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The Owl Service

The Owl Service

Written by Alan Garner

Narrated by Wayne Forester


The Owl Service

Written by Alan Garner

Narrated by Wayne Forester

ratings:
3.5/5 (38 ratings)
Length:
4 hours
Released:
Apr 1, 2008
ISBN:
9789629547844
Format:
Audiobook

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Also available as bookBook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

Description

After hearing scratches in the attic, Alison discovers a dinner service covered in an intriguing floral owl pattern, and a series of events are set in motion that will change her life forever. Alison, her step-brother Roger and Welsh boy Gwyn are forced into a cyclical replay of the tragic Welsh legend of Blodeuwedd, in which a woman is turned into an owl as a punishment for betraying her husband. The Owl Service is a fabulous, multi-layered book of mystery and suspense, but also a contemporary musing on love, class structure and power.

Released:
Apr 1, 2008
ISBN:
9789629547844
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook


About the author

Alan Garner was born and still lives in Cheshire, an area which has had a profound effect on his writing and provided the seed of many ideas worked out in his books. His fourth book, ‘The Owl Service’ brought Alan Garner to everyone’s attention. It won two important literary prizes – The Guardian Award and the Carnegie Medal – and was made into a serial by Granada Television. It has established itself as a classic and Alan Garner as a writer of great distinction.

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Reviews

What people think about The Owl Service

3.3
38 ratings / 18 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (3/5)
    I found a boxed set of 4 children's stories written by Alan Garner. These are bog standard classic British fantasies derived from folklore of the British Isles. What I find most interesting is that these stories each end quite abruptly at the climax showing that the initial problem that spurred the story has been addressed. No resolution, no wrap up, just mission accomplished, drop curtain.The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was published in 1960 and features siblings Colin and Susan who have just arrived at the village of Alderley Edge in Cheshire, due south of Manchester, for an extended stay while their parents are out of the country. They immediately explore the woods of The Edge, a hilly area that includes abandoned mines and quarries just outside the village, and fall headlong into adventure involving the morthbrood (witches) headed by the Morrigan, svarts or svart-alfar (goblins) headed by Arthog and Slinkveal, the dwarves Fenodytree and Durathror and their fearsome swords Widowmaker and Dyrnwyn, the wizard Cadellin Silverbrow, Angharad Goldenhand (the Lady of the Lake) and various others. Everyone is seeking Firefrost, the weirdstone that powers the enchantment that keeps a king of yore with 149 of his valorous knights, all accompanied by pure white steeds all asleep until the final battle when they are needed. Cadellin is their eternal guardian and rescues the children from evil creatures, thus introducing High Magic into their existence as they seek to understand why the children are in danger. It's a blend of high fantasy, Celtic gods, and Arthurian legend by other names.The Moon of Gomrath was published in 1963. Colin, Susan, Cadellin and the Morrigan are the only characters carried over from the first story as this book introduces a new cast inspired by a different set of legends. Colin and Susan are despondent that they've heard nothing from the wizard Cadellin since evil was vanquished and Firefrost returned. Susan seeks solitude and tranquility at the quarry pond. As she's ready to leave, she encounters a beautiful black pony that nudges her for a ride then jumps off the cliff and into the dark water (sounds like a kelpie!). Meanwhile, the dwarf Uthecar Hornskin reports that the Morrigan is not dead and must surely want revenge on the children for her earlier defeat. This time, the evil hordes are not the svart-alfar but the bodachs (bogeymen or bugbears) and palug-cats (giant cats). Once again, the the children are catapulted into danger and mystery, but this time they encounter Old Magic, via the hilltop balefires and the Wild Hunt. They also meet the lios-alfar (elves) who are helpful but only to a point and at a cost. Other legends that turn up are the Black Dog as the harbinger of death and the triple goddess manifested in 3 different women representing different life stages and cycles of the moon.Elidor was published in 1965 and features four siblings, Roland the youngest, Helen, David, and Nicholas the oldest. They're sightseeing in Manchester and find themselves in an abandoned neighborhood that's being demolished. One by one, they go into the shell of a church and disappear. Thus begins this story of parallel worlds and intertwined fates. Malebron is king of Elidor, which has been overtaken by darkness and evil, its 4 Treasures lost. The 4 children are the only hope of recovering the Treasures and pushing back the darkness, and he uses the wrecked church as a portal to bring the children to Elidor to help him. Roland, the youngest, is the most powerful and the most willing to believe. Maybe the most powerful because he has the most belief and imagination because he still holds the most sense of wonder of childhood. The Treasures are a sword, a spear, a chalice, and a keystone. Their purpose is never explained because they are never really used in the story. They are simply the focus of interest by both heroes and villains, much like the weirdstone in the first book.The Owl Service was published in 1967 and is set in Wales. Alison and Roger are teenage step-siblings whose parents have remarried to create this blended family. They are vacationing with their parents at the family summer cottage. Gwyn is the teenage son of the housekeeper who has never before lived in this home valley of his mother though he grew up with all the stories and history of the place. The three of them alternately work together and are at odds as strange things start happening. Alison hears an insistent and ever louder scratching in the attic over her room, but investigation reveals only dishes with a beautiful floral pattern that creates a hidden owl motif that Alison compulsively traces onto paper and so it begins. The three become the magical focus of a cyclical resurgence of the tragic love triangle of the Welsh legend of Blodeuwedd. The key part of the legend is that Blodeuwedd was a woman created from flowers to become a bride and then transformed into an owl after attempting with her lover to murder her husband. When her magical essence returns to this secluded valley, will she manifest with the gentleness of flowers or the predatory nature of owls, and what toll will it take on the residents and descendants of that fateful place/tale?
  • (4/5)
    Inspired by Welsh mythology, this story is of ordinary people pulled from their ordinary lives into a magical and dangerous world. The legend goes that Blodeuwedd was the girl made by a wizard from flowers. She was created in order to be the bride of a prince who had been cursed never to marry a mortal woman. She conspired with her lover to murder the prince, and as punishment was turned into an owl. This little treasure was first published in 1967. It was an interesting read... but as it was written in the dialect of the Welsh and the Irish, some may find it a bit hard to follow.
  • (3/5)
    I read this hoping I might be able to write my Celtic Literature paper on it; it ended up not being a good fit, but it was still a pretty interesting novel. It centers around the brief friendship of two English teenagers with a Welsh boy their age. The depiction of Welsh-English hostilities was the strongest thread of the novel; Gwyn, the Welsh boy, is a great character and his story is subtle but heartbreaking. There was also a very cool contrast between the social realism and the fantasy elements (which were all straight out of Welsh mythology.)

