For me, picking a single book was torturous. In the end, I narrowed it down to three: Maurice Sendak's Higglety Pigglety Pop!, Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy and the title I finally chose in the end.
The Owl Service
London: Collins 1967
“She wants to be flowers and you make her owls and she is at the hunting.”
I have Huw Halfbacon to thank for it, really: for the realization that children’s books are far more sophisticated than my young mind had ever imagined them to be and for the knowledge that I would pursue children’s literature as a vocation no matter what my paid employment turned out to be. Huw is the half-crazed conduit of mythological lore in Alan Garner’s young-adult classic, The Owl Service (1967). He speaks of the past in the present tense and provides an eerie anchor to this contemporary telling and retelling of the Blodeuwedd myth from the Welsh Mabinogion.
The myth is that of a fatal love triangle between a man, a wife who has been crafted for him out of flowers, and a second man the flower-wife chooses to love instead. The novel recasts the myth with three teenagers who are each broken in some way–dysfunctional families, class barriers, regional prejudices, and the secrets of the past all frame the narrative. Trapped in a Welsh valley where myth repeats itself, generation after generation, and where the main characters’ ancestors have died or gone mad trying to escape their fate, the teens must learn to overcome their prejudices and hatreds in order to survive.
The Owl Service scratches with owl claws at your intellect for a very long time, but it is the unnerving figure of Huw Halfbacon that never really leaves you. If you’re lucky, he’ll make you flowers, not owls._________________
Now tell me: if you had to pick one and only one book that inspired you, what would it be and why?