Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Voice that Thunders - Alan Garner

This is a collection of essays and lectures that illuminate Alan Garner's writing in fascinating ways. The title essay, which is the last in the book, explains how Garner came to write Strandloper, his fictionalised biography of William Buckley who became Murrangurk, the reincarnation of an Australian Aboriginal hero who was a wise man, warrior, healer and law-giver. This lecture alone inspired me to ask the library for Strandloper and I picked it up today. Other essays which I found particularly interesting and moving were 'The Beauty Things', in which a trained Classicist (Garner) falls in love with Welsh and is accepted by the Welsh people where other Saxons are not; 'Philately and the Postman' and 'Hard Cases' on teaching literature to children (some of the letters that Garner has received from children and teachers about his books are included in the latter - and some of them were astonishingly rude !); 'The Voice in the Shadows' is a discussion of the dangers attendant on recording in written form the oral myths of a region; 'Fierce Fires & Shramming Cold' is an honest and open account of Garner's experiences of manic-depression - it's a beautiful and moving piece of writing that brought tears to my eyes. I'm going to quote a small part of 'Philately and the Postman' which, despite being written more than 30 years ago, is still relevant with regard to teaching literature:

Do not ask a child to be primarily someone who goes to a text to examine it and to explore it as a mechanism or a piece of language. Let the child get the more important aspect first: the emotion.

You know yourselves how that which is most necessary is beyond words. It is my job to use words to express that which is most necessary, to speak the ineffable, and I cannot do it directly. It can only be hinted at: it can be only hinted at elliptically, by using the words as a lift-off; that slow lift-off of the rocket, the first stage of which takes the energy, but is quickly abandoned, and the important part goes into orbit, and then into space, and so discoveries are made. Left alone, the child, in my experience, will climb into the astronaut's seat; but the teacher too often is yelling at him to come down and concentrate on the scrap iron.

I agree that a child's mind needs to be taught an analytic discipline. But are books to be destroyed on that altar along with the potential love of future reading ?

[Alan Garner, 'Philately and the Postman', The Voice that Thunders (Harvill, 1997), pp. 137-8]

I feel we should send copies of this to every person responsible for teaching literature to children, be they teachers or government officials !


Kelly said...

Nice quote, Michele. Thanks for posting it.

Michele said...

You're welcome... If you've not read this book, I highly recommend it, whether or not you like Garner's fiction (although knowing Garner's fiction would be a plus !) - it's fascinating for the insights it gives into the mind of a writer... What especially interested me was his habit of reading around a subject to the Nth degree before writing - I work that way too, though I don't write fiction !