    What makes this book especially quirky is the style; it's very sparse, occasionally to the point of being confusing, and is generally very elliptical in terms of storytelling. On one hand, this was kind of cool, but I was already being plunged into an unfamiliar place and time, so the effect was somewhat overwhelming.

    Generally I felt like I was peering into a world that I didn't belong in. This is a cool experience, but I never quite got comfortable in it.
  • (3/5)
    I don't think I got this book... The Owl Service tells the story of three teenagers in a Welsh mansion, mixed with an old Welsh folk story. To begin with some negatives, I found the language very hard to understand at times. I don't know if it's the age of the book, the Welsh, or just the writing style, but I really had to pay attention. And still, I felt like I was missing a lot of the story. The good thing about this book is that, despite my limited understanding, the feeling of the book comes across. It is creepy and mysterious. Overall, I didn't hate the book, but I can't say I'd recommend it.
  • (3/5)
    This is a very strange book. There are some things I liked about it - I liked the way the plot unfolded, and I thought Garner created some neat moments around the intrusion of a mythical world into a real one.However, there are more things I didn't like about it. Sometimes the plot was really confusing, because there is hardly any narration at all - the story is told almost entirely through conversations between characters, and their conversations can be odd and hard to follow.But the big problem I had with the book is that I don't think Garner developed any sort of relationship between the myth and the modern storyline. In Garner's story, the medieval story of Blodeuwedd has never been completed, and is relived over and over by the modern characters. But it's hard to see any clear relationship between the modern characters and the mythical ones, and it's not clear why the story is relived over and over, and it's really not clear what happens at the end of the book. So I don't think the myth really added anything to the modern story, and I don't think the modern story added any new insights into the myth. This left me quite unsatisfied at the end of the book.
  • (3/5)
    This is an award winning book from an excellent author, and set in a location very close to where I live. I should have loved it as much as I loved his other works, but unfortunately I did not connect with this book.The story recalls the Welsh legend in the Mabinogion of Blodeuwedd. It uses the legend as a central part of the story, where an ancient tragedy is endlessly recapitulated each generation. Will this generation find a way to avoid that destiny?Unfortunately the characterisation did not work for me. That is perhaps my problem, not the author's. Worse, some of the research was lacking - both in terms of geography and the Welsh language (the author avoids using Welsh words as much as possible, but, for instance, when he does use a name: "Lleu", he rhymes it with "Clue". It would be more closely rhymed with "Clay" in fact).Maybe it was these niggles that put me off. Maybe to a reader unfamiliar with the area, the legend and the language would enjoy this more. But for me, it is one Alan Garner book I cannot positively recommend.Having said that, it is not a bad read. I just think other works are better.*EDIT: I now find myself unsure whether it was in fact "Llew" that he rhymed with "Clue". Still wrong though. Llew does not sound like "Clue". In fact it does not rhyme any English word I can think of. The "ew" being a sound like the "we" in "went" said backwards.
  • (3/5)
    Not as good as his two Alderley novels, but it's pleasant to read.
  • (5/5)
    I loved this book as a child and I have to say that I love this book as an adult. Garner's writing is multi-layered and there are nuances to his writing that I am sure that passed me by as a child such as the differences between those who speak English and Welsh and the class barriers between the children which divide them. The story feel both fresh and as ancient as the myths it encompasses. Why Alan Garner is not as popular as JK Rowling I don't know as he should be.
  • (5/5)
    An incredibly intricate book, weaving from ancient Welsh myth to modern day living. It is a beautiful story and one I return to from time to time.
  • (4/5)
    Garner entwines a trio of more-or-less modern youths and the fallout from a story in the Mabinogion. It is not what I would term a cheery summer-holiday romp (what holiday is complete without insuperable class differences, an unforgiveable betrayal or two, a great deal of rain, and an ending that dissatisfies many of the reviewers on Amazon?) Fortunately, that is not what I expected of it. If you like juvenile lit. to be eerie, demanding, and inappropriate for the average juvenile, step right up. (I almost feared to finish the book, but perhaps should blame that level of anxiety on Red Shift.)
  • (4/5)
