steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

First Light

I received my copy of the crowdfunded Alan Garner Festschrift, First Light, yesterday. It's made up of short tributes from a wide range of people. Obviously the figure central to the book is Garner himself (who remains silent), but this being my copy the person central to its reading is me, and it was in that spirit that my eye flicked over the contents page.

Some of the contributors are real-life friends, people I've eaten or drunk with, who have been to my house (or I to theirs): Susan Cooper, Dougald Hine, Ronald Hutton, Katherine Langrish, Neil Philip. (I suppose Helen Dunmore fits into this category, since I did once go to some kind of party at her house, but I was tagging along with someone else, and although we spoke - she was extremely charming - I'd be amazed if she remembers me.)

Some are online friends: David Almond, Amanda Craig, Elizabeth Wein.

Some are members of Garner's family: his daughter Elizabeth and son Joseph.

Some are people whose views or writing are always of interest, at least when they relate to the kind of thing that Garner is about: Robert Macfarlane, Hugh Lupton, Michael Wood, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Rowan Williams.

Others are writers whom (rightly or wrongly) I would not have particularly associated with Garner: Margaret Atwood, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Stephen Fry, Cornelia Funke, Bel Mooney, Ali Smith.

There's also a bunch of people I've never heard of.

No contribution from Catherine Butler, sadly. I did offer, but by the time I heard about the project that ship had sailed. It's a shame, as I think it's fair to say - no false modesty here - that with the exception of Neil Philip I've been Garner's most important critic. Then again, Garner doesn't much like critics, and Erica Wagner (who put the collection together) is a journalist, not an academic. Still, it's a wonderfully strong cast, all told.

Probably there are too many contributors, in fact. Each gets only a few pages, and I'd rather have had a bit more from the ones with something to say than a phoned-in contribution from Stephen Fry. (Cornelia Funke makes the most of her brief space by offering not an essay or reminiscence but a striking drawing of Garner as Horned Man.) There's a strong family resemblance between many of them: a literary encounter with Garner's writing, typically in childhood, alerts the writer to the land, to language, to the numinous. This is followed by a personal meeting, and a bond that goes beyond but also reinforces the power of the books. It's an effective story, told well - but it's hard to make it fresh when you're the twentieth in line. Still, I'm delighted to have the book. Many of the pieces are excellent, and it has more nuggets than a KFC bucket meal. Essential reading for any Garner fan.
Tags: books
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