The Owl Service
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The Owl Service

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  2,431 ratings  ·  192 reviews
Something is scratching around in the attic above Alison's room. Yet the only thing up there is a stack of grimy old plates. Alison and her stepbrother, Roger, discover that the flowery patterns on the plates, when traced onto paper, can be fitted together to create owls-owls that disappear when no one is watching. With each vanished owl, strange events begin to happen aro...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published March 1st 2006 by HMH Books for Young Readers (first published 1967)
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mark monday
an impressionistic tale of three teens reenacting a deadly eternal triangle in a welsh village. strange yearnings and mysterious motivations are anchored by enjoyably prosaic dialogue, the oddly off-kilter use of slang, and a sharp but subtle sense of warfare between the classes. a nicely clean and uncluttered narrative. one of the many endearing parts of this novel is the realization that the patterns of history and destiny that drive the characters forward are being reflected in the flowery pa...more
Written as I begin...

She wants to be flowers but you keep making her owls.

This will be a paraphrase rather than a direct quote, as it's something I've always remembered, almost been haunted by, over the years since I read Alan Garner's The Owl Service as a child. Every so often, that evocative phrase would bubble out of my subconscious and I'd think of it for a moment before going back to my everyday life.

She wants to be flowers but you keep making her owls.

Despite that deep memory, I've never r...more
Sarah Hale
I will admit I didn't 'get' this book the first time I read it. In fact it was not until the third or fourth reading that I really began to understand the plot and central themes. It also certainly helps if you have read the story in the 'Mabinogion' that this book is loosely based upon. Garner's economical style is also an initial obstacle. Reading through some of the reviews here, I can see that some people have found fault with the fact that he almost completely omits description of any kind...more
Lolly's Library
What the hell was this? It started off fine, if a little bit bumpy. I kept waiting for the 'tragic romance' of the premise to begin--frankly, I was waiting for any kind of action to take place--yet nothing of the kind ever developed. There was an interesting, if bizarre, set up involving owls and plates and mysteries, but *fzzzt* it completely fizzled out. Nothing was ever explained and that ending... What kind of an ending was that? There was no resolution, no explanation, nothing that rewarded...more
The Owl Service is a very, very powerful book. It used to scare me silly, when I was younger -- under ten, probably -- and it still has a very tense feel to it, an edge of fright. It draws on the story of Blodeuwedd, from the Mabinogion: Gwydion makes her out of flowers, to be a wife for Lleu Llaw Gyffes, who has been cursed by his mother never to marry a mortal woman. However, she falls in love with Gronw Pebr, and they plot how to kill Lleu. He is only changed into an eagle, though, and he com...more
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 eleme...more
The best thing about this book is the elliptical strangeness of it, the odd otherworldly language and broken narrative structure yet... the worst thing about this book is the elliptical strangeness of it, the odd otherwordly language and broken narrative structure.

I don't see how this is a book for children. The children in the book do not talk like children, or adults for that matter. Everyone talks in circles and riddles. There are large chunks of the narrative missing which you are meant to...more
I've liked some of Alan Garner's other books, but this one was just confusing. Most references to time are left out, like "The next day..." or "hours earlier...", so you have no idea what is going on, until you realize halfway into the characters conversation that this must be the next day, or they must have moved to inside the house now b/c this wouldn't make sense if they were still outside. He just leaves you guessing.

I do not understand any of these characters. Every word they say is so conf...more
This is supposedly viewed as a 'classic' among children's fantasy books, but it has to be one of the most confusing books I've ever read. I don't understand what happened, and the dialogue seemed so random and as if there were sentences not being spoken. No descriptions or character development. It's supposed to be based on the tale of Blodeuwedd from the Mabinogion, but I didn't get the connection. The whole thing just left me perplexed, which is unfortunate because the description made it soun...more
In a pastoral Welsh valley, a tragic love story plays itself out anew with each generation. When three teens discover a set of old dishes with an odd design, the haunting legend is set into motion once more. Can Alison, Roger and Gwyn break the cycle?

The suspense and supernatural occurrences drive the plot. Garner is a master storyteller, weaving the past with the present seamlessly. His use of plot devices such as books and village gossips to drop hints and tell part of the story is natural, n...more
A tightly-written, intense little novel that belies its childlike exterior.

After reading the first two books in the Weirdstone of Brisingamen trilogy - more on the third later - one could be forgiven for considering Alan Garner a bit light on the characterisation end of things. Susan and Colin were, after all, little more than boy's-own-adventure tropes masquerading as children in the countryside.

