A bottle of cold tea ; bread and a half onion.
–Alan Garner -The Stone Book Quartet - c.1976, 1983
- The stone book quartet contains four short novels :
- The Stone Book
- Granny Reardun
- The Aimer Gate
- Tom Fobble’s Day
The stories tell four different stories, set in four different times in a rural part of Cheshire, England. The first is set in 1864, and the last in 1941. They all tell a story set in one day in the life of children, all of different generations of the same family.
The first, The Stone Book, is the story of Mary, who is bringing her father his “baggin” or lunch. He is a stone mason, working on the church spire. Mary is hoping that her mother has a boy soon because she is tired of “being a lad” and having to climb up the spire to help her father. But at the same time she enjoys the closeness with him.
Granny Reardun is the story of Mary’s son, Joseph. A Granny Reardun is a child raised by its granny instead of its mother. Possibly because he was illegitimate. Joseph has been helping his grandfather, but he knows he doesn’t want to work with stone.
The Aimer Gate tells the story of Robert, Joseph’s son, as a cornfield is harvested in the old way, with a team of men using scythes. He climbs up the spire of the local church and finds his own name engraved there. This, of course, is the his great-grandfather’s engraving, Mary’s father, Robert.
The last story, Tom Fobble’s Day, is named for a local tradition whereby any child can take another’s marbles by calling “Tom Fobbles” on Tom Fobble’s Day which seems to be the day after Easter. But the day in question is not Tom Fobbles day, but is in the middle of winter.
The stories are obviously linked because the concern different individuals of the same family, but they are also linked because they are about traditional crafts, customs, and skills. And the line that links all these different generations of the same family.
They are lovely stories. Garner writes so simply, and yet he never dumbs down. There are plenty of words that I’d never heard of before, but for the most part, you know what he is talking about because of the context, the “baggins” of the first story for example is obviously a traditional local word for lunch. And that use of unfamiliar words really works to help create a very distinctive atmosphere and setting.
In all his writings that I’ve read Garner is always concerned with place and how it can link a person to their whole family’s history. Garner himself was born in the place where his family had lived for years, he knows so much about that area because he has grown up with people who can trace their history back through generation after generation, each with stories and knowledge about that particular place. That idea that a place can own a person and a person can own a place.
There was a line and he could feel it. It was a line through hand and eye, block, forge and loom to the hill. He owned them all: and they owned him.
I’m pretty sure there must be an illustrated version of these stories out there, I must go investigate at some point, because I think these are stories that can be revisited time and again, probably offering more on a reread. When I have the time I’d love to read some books about Garner and his work too.