    This is a pretty odd little book; I really enjoyed it, but the very end left me a little confused. It would probably appeal to those who liked The Dark Is Rising, since it taps into a lot of Welsh mythology and such, but it's a much more subtle and psychological story. I'm going to have to check out Alan Garner's other books.
  • (5/5)
    Outstanding! Superb reading of this favourite and, woefully, still relevant tale by Wayne Forester who brings the words alive with passion, warmth and wit.
  • (4/5)
    AUDIO Review - This is a really cool audio. For starters, each chapter is punctuated with classical music - music from the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra with Libor Persek, conducting. Wayne Forester does a great job reading the story as well. My one gripe? The plot itself was a little difficult to follow since a lot of detail is implied rather than spelled out. I might have had an easier time of it if I had read it rather than listen to it on audio. This is part children's story, part Welsh legend. The Owl Service takes children and adults alike through mythology and modern day tensions. Alison and Roger are step-children brought together by the marriage of Alison's mother to Roger's father. In an attempt to bond the family they go on holiday to the countryside of Wales. The vacation home has been in Alison's family for years and with it comes a cook/housekeeper and her son, Gwyn, who happens to be the same age as Alison and Roger. Together, the three children struggle to find their place in the newly formed union. But, the story really begins when Alison hears a noise in the attic. Nothing is there except a pile of dishware with an owl/flower design. These plates become the center of an ancient welsh myth and become Alison's obsession. Strange things start to happen. As she traces the design onto paper it disappears from the plates, leaving them a plain white porcelain. Then the plates are discovered smashed, one by one. What follows is a tale of secrets unraveling - great for young and old.
  • (4/5)
    Another story based on the legend of Blodeuwedd from the Mabinogion. In the original story Blodeuwedd is made out of flowers as a wife for Lleu Law Gyffes, who has been cursed by his mother to never have a wife of any human race. But Blodeuwedd falls in love with a huntsman, Gronw, and they plot together to kill Lleu, who only escapes by magic. And when Lleu returns to take his revenge the stone which Gronw holds up for protection is no match for Lleu's spear, which goes straight through it to kill Gronw. And in punishment for her wickedness Blodeuwedd is changed into an owl ...But all that is just in the background. In the foreground, Alison and her mother are spending their summer in the Welsh countryside with the mother's new husband and his son Roger. The newness of the family relationships causes its own tension, especially with Roger's sensitivity about his own mother's abandonment of her family, and there are other causes of tension in the house as well. A housekeeper has been hired for the summer, bringing her son Gwyn, and the relationship between the upper-middle class and English Alison and Roger, and the working-class and Welsh Gwyn is fraught with problems, with Gwyn falling into an uncomfortable gap between friend and employee. So when Alison hears strange scratching noises in the attic above her room it is Gwyn who goes up to investigate, discovering a china dinner service decorated with flowers. A dinner service which makes his mother unreasonably upset, and with which Alison is seemingly becoming obsessed as she recombines the flower patterns on the plates to form the owls which are hidden within, owls which mysteriously disappear as soon as they are made. And when Roger finds the stone of Gronw in the field below the house it seems as though the events of the legend are starting to impinge on the events of the current day.I enjoyed this much more than when I'd read it originally as a child when I remember finding it confusing, even though I would have known the basics of the original story: Garner writes in a spare and minimalist style where no extraneous information is given. But reading it as an adult I can see much more of the undercurrents that link the narrative together which make it a rewarding read. So four stars for this one, it would have been four and a half it it hadn't been for the ending, which didn't live up to the promise of the rest of the book.
  • (4/5)
    I can't believe I haven't reviewed this book. I read it when it was little, and it scared me quite a lot at the time -- I was a 'fraidy cat. The subject matter, the story of Blodeuwedd, is something I've been especially interested in ever since. I thought the story was weird as hell at the time I read it, but I loved it a lot and it made that part of the Mabinogion stick in my head very strongly. I remember very vividly when I read it, when I was given the book, which I think is a sign that it's probably as good as I remember.