But this would be a serious underestimation of Garner's skills with tone and scenario. He says in hi...more
Beth Bonini
I know this book is considered to be a fantasy classic, but I found it surprisingly difficult to read. Let me be specific: it doesn't take LONG to read, but it is hard to follow. There is a lot of dialogue, and the language/vernacular already seems archaic even thought the book was written in the 1960s. Also, it is very elliptical -- both in terms of the language and the plot.
Most of my reading at the moment is geared towards my teaching; so as I read, I'm constantly evaluating whether or not I...more
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...more
I picked up this book and decided to read it because the blurb was interesting and also because it was a prize winner (Carnegie Medal). A character that I found interesting was Gwyn because of how he really was proud of being Welsh but could not express it because his mother disapproved it. When she caught him speaking in Welsh, she told him to not speak like a ‘labourer’. He cannot make his own decisions because he is afraid of disappointing his mother. I also kind of pity him because he is qui...more
I should have written this review right after I finished it, because of course, I have forgotten some of the things I wanted to here is what stuck with me...

This book sounded a lot more interesting on the back of the book than it really was. It sounded dark and spooky and mysterious, and it turned out to just be sort of odd.

Step siblings Alison and Roger, along with the caretaker's son, Gwyn, find an odd set of dishes with owls on them. The owls begin to disappear and Alison is overcome...more
David Manns
In a remote Welsh Valley three teenagers find themselves caught up in the mystery of a tragic ancient legend. Ages past Lleu had made for him out of flowers a wife, Bloeuwedd. Later she fell in love with Gronw Pebr and they murdered Lleu. Lleu was brought back to life by magic and he killed Gronw by throwing a spear with such force that it went through the rock behind which Gronw was sheltering. For her part in the murder, Blodeuwedd was turned into an owl.

The power of this myth plays itself out...more
This is a re-read of a book I absolutely adored as a child.

I was surprised by how short it is and, perhaps spoiled by the lush characterisation in The Little Stranger, found the economical writing a bit unsatisfying; I wanted to be told more about the characters, for there to be more of everything all round. I was slightly frustrated by quite how subtle the storytelling is. But maybe I'm just a lazier reader than I used to be.

But the characters are ultimately unimportant. It's the themes (mytho...more
I kind of want a "wtf?" shelf for books like this... I just didn't enjoy it and could NOT get into it at all! I wasn't interested enough in the story, or rather I couldn't GET interested in the story... the style just didn't gel with me. A lot of the time it felt almost like a script, not a novel... there was a lot of dialogue that you were meant to be able to follow, precious little description. I couldn't visualise what was going on and that hurdle stayed too great to overcome. Not enough was...more
Alan Toner
I found The Owl Service to be a very disappointing, very dull read.

I remember watching the TV series way back in 1968 as a kid, when it was screened every Sunday teatime. However, I had never actually got round to reading the book, until now. When I first read the blurb on the book, I thought I was in for a real good read, as the storyline about a strange set of dinner plates found in an attic, coupled with an eerie Welsh legend about a woman who is turned into flowers, appeared to be quite com...more
I'm in two minds about this one. On the one hand, it had a genuinely effective sense of eery creepiness and inevitable doom building throughout. On the other hand, the book is primarily dialogue based, which was difficult for me as a reader, because the characters have strange speech patterns that I am not used to (they're meant to be Welsh, but to me they sounded partially like West Country people, and partially just incoherent - and not just the slightly mad ones).

Often, all we get is the dia...more
I want to give this 5 stars, but I'm still thinking about the ending, which felt abrupt and did not really have the emotional payoff I'd been waiting for. However, everything else about this story was marvelous, drawing you in immediately with a strange scratching on the ceiling. Incredible mix of fantasy and real-world; the class consciousness subplot was particularly well-done, told entirely through the (sophisticated, funny, revealing!) dialogue. Reminded me a bit of the writing style of Henr...more
'The Owl Service' is a young adult novel based on Welsh myths, where another generation seems destined to live out a tale of love, murder and revenge. More of a suspense/horror than fantasy; three teens struggle with class and ethnic tensions as well as the normal adolescent angst when the ancient power of the valley begins to take over their lives.
Although very well written the story is hard to get into, as there is no initial build up, the reader is just dropped into the middle of the plot and...more
Three children in the Welsh valleys are doomed to relive a legend and must discover the secret of the dinner service with the owl motif to stop it.

