Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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Owl Service Owls

I first read The Owl Service by Alan Garner when I was a student in Aberystwyth. The first few times I read the book, I assumed that -- as in his other books -- Garner had set it where the events in legend (supposedly) occurred. There was an Aber connection. That's where Gwyn and his mother live normally and where Gwyn goes to school, but I assumed that the house where everything happened was near Trawsfynydd, which is where Lleu Llaw Gyffes' court was situated.

But I could never get the landscape as described in the novel to convincingly fit the real landscape of the legend.

Eventually, many years later, I learned that that was because Garner actually set The Owl Service about 20 miles away in Dinas Mawddwy!

So, I finally decided to re-read the novel and see if this new information helped, and indeed it does. I haven't yet managed to visit the locations in the novel, but everything now fits the map.

I don't know why Garner, who is normally very much concerned with a sense of place, moved the location of the legend. Perhaps he stayed at the house in question and thought it made a great situation for a novel? The valley is certainly much more claustrophobic than the more open countryside around Traws. Anyway, it took me a little while to get into the story this time because so much of it has dated, including the attitude to the Welsh language expressed by Gwyn's mother Nancy. In the intervening years since the book was written, the status of Welsh has change drastically and for the better. But once I decided to treat it as a period novel (which is a bit disconcerting when I remember reading it as a contemporary story published just 3 years before I first read it!), the novel grabbed me again and I galloped through the rest. And once again, I felt the urge to make paper owls.

I made them as a student and had them sitting around for while in my study bedroom in the hall of residence. Fortunately, unlike the ones in the book which mysteriously vanish, only to reappear spookily somewhere else entirely, my paper owls hung around until I must have eventually got bored with them. The three I made this time are also still here, though earlier today, as it was calm and the leaves and branches were still, I took them outside for a photoshoot.

Owl Service Owl

Owl Service Owls

One of the inspirations for the novel was this china with the flower/owl pattern. Now, with the wonders of the internet, I could finally see a photo of the original plates. Ali (one of the main characters in the book describes how you to make the owls, but it's quite clever how you can fit the parts together, cut them out and make a few folds and there is a cute flower owl!

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