If you have just finished the last instalment of Harry Potter and can brave something darker than dementors, I would be doing you a disservice not to recommend The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, which has just received a lavish 50thanniversary reissue.
It is fantastical fairy tale set in the very real countryside of Cheshire, where two children fall into the possession of a magical stone. The Weirdstone keeps forty ancient knights safe, sleeping until the coming battle with the Lord of Darkness, Nastrond. If it should fall into the sinister hands of the morthbrood – whose eyes and ears are always where you least expect – then the world will fall to evil. Their journey through misty moors, forests and gloomy caverns with the wizard Cadellin Silverbrow is drenched in tense atmosphere, where old magic, shapeshifters and a last desperate stand in the Cheshire hills will etch a permanent place in your memory.
One scene in which the children, Colin and Susan, must crawl through a mud tunnel the size of a rabbit hole to escape stunted monsters gives me claustrophobic shudders to this day. In fact, it could just be that Alan Garner’s nail biting prose gave me my claustrophobia in the first place.
Philip Pullman called Garner ‘indisputably the great originator, the most important British writer of fantasy since Tolkien, and in many respects better than Tolkien – deeper and more truthful’. I won’t argue with him.