This mesmerising novel won both the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children’s Fiction prize. Inspired by a legend from the Mabinogion and set in a remote Welsh valley, it tells the story of three young people who awaken a deadly mythical power. When Alison discovers the owl service, a set of plates painted with an ambiguous, shape-shifting pattern, her curiosity soon grows into an obsession. The plates awaken Blodeuwedd, a woman made from flowers to be the wife of a young lord and transformed into an owl after betraying him. Though they do not know it – the extent to which the myth has already shaped their lives emerges only slowly – Alison, Roger and Gwyn have revived a terrible anguish that lies smouldering in the mountains and woods around them.
Perhaps the most haunting aspect of the story is its merging of reality and myth – one that becomes all the more eerie when Garner explains the origins of the book in his introduction. The myth both fuels and feeds on real tensions and insecurities: Gwyn’s vulnerable attachment to Alison; Roger’s jealousy and derision; and Alison’s growing isolation. Can they resist its malign influence or is another tragedy inevitable? Written in simple, powerful prose, this is at once a tale of magic and a subtle story about how patterns – rooted in the stories we tell and in the real and complex dynamics of class, and national and individual identities – play out over generations. Susan Cooper, a fellow traveller of mythical landscapes, has written a new preface for this edition. She writes that ‘awareness of time past is the air that Alan Garner’s imagination breathes’. Darren Hopes has created a series of beguiling illustrations.