The Voice That Thunders

I’ve loved Alan Garner’s books ever since I first read The Owl Service – and then wolfed down – Elidor, The Wierdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath. When Red Shift was published – in the Autumn of 1973 – I bought it in hardback – a rare event in those days – and read it at a sitting.

I remember shutting the book finally (carefully) at about 3.00 in the morning; getting out of bed and making my way to the bathroom across the landing – with the uneasy feeling that shadows were slipping off the wall behind me and that a false step might take me out of my safe home in Evesham into the strangeness that was always hovering – you now knew – at the edge of vision.

(If anyone is interested there is a great discussion about Red Shift on the brilliant Backlisted Podcast)

It was the podcast that put me on to The Voice That Thunders – a collection of Garner’s Essays and Lectures – which are just as rich and fierce and individual as the fiction itself.

This, for example, describes more clearly than anything I have read before, what, in my heart, I am always hoping to find in every book I read. Garner writes:

I live, at all times, for imaginative fiction; for ambivalence, not for instruction. When language serves dogma, then literature is lost. I live also, and only, for excellence. My care is not for the cult of egalitarian mediocrity that is sweeping the world today, wherein even the critics are no longer qualified to differentiate, but for literature, which you may notice I have not defined. I would say that, because of its essential ambivalence, “literature” is: words that provoke response; that invite the reader or listener to partake of the creative act. There can be no one meaning for a text. Even that of the writer is but an option.

Literature exists at every level of experience. It is inclusive, not exclusive. It embraces; it does not reduce, however simply it is expressed. The purpose of the storyteller is to relate the truth in a manner that is simple: to integrate without reduction; for it is rarely possible to declare the truth as it is, because the universe presents itself as a Mystery. We have to find parables; we have to tell stories to unriddle the world.

It is a paradox: yet one so important that I must restate it. The job of a storyteller is to speak the truth; but what we feel most deeply cannot be spoken in words. At this level only images connect. And so story becomes symbol; and symbol is myth.

Garner adds – unnecessarily to my mind – that he is:

…using the word “myth” not as meaning “fiction” or “unhistorical”, but as a complex of story that, for various reasons, human beings see as demonstrations of the inner cause of the universe and of human life. Myth is quite different from philosophy in the sense of abstract concepts. The form of myth is concrete always, yet it holds those qualities that demand of the human mind that it recognise a revelation of the function behind the world.

Of course he is. You can find the Voice That Thunders here.

Afterthought – Garner’s story of his own childhood – Where Shall We Run To? – about growing up in the shadow of war, illness and Alderley Edge – is marvellous too. Seek it out!


The Voice That Thunders

Alien corn

I remember one late summer evening looking up to see Bredon Hill – long and low on the horizon – crowned with fire. It only took a few moments before I saw what was happening – a farmer burning wheat stubble – but for those few moments of wonder and astonishment the familiar landscape was transfigured, apocalyptic.

Ever after I felt as though I had an inkling of what George Fox experienced on Pendle Hill or, even more  so, what Thomas Traherne – that quiet mystic – was describing when he wrote that the corn he saw was:

“orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting.” From Centuries of Meditation

Something of the intensity of Traherne’s vision is rendered in glass in a striking memorial to him in Hereford Cathedral. It’s tucked away in a little side chapel; its glory are the stained glass windows created by Tom Denny.

Backlit on a warm sunny day, the two windows glowed emerald – for green Herefordshire and ruby – for blood and passion and – perhaps – the mystic fire as well.

There’s another link to be made. I’ve a friend who has long been involved in crop circles – helping make them for a time. He wrote of the experience in a blog post on the Good Funeral Guide a couple of years ago, describing:

In between the tired and dew damp teams leaving a circle just as the sky is lightening, and the first wide eyed croppie entering the design, something profound happens which tells us more about things like homeopathy, belief, peer pressure and religious experience than almost anything else in our modern world. It is an extraordinary experiential game, a sociologist’s dream, the echo of our own curiousity that has changed lives for better and worse and significantly shaped our modern culture in the short time since a UFO obsessed nature artist persuaded his drinking partner to spend their Friday night after the pub making indentations in the corn, partly to fool the world into thinking a spaceship had landed, but with unmistakable devotional undertones, an attempt to call down the aliens he longed to meet.

What an incredible phenomenon to create from nothing, for camera batteries do fail in them, odd earth lights do zoom about the corridors of wheat, synchronicites build until it makes your ears pop, you really do feel like the New Jerusalem is just behind a veil in front of you, and with a bit of courage and faith you can pop through it.

There is a mystery everywhere, at the edge of sight, just beyond easy reach, but, if we pay attention,  in the sudden strangeness of the world around us, we may, sometimes, be graced with a glimpse.

Alien corn