Books

Forthcoming talks and lectures: Glasgow, Kalamazoo, Essex, Oxford and North Wales

The next few months are going to be a bit hectic! If you are attending any of the conferences or events below, don’t hesitate to come and say hello!

26-27 April – Keynote for GIFCon (Glasgow International Fantasy Conversations) 2018: ‘In the blood and in the landscape: escaping (into) the “Celtic” past in contemporary children’s fantasy’

10-13 May – paper for Tolkien sessions at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, Michigan: ‘“Queer” Border, “Hidden Kingdom”: Perceptions of Wales in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Work’

24 May – seminar for the Centre for Myth Studies (University of Essex), Myth Reading Group: ‘“The Battle of the Trees”: from medieval Welsh legend to modern fantasy’

5 June – panel discussion on “Mythopoeia: Myth-creation and Middle-earth” for the Bodleian Library’s “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” exhibition, alongside Professor Dame Marina Warner, Professor Verlyn Flieger, and moderated by Professor Carolyne Larrington.

23 June – public lecture for the Story Museum and Royal Entomological Society exhibition “Insects Through the Looking Glass” titled: ‘Wings, Antennae, and Stings: Tolkien’s Creepy Crawlies’

20-22 July – course for Tŷ Newydd (the National Writing Centre of Wales) on ‘(Re)telling traditional narratives: myth, legend, fairy tale’, alongside Catherine Fisher

In-between the above, I will also be in Leeds on 1st July for the Tolkien Society Seminar, and then will remain in Leeds from the 2nd till the 5th of July for the Tolkien sessions I have organized for the International Medieval Congress.

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: https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/alan-garner-owl-service-fifty/

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

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 (https://gmdscotland.wordpress.com/). 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!