The Owl Service

We read a varied selection of books in my book clubs; for my Sunday one at Waterstones in Weston we’re reading The Owl Service by Alan Garner, published in 1967, which I must have read not long after that. My first ‘meeting’ with Garner’s novels was through hearing a radio adaptation of his firs novel ‘The Wierdstone of Brisingamen’ which was published in 1960. I’ve always thought that J.k.Rowling must have read garner’s novels, but of course i could be mistaken!

So… The Owl Service… garner writes fantasy novels, but fantasies firmly set in the real world; it’s the supernatural and mythical other world which overlaps into the present. The Owl Service of the title refers ostensibly to a dinner service of large plates decorated with owls, but there is a different owl service too, a very different owl service! The book’s characters are three children who live in a very old house in Wales and interwoven into the reality of their lives is the old Welsh epic Mabinogion.

I have to admit, that much as I’m enjoying the book, and it is a page-turner, and has some thought-provoking images and story-lines, the style has dated… but maybe that makes it rather charming, and sets it well and truly in the 1960’s; the slang does seem very archaic, but it is fascinating to glimpse a time before supermarkets, and when in many country areas there was still a real distinction between the people who employed housekeepers, gardeners, handymen etc and those who were employed. No-one would be as deferential now, and I would hope that few children would be as casually rude to those who were working for their parents… but maybe it’s me being idealistic!

Alan Garner is a fascinating man, and his books are fascinating too. If you haven’t read any, I do recommend them. They may be described as children’s literature, but Garner doesn’t agree; he says they were just written as they were written, not specifically for children… he should know, shouldn’t he?

If you have half an hour, put your headphones on and listen to this:


  1. Ali Isaac

    I reread tbe Weirdstone from Brisingamen recently and I too found it to be quite dated. I was surprised as I remember reading it avidly as a teen, and didnt find it so then (80s). This time around I didnt much like the childrens characters, I didnt really find them heroic or engaging in anyway, but the fantasy/ mythology element is still fab!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lois

      I agree, Ali. The children in the Owl Service came across as horrible little snobs apart from the doff your cap son of housekeeper.
      However as you say, the fantasy stuff is great and some of the descriptive passages are so vivid!
      I don’t know if Garner has any children himself, I feel as if he hasn’t!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. underatopazsky

    I love Garner simply for the way he allows stories to flow through him. The passage in The Wierdstone where the children and the dwarves are escaping from the svart alfar through the flooded tunnels of the mine still has the power to make me catch my breath. I suppose recent contemporary books will seem horribly dated in 50 years too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lois

      I love him too, and feel he’s rather sadly neglected; I think I phrased my comments wrongly when i said it was dated… of course it is, it was written half a century ago, it just surprised me on rereading it! I think also the fact that the children in it have such different attitudes from now just shows how good a writer he is, that they aren’t perfect… however, I still find them tiresome!


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