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08 April 2013

'Boneland' by Alan Garner

I was sad when I finished reading but I was also sated and satisfied.  

Boneland completes the Weirdstone trilogy.  The first two books were written several decades ago and were written for children.  This book is special because it is written for adults.  The children in the first two books have grown up and so have the readers.  I was curious to see how that would translate into my own memories and expectations.  It was so much better than I hoped.  Boneland is a bitter sweet book.  I was sad when I finished reading but I was also sated and satisfied.  The book took a child's pain and loss into adulthood.  After the events of The Moon of Gomrath, Colin's sister disappears when they were both 12.  She goes to the Pleaiades to join other maidens, or so Colin believes.  Colin becomes a 21st century Renaissance man, master of many sciences, in the search for her;  he wants to bring her back.  

Colin's struggles are woven with a story about a man only called The Watcher.  The Watcher is in another time.  He dances and draws and sings to keep the world in place and full of life.  But he has a problem, he searches for a woman to create a family so that he may pass on his job and so the world will not end.  Colin looks for his twin and The Watcher looks for his mate.  Both searches are full of their own dangers and tears.  The rhythm of the stories creates its own dance and the impression is beautiful, like twilight with a breeze and the first view of the stars.

Funny enough, given the presence of wizards in the previous books, the only time a wizard briefly appears is as a vengeful, angry old man who destroys a life without understanding or forgiving the pain of a desperate child.  The way the wizard treats Colin that brief moment (in this book) sets the tone for the rest of Colin's life.  The wizard may be waiting with his knights for the end of the world, the implication is that they will fight on the side of light and protect people.  But if this wizard cannot see the value in the innocence of a child and empathize with his pain then I despair for the final battle.  Colin was not a real danger to the knights and their king.  One lonely old wizard lost his temper and scarred a child forever.

To think that we, as a society, have become obsessed with tight, narrow goals achieved by specialized arts is scary, no matter how good and beneficial the goal... Worse yet is to think that there is only one way to achieve this goal.  A wizard who's longevity might have given perspective has, instead, narrowed his focus to the extent that he curses a child.  But the magic of this wizard is not old magic, it is magic tamed for men by men, ironic that he has come to be as narrow and fearful as the mortal humans around him who do not believe in magic.

 I hope I do not give a false view of Boneland; it is not heavy handed with obvious lessons or allegory, different topics or details come up the more I think about this slim book.  Time as a theme (amongst many) is interesting and I closed the book feeling that time has no meaning, it is a trick, and not a good one.  The Watchers's magic and the magic that Colin gently inherits is about balance, duty, truth and beauty.  The solutions to their searches are not expected or hoped for, but they bring closure.  The more I think about Colin and The Watcher the sadder I become but there is hope in their struggles.  Perhaps they will bring balance to the world...

Alan Garner 
ISBN: 9780007463244 

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