Alan Garner’s The Owl Service has its 50th anniversary today!

One of the books I’ve worked with very closely during the last few years is Alan Garner’s The Owl Service. Garner’s creative re-use of the tale of Lleu, Blodeuwedd, and Gronw from the Welsh Mabinogion made it a prime candidate for inclusion in my recently published monograph, Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). In Chapter 5, I explore the way in which Garner creatively reshaped and appropriated this Welsh legend, and I argue that he created a “prototype text” in which the supernatural erupts into the mundane and intrudes into family and/or romantic relationships of teenagers. Books such as Jenny Nimmo’s The Chestnut Soldier and Catherine Fisher’s Darkhenge has followed this tradition, using Welsh myth as a way of dealing with psychological traumas, internal anxieties, and the perennial problems that often concern teenagers
(romance, sexuality, intergenerational and sibling conflict, etc.).

Having been published in 1967, I knew that the book was going to be 50-years-old at some point this year, so I got in touch with HarperCollins to find out the exact date. Thanks to their archivist, Dawn Sinclair, I now know that The Owl Service was published on 21st August 1967, so it celebrates its 50th anniversary today. Dawn very kindly tracked for me the relevant page in the Collins Complete Book Catalogue, Autumn 1967:

Photo courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers Archive

Photo courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers Archive

To mark the 50th anniversary of The Owl Service, I contributed this article to the Times Literary Supplement (TLS) online today:

I look forward to teaching the book again this year and to sharing its haunting qualities with my students.

A Medieval Greek Arthurian Poem: The Old Knight

I’m in Greece right now, enjoying the sea, and pistachios (my parents have pistachio trees in their orchard), and watermelon, and figs, and all the lovely summer things. And I thought this would be a good moment to share a little recording in Greek!

A project that came to fruition recently (after MANY years of working on it, on and off!) is a new edition and translation of a little-known medieval Arthurian poem (mid-15th century) – the only known example in Greek! I worked on the translation of this 307-line poem in collaboration with Thomas Crofts of East Tennessee State University, so I’m credited as co-translator (Thomas did all the hard work of editing, introduction, commentary, notes, etc.) The conventional title of the poem is “Ιππότης ο Πρεσβύτης” (The Old Knight) and the venue is the (very well-respected) journal Arthurian Literature. The story is a loose translation into Greek of the first part of the first episode of Rustichello da Pisa’s 13th-century French prose Compilazione (Rustichello is best known for “The Travels of Marco Polo.”)

In his introduction, Thomas notes

All other western-style, political-verse romances… are in ‘vulgar’ Greek (also called ‘impure Greek’ by the grammatikoi), reflecting the language as spoken in everyday life. But The Old Knight is composed in the high-literary ‘Atticizing’ register of the intellectual, professor or grammarian. Within this rarefied idiom, furthermore, the poem contains a rhetorical performance only the trained ear could have appreciated: that is, a chivalric romance – with a good deal of comedy – narrated with an epic fullness of expression, complete with Homeric syntax and diction. (p. 167)

To give a flavour of the language of the poem, I’ve recorded the first 16 lines (well, strictly speaking lines 2-16 as the first one is incomplete and I omitted it). Try to listen for the metre (the decapentasyllabic line still used today in Modern Greek folk poetry), and for the “Homeric” extended simile (lines 12-14).


Here’s a link to the press release about this publication by East Tenessee State University:

You can read a preview of this edition and translation here:



Crofts, Thomas H. (2016) ‘Ιππότης ο Πρεσβύτης: The Old Knight: An Edition of the Greek Arthurian Poem of Vat. Gr. 1822, by Thomas H. Crofts, with a translation by Thomas H. Crofts and Dimitra Fimi’, Arthurian Literature XXXIII, pp. 158-218.

George MacDonald and one of Tolkien’s most quotable lines

I’ve been re-reading many of the works of George MacDonald recently, in preparation for my keynote lecture at the George MacDonald’s Scotland conference at the University of Aberdeen next week ( My lecture is titled “George MacDonald and Celticity”, and – among other works – I’ve just finished re-reading Sir Gibbie, one of MacDonald’s “realistic” novels with a Scottish setting (and extensive use of Scotch in the dialogue).

Just as I was about to start wrapping up my notes, I was struck again by these few lines, towards the end of the novel:

The one secret of life and development, is not to devise and plan, but to fall in with the forces at work—to do every moment’s duty aright—that being the part in the process allotted to us;…

Well, this time round, I know what it was that made these lines stand out for me the first time I read them! They brought to mind this exchange:

‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.
‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

Though I know the emphasis of each extract is rather different (and so is the context!) the argument seems to me ostensibly the same. And knowing that Tolkien (and C.S. Lewis) read George MacDonald, one of the two main “grandfathers” of modern fantasy literature (the other is William Morris) makes the link even stronger in my mind.

I’ll leave this small observation here for you to ponder!