    Having just read the Fionavar tapestry and Ysabel, Guy Gavriel Kay's books in which people are trapped into reliving an ancient story, I think I might go back to this book for a comparison. I'll add any fresh thoughts on it if I do.
  • (3/5)
    I wanted to like this book more than I did. I’ve read very few books that could be classified as “fantasy” and I see so many fans of this genre on LT that I feel like I’m missing something, so I thought I’d give this book a try. I have to admit I was pretty much lost until I resorted to Wikipedia to read about the Welsh myth that’s at the heart of this story. I also went to Amazon to read some of the reviews and noted that quite a few people said you need to read the book at least twice to appreciate/understand it. I’m actually surprised it’s a YA book but then maybe UK teenagers are more versed in Welsh mythology and aren’t so lost.I’m giving it 3 stars because I did like the brooding and mysterious nature of the story and some of the characters (Gwyn and Huw in particular) and would consider reading another book by Alan Garner but I don’t have any desire to re-read this one.
  • (2/5)
    I really didn’t like this book, although I was prepared to do so by all the enthusiastic reviews I’d seen. It was like slogging through a bad dream peopled with bad characters. I found all the children unpleasant and only Gwen at all sympathetic. That’s probably the point, but how does it make the book enjoyable? Telling a tale with dialogue is not a technique I appreciate. And in this book the dialogue was maddeningly tangential and in many instances violently hurtful. That’s probably the point, too, but how does it make a reader love a book?I am enough of a snob to be troubled that I disliked a book that’s supposed to be deep and literary. Apparently it’s on a lot of school reading lists. I forced myself to finish it because I thought I could figure out what I was missing. I even started to reread it, but the barrier between it and me is still there. What is it about this book that draws other readers?The central idea about dish designs turning into paper owls is not only not compelling, it's silly. Why dishes? How was the energy or the evil or whatever it was harnessed and forced onto the dishes in the first place? Again, there is the feeling of dream images that don’t translate well into words on a page. I struggle with that all the time, trying to convey the wonder of an imagined thing without tearing the cobwebs. I’m like Alison, compelled to keep tracing and cutting, dreaming and writing. Maybe the message of this book for me is simply to ease up on the self-editing. That could be powerful.
  • (2/5)
    [Contains Spoilers]I've finally finished Owl Service by Alan Garner. I have major issues with understanding this book, particularly the relationship between Lleu, Gronwy and Bloeduwedd and the three children. I hate not understanding a book.• I think it is poorly written. It is extremely disjointed and vague, and seems like it's missing so many bits.• The ending - very pretty and all, but, wtf? What actually happened?• I don't understand how the three children relate to the old Wlesh myth of Lleu, Gronwy and Bloeduwedd. Who is who? I see in the older generation that Huw represented Lleu, Nancy was Bloeduwedd and Bertram was Gronwy. Was Gwyn Gronwy or Lleu?• They don't act realistically at all. None of the characters, except maybe Roger, who was simply an annoying teenage boy. Alison was most weird, and Gwyn was odd too in many ways. There was no explaination of their feelings os motives or anything.• I like Gwyn, and feel both attraction and sympathy for him. I wish there was a happy ending for him and Alison. She was silly to spurn him because her mother said so, and immature in her reaction.• There was however something vaguely appealing about the... tone of the book. Although it was very vague and dreamlike. But I think that's all the postivie comment I've got on it!