For most of the way through this book, I wasn't sure if I liked it or not. When I got to the end, I decided that I didn't. The writing style is odd, with things sometimes changing from one paragraph to the next with the reader being left to fill in the blanks. While this is often an effective device, I don't think it worked in this case in the context...more
Apr 07, 2009 Staci rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Staci by: Nymeth
Shelves: 2009-reads
I'm not going to do a review on my blog. I was just so-so about this book. I found the writing to be hard to follow probably because it was written with the Welsh in mind. I'm glad that I read it though because the mythical story behind the premise is one that I had never heard of. In fact, I learned more from my friend Nymeth's review than I actually did from the book. If you would like a very detailed review of this story then please visit her blog:
What a weird book. It was interesting, but I never really understood what was going on throughout the book. I even looked up the Welsh tale that is supposedly playing out in The Owl Service, but it didn't help me at all. First, the book throws the reader into the middle of the story without explaining anything. There's no description at all of the characters or who they are. There is one little place where the author says that Gwyn has piercing blue eyes and that Alison has blond hair and fair s...more
"She walked backwards up the road, shouting, and the rain washed the air clean of her words and dissolved her haunted face, broke the line of her into webs that left no stain, and Gwyn watched for a while the unmarked place where she had been..." Like ELIDOR, this Garner book packs a lot into less than 200 pages. And like ELIDOR - it has been nearly 30 years since I last read this story. It has held up beautifully. That said, I think it's a better told story than ELIDOR presents even though both...more
Laura Cowan
Oh. My. Gosh! This book is fabulous! It is written with no extraneous words or plot lines and is a rich, engaging story. I love the Welsh legend woven into the story, and everything down to the English translations of Welsh sentence constructions is wonderful. Highly recommended for anyone interested in neo-mythology or fairy tales in their more dangerous forms, or anyone interested in magical realism or speculative supernatural or contemporary fantasy lit.
Martin Goodman
I'm in a run of Alan Garner titles at the moment ... and this is one of the most accessible. It's set in North Wales, just across the border from his usual Cheshire settings, but is still imbued with a clear sense of place. It has a touch of THW WICKER MAN about it ... a closed community and enmities of the past playing themselves out ... but tis resolution takes it into a different dimension. It stood up well to re-reading as an adult.
Ben Lovegrove
This really deserves to be a modern classic; it's not just a children's book but is meaningful for adults too and beautifully written. It inspired me to become interested in the Mabonogian. It's a modern fairy story about the Lady of the Flowers. It's probably Alan Garner's best book although the Voice that Thunders is a great collection of essays on topics from literature to archaeology.
Alison and Roger have come to Wales on a holiday with their parent and respective step-parent. Roger’s father and Alison’s mother have recently married and in a way this is a sort of bonding session. The house is technically Alison’s, she inherited from an uncle. Gwynn is the housekeeper’s son, the same age as Alison and Roger but very much not of the same class.

Have I mentioned that this book was written and set in the 60s? Because they really needs to be in your mind when reading it.

Alison has...more
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What's The Name o...: SOLVED -- YA Fantasy Owl Drawings Coming to Life [s] 10 17 May 18, 2014 09:12AM  
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Alan Garner OBE (born 17 October 1934) is an English novelist who is best known for his children's fantasy novels and his retellings of traditional British folk tales. His work is firmly rooted in the landscape, history and folklore of his native county of Cheshire, North West England, being set in the region and making use of the native Cheshire dialect.

Born into a working-class family in Conglet...more
More about Alan Garner...
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (Tales of Alderley, #1) Elidor The Moon of Gomrath (Tales of Alderley, #2) Red Shift Thursbitch

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“She wants to be flowers, but you make her owls. You must not complain, then, if she goes hunting.” 27 likes
“Lleu is a hard lord,” said Huw, “He is killing Gronw without anger, without love, without mercy. He is hurt too much by the woman and the spear. Yet what is there when it is done? His pride. No spear. No friend.”
Roger started at Huw. “You’re not so green as you’re grass-looking, are you?” he said. “Now you mention it, I have been thinking— That bloke Gronw was the only one with any real guts at the end.”
“But none of them is all to blame,” said Huw. “It is only together they are destroying each other.”
“That Blod-woman was pretty poor,” said Roger, “however you look at it.”
“No,” said Huw. “She was made for her lord. Nobody is asking her if she wants him. It is bitter twisting to be shut up with a person you are not liking very much. I think she was longing for the time when she was flowers on the mountain, and it is making her cruel, as the rose is growing thorns.”
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