Brian Baker

The Hunter and the Bull: (sky)walking with Alan Garner

This paper will consider two of Alan Garner’s later ‘adult’ novels, both set in Garner’s signature territory of Alderley Edge in Cheshire: Thursbitch (2003), and Boneland (2012). Garner proposes a form of ‘sentient landscape’ in both novels, in which the land is deeply implicated (through and across time) with imagination, ritual, death and loss. Thursbitch has a dual time-frame, in which two deaths in different periods, the 1750s and the present day, are connected with the ‘demon of the valley’ of Thursbitch, which takes the form of a bull, associated with the constellation of Taurus that appears over the hills. In Boneland, a similar double-narrative extends more deeply into the mythic: while one of the narratives follows Colin, grown up from The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960), now a Professor of Astrophysics associated with the nearby Jodrell Bank who lives alone and attempts to recover his lost memory, the other is focalised by an unnamed Neolithic male who, through ritual and cave-painting, tries to bring forth other beings into the world upon the loss of his female partner and child. In Thursbitch and Boneland, the stars and the land are both mythic maps of consciousness and a means by which to recover what has been lost: memory, subjectivity, loved ones. The texts are invocations, shamanistic means by which to fold together time(s) and space(s).

In a public lecture on Thursbitch, Garner called his researches for the novel a ‘wild hunt’, a figure repeated in both novels as the pursuit of Taurus by Orion westwards across the winter Northern Hemisphere sky. This paper (also a wild hunt) will investigate Garner’s formal experimentation and mythic overlays of sky, land and human consciousness, and will also suggest a creative reading (and further superimposition/ transaction upon) my own territory, the Vale of Llangollen, where the presence of Orion and Taurus in the winter sky is also connected to Christian and pre-Christian alignments.

Brian Baker is currently a Lecturer in English at Lancaster University, UK. He has published Masculinities in Fiction and Film (Continuum, 2006) and Contemporary Masculinities in Fiction, Film and Television, which will be published by Bloomsbury Academic in January 2015. The Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism: Science Fiction was published by Palgrave Macmillan in November 2014, and he is now working on Fuzzy Revolutions: Science Fiction in the 1960s for Liverpool UP.