I grew up in Macclesfield. My father was born at Sutton, just south of Macclesfield, and my Nana (my Dad’s mum) lived for many years in Rainow. So, I feel I’m as qualified as any to judge Alan Garner and his works. I seem to remember reading ‘The Weirdstone of Brisingamen’ at school, and it is a book I’ve re-read a number of times. The last time was after I’d recently moved back up home (Bollington, just north of Macc, to be precise) and I wanted to immerse myself in the day-dreams of my childhood.
Many years ago I took a girlfriend on a drive through the hills around Macclesfield, and I remember her telling me that it was no wonder my head was full of fairies and elves. I took this as a compliment, and besides it seems to be true. When I lived in London I missed hills and the sense of peace and freedom that can be found there.
I mention all this because Thursbitch is the name of a place in the moors above Macclesfield. It is quite close to an old chapel called Jenkins Chapel, which as teenagers we used to whisper about saying there were Black Masses held there. Perhaps there were, or perhaps in our rumour-mongering there were echoes of truth. Perhaps some belief in the old religion of Britain still lingers in the hills.
Thursbitch is an adult fantasy story, but it is not a fairy tale, there are no elves, no powers of darkness. It is a tale with its roots deep in humanity and folklore. A tale that is as sparse in its narrative and characterisation as the landscape in and around Thursbitch. It is a difficult story. Half of the story is written in Cheshire dialect, most of which I found quite easy to understand, although there were times when I winced a bit. Some claim Garner’s use of dialect is authentic, I found parts just a bit too put on. My Dad didn’t think the dialect was that authentic, but it is very hard to say. I do not know which particular part of Cheshire Alan Garner hails from, but the eastern part of Cheshire has more in common with Derbyshire and Staffordshire. The Cheshire plain seems to be its own place, Chester and the Wirral again are different, and the south-eastern part of the county has more in common with Shropshire. But then again no county in Britain seems entirely homogeneous and Cheshire is as diverse as any.
I mention all this because it’s possible that the words Garner uses are genuine enough for him and besides half of the book is set in the Eighteenth Century, when dialect was used a lot more than it is now. What I think is worth saying is that the use of dialect will prove very difficult for many. I think a lot of people will simply discard the book after the first few pages. After reading the book I found myself wondering how earth you would translate such a book into Japanese. The words would be OK, but how on earth could anyone in Japan relate to the feeling that Garner is trying to evoke with the dialect. He is being bluntly honest, but that is not always appreciated.
I enjoyed reading the book and like all good works when it was finished I was left, sat, with my head full of thoughts, thinking about the characters, how their lives related to mine. The problem is I would love to recommend this book to people but I know that for every ten people that read this only one or two will persevere to the end, which is a shame. It is a difficult book, then again so is the walk up to Thursbitch itself. But it is a hidden place, full of its own secrets and charms.