Thursday, March 11, 2010

Books that Inspire

During the month of March, an online showcase of books is being hosted by UNB Libraries. These are all books that have, over the years, inspired faculty here at the University of New Brunswick. The complete list is a fascinating box of chocolates from which I encourage you all to sample.

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.

Alan Garner

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?


  1. I have that very book on interlibrary loan based on your recommendation right now!
    The inspirational book question is a tough one. I've read a lot of books that meant a lot to me at the time - I remember that A Secret Garden really spoke to me as a child, and gave me hope that my childhood state of being unloved, unwanted was not a permanent state of being.

  2. The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery. Showed me not only that it's possible to change, but exactly how to do it.

  3. Hey Sue: you've listed two of my all time favorite books, there; I have you to thank for introducing me to Higgelty Piggelty Pop, but I read the Owl Service when I was ten. Scared the bejeesus out of me then, and continued to do so every time I re-read it right up until the last time I saw my copy of it, which was about twenty years ago. Reminded of it now, thank you, I will find another.


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