I was going to write about T.S Eliot because I think if you've read Eliot you've at least touched on every great influence in the English language ~ but that's not really possible without discussing the man & I don't like the man so I'm not. Instead I want to briefly talk about the man I consider the most brilliant writer for children of the 20th century: Alan Garner. If you click on the piccie it will take you to more information ~ I hope. I'm not very good at these things.
I used to work in a Children's library & I still own children so children's books still fascinate me & one of the saddest things I've been witnessing is the dumbing down of our children's literary acumen. I see library shelves stacked with Charmed or Babysitter, or Saddle Club books but finding a copy of the Wizard of Oz, or Little Women or Alice through the Looking~Glass sends you into the bowls of the library to Stack where they keep all the books no~one reads any more.
Now there is nothing wrong with a babysitter book occasionally if that's what takes your fancy but a steady diet will ruin your appetite for good literature because good literature the babysitter books are not.
Garner's books, on the other hand, are good literature. His sense of place & language is superb. He writes beautifully & that, as you have probably gathered from my previous post, is important to me. However his books are not for the faint of heart & one could certainly argue they're not even strictly children's books. However they are in my favourite genre & more than Tolkien, more than Lewis, who merely used mythology as hooks for their stories, mythos is integral to Garner's stories. His retelling of the welsh legend of Blodeuwedd as a modern fairy tale is one of the most powerful, most frightening things I have ever read in my life ~ & that is Garner's genius for me. He understands that fairy tales are not, were never, *twee*. They were frightening & powerful & terrifying.
He is also succinct. The Owl Service is short. The language is truncated but Garner's ear for language is brilliant. The Welsh sounds Welsh, the English very much upper class English.
Now I didn't read the Owl Service as a child. Way too frightening for someone like me. I came to it as an adult already knowing the story of Blodeuwedd having read the Mabigonion as a child. I do do things backwards & I'm not sure my mother would have approved had she actually known what was inside the covers but Welsh mythology sounds so harmless. So I thought I knew the story, which in the best Celtic tradition is a love triangle. Blodeuwedd is the woman made of flowers for Lleu. Gronw is the one she loves. She betrays one for the other & is punished by being turned into an owl. A simple enough story that Garner takes & twists with the premise that the ancient sorrow never ended so that this is a story that can be read on more than one level & that is unusual for a children's book. The bitterness & betrayal has passed from generation to generation & manifests in strange & powerful ways perpetuating the ancient bitterness in the best Celtic tradition. So thinking I knew the story I never saw the end coming. Every time I re~read this story I feel the same shock, the same delight, that it has not turned out as I expected.
I have a very extensive personal children's library. I own many of the classics & enjoy them enormously but if I had to choose just one book & say this is a *must read* it would be this one. For pace, for style, for plot, even morally, I don't own anything to compare with the Owl Service. It does not surprise me it won the Carnegie medal.