clearly alarmed by the discovery. The hatch to the attic is nailed up and, when their interest persists, Alison and Gwyn are forbidden to meet them to meet.

When he hears what is happening Huw, the elderly and eccentric local handyman tells Gwyn a local legend that may be linked to the owl service. It seems that there are things in his own past that Gwyn knows nothing about and that he may have a role to play….

Alan Garner writes lovely prose, cleverly working in a Welsh myth from “The Mabinogion” into his contemporary story, and creating a real page-turner. I was happy to find that “The Owl Service” still had the power to both scare and enchant me.

I’m so glad I risked the re-read!

3 responses

  1. What a wonderful story. No wonder you remember it so well. It sounds like a story my ten-year-old granddaughter would love. I’m going to read your post to her.

  2. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: January 31, 2009 at Semicolon

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