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The Moon of Gomrath
Alan Garner
Harcourt Brace/Magic Carpet, 194 pages


Art: Ed Gazsi
The Moon of Gomrath
Alan Garner
Alan Garner is the award-winning author of The Wierdstone of Brisingamen, Elidor, The Owl Service, and most recently, Strandloper. He has lived most of his life near the Alderly Edge, which is the setting for much of his fantasy work.

Alan Garner Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

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Alan Garner is a writer whose novels for young people I discovered as an adult, through his wonderful The Owl Service (still my favourite among all his books, midway between the relatively traditional narratives of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, and the highly compressed and elliptical style of Red Shift). He belongs to a group of authors -- Susan Cooper, Tanith Lee, and Lloyd Alexander among them -- whose work, while aimed at youthful readers, possesses a depth of imagination that makes them engrossing reading at any age.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, the predecessor to The Moon of Gomrath, is the story of two children, Susan and Colin, who stumble by accident into the world of myth and magic that lies behind the world of everyday -- "as near and unknown to us as the back of a shadow." In The Moon of Gomrath, Susan and Colin are once again pulled into that magical realm: this time by the freeing of an ancient, formless evil called the Brollachan. The Brollachan is menacing the last kingdom of the elves, and the elves need the power of the enchanted bracelet Susan wears to help them oppose it.

But without her bracelet, Susan becomes vulnerable, and is possessed by the Brollachan. Colin, with the help of the wizard Cadellin Silverbrow, manages to expel the Brollachan and save Susan. In the process, however, he calls up a remnant of the Old Magic, the wild and ancient sorcery of moon and blood and heart that ruled the earth before it was replaced by the disciplined High Magic of thoughts and spells. Such magic has no place in this world, the children are told, for "it does not fit the present scale of good and ill." Later, by kindling a fire on top of a tor, Susan and Colin inadvertently summon up more Old Magic: the Wild Hunt, a gathering of savage and ghostly riders led by an antlered Hunter.

But more is afoot than the release of a frightening and uncontrollable power. The Morrigan, the arch-witch whom Susan and Colin and Cadellin defeated in the previous adventure, is gathering followers and restoring herself to full strength. The children and their wizardly mentor have no choice but to oppose her once more -- and the only way to do so is by allowing the Old Magic even further into the world, risking that it may be set free forever.

Garner's immersion in folklore and mythology is evident in all his books, but nowhere more than in The Moon of Gomrath and its predecessor, in which familiar elements of British folklore are assembled into spellbinding tales of magic and adventure. Like Patricia McKillip, another notable fantasy stylist, Garner uses simple words and phrases to weave images of startling beauty:

"On, on, on, on, faster, faster the track drew him, flowed through him, filled his lungs and his heart and his mind with fire, sparked from his eyes, streamed from his hair, and the bells and the music and the voices were all of him, and the Old Magic sang to him from the depths of the earth and the caverns of the night blue sky."
Garner is a master at evoking both the wonder and terror of the mythical forces that hide behind the mundane surface of the world, and remain largely beyond human comprehension even when directly encountered. It's this sense of ambiguity, of things too huge to be completely grasped, that gives his work such imaginative power. There are Big Ideas here -- Old Magic versus High Magic, the ordinary world and the world of myth as two sides of a single reality -- but Garner never batters his readers over the head with explanations, instead allowing the ideas to resonate through the action of the story. Much is suggested, but nothing is fully explicated. The book's ending, while tying up the main plot threads, is similarly ambiguous, for though the gaining of victory embodies triumph, it also evokes a strong sense of loss.

Like Garner's conjoined, dual world of everyday and magic, The Moon of Gomrath holds two levels of experience. Children will enjoy it for its swift pacing, its adventure, its fantastic characters and events, while its complexity and depth will challenge adult readers. On either level, it's a classic.

Copyright © 1998 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Arm of the Stone, is currently available from Avon Eos. For an excerpt, visit her website.


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