The Tales of Alderley are children’s fantasy novels written in the 1950s and 60s by Alan Garner. Despite critical success Garner actually grew to dislike his characters and the third book in the series wasn’t released until 2012!
Upon reading these books my first thought was how had I not read them when I was younger. They are a fantastic introduction to the fantasy world for children and I can’t believe it has taken me so long to stumble across them. Set in and around Macclesfield and Alderley Edge in Cheshire the books rely heavily on the folklore and landscape of the area and having grown up not too far from the area myself I definitely connected with the setting of the story.
So what is the story?
The Tales of Alderley tells the story of two children, Colin and Susan who are sent to stay with old family friends whilst their parents are overseas. Living on a farm in a quiet rural area of Cheshire the children naturally begin to explore the fields and woods and in doing so come to realise that the world they know is shared with wizards, shape shifting witches, dwarves and other magical creatures. The first book focuses on the lost Weirdstone of Brisingmen, key to protecting the world of humans and good magic from the evil spirit Nastrond. When it falls into the wrong hands the power of dark side begins to grow and Colin and Susan find themselves caught up in a great quest to take back the stone and quell the forces of darkness once more. In the second book some time has passed since the great battle and Colin and Susan have had no contact with the world of magic. But times are changing and the elves need Susan and Colin’s help with an unknown evil power in their own lands. In helping the elves, Susan is left vulnerable to other older dark powers roaming the Cheshire countryside. A struggle between old and new magic is taking place and the children get caught very much in the middle of it.
You can’t help but smile when you begin this book and find the “obligatory” map laying out the key places of the story. I read this book in a mere couple of days, and would find myself caught up reading chapter after chapter. It is a natural page turner with fantastic chapter cliff endings keeping you reading on. Whilst there is complexity to the story it is not overwhelming and at roughly 300 pages long they are considerably shorter than many fantasy novels making them perfectly accessible to children new to the genre. I also found that having children as the central characters kept a good level of mystery and fantasy to the back story of characters, motivation and plot development without becoming too complex or weighty. But don’t be worried that in doing that it loses any depth or darkness, I’m sure if I had read this as a child I would have been hiding under the covers insisting that I was ok whilst secretly dreading turning the light off.
Whilst written for children I thoroughly enjoyed both of these books. So whether you’re looking for a light fantasy read for yourself or something to get your children interested I would highly recommend these books.