Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Voice That Thunders

Rate this book
Alan Garner is an exceptional lecturer and essayist. This collection, taken from the work of more that twenty years, explores an enviable range of scholarly interests: archaeology, myth, language, education, philosophy, the spiritual quest, mental health, literature, music and film.

The book also serves as a poetic autobiography of one of England's best-loved but least public writers. He hears himself declared dead at the age of six; he draws on the deep vein of a rural working-class childhood in a family of craftsmen who instilled the passion for excellence and for innovation and humour. The disciplines he learnt as a Classicist give a shape and clarity to that passion in this richly various book that would have fascinated his forebears, whose work and lives are also celebrated here.

This most unusual, most candid, most vivid picture of an English family and its home, its country's history, is also a devastating revelation of a writer's own life. Alan Garner's account of his mental illness will become a classic, and each strand of the book will be a source of fascination to anyone who has ever fallen under the spell of an Alan Garner story, as also to all who concern themselves with the craft of writing.

224 pages, Paperback

First published April 1, 1998

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Alan Garner

70 books604 followers
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 Congleton, Cheshire, Garner grew up around the nearby town of Alderley Edge, and spent much of his youth in the wooded area known locally as 'The Edge', where he gained an early interest in the folklore of the region. Studying at Manchester Grammar School and then Oxford University, in 1957 he moved to the nearby village of Blackden, where he bought and renovated an Early Modern building known as Toad Hall. His first novel, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, was published in 1960. A children's fantasy novel set on the Edge, it incorporated elements of local folklore in its plot and characters. Garner completed a sequel, The Moon of Gomrath (1963), but left the third book of the trilogy he had envisioned. Instead he produced a string of further fantasy novels, Elidor (1965), The Owl Service (1967) and Red Shift (1973).

Turning away from fantasy as a genre, Garner produced The Stone Book Quartet (1979), a series of four short novellas detailing a day in the life of four generations of his family. He also published a series of British folk tales which he had rewritten in a series of books entitled Alan Garner's Fairy Tales of Gold (1979), Alan Garner's Book of British Fairy Tales (1984) and A Bag of Moonshine (1986). In his subsequent novels, Strandloper (1996) and Thursbitch (2003), he continued writing tales revolving around Cheshire, although without the fantasy elements which had characterised his earlier work. In 2012, he finally published a third book in the Weirdstone trilogy.

Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Garner

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
81 (58%)
4 stars
38 (27%)
3 stars
16 (11%)
2 stars
2 (1%)
1 star
1 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews
Profile Image for Ari Berk.
Author 19 books142 followers
February 5, 2012
Anyone who cares about story, place, the past, and our futures as storytelling animals would benefit from reading this book. I also think it would be of enormous benefit to teachers at every level. Absolute gold dust...to be savored.
Profile Image for G. Lawrence.
Author 26 books212 followers
June 20, 2020
Fascinating, lovely, enthralling, a collection of essays and speeches on writing, Garner's life. Highly recommended
Profile Image for Dearbhla.
639 reviews13 followers
August 27, 2014
Earlier this year I read The Owl Service by Alan Garner, and I had many many thoughts about it, and I enjoyed it a huge amount even if I wasn’t sure if I got everything that was going on. I will reread it at some point. But then I was ordering books at work and spotted The voice that thunders by Garner and said, ah sure lets give it a go. I’m sure some author recommended it somewhere, but I can’t for the life of me recall who or where.

And when it came in it sat on my trolley for many many months, but eventually I figured it was time for a bit of non-fiction. I’ve read very little that wasn’t fiction this year.

The Voice that Thunders was a great bit of non-fiction, and if you follow me on tumblr you probably have some indication that I enjoyed it, given how much I was quoting from it. The book is basically a collection of essays and lectures that Garner has given over the years. Writing, life, history, language, people, place, mental health, all these feature in various essays, and I have to say that I loved this book.

I didn’t always agree with exactly what Garner was saying, but he writes so well that I just couldn’t help but admire him. He writes about truth and fiction, about life and living, and about how he always tries to be honest and sometimes that means making things up. If you have any interest in writing I would recommend you read something by Garner, preferably this book as well as some of his fiction.

There is one chapter where he describes getting letter after letter from school children, obviously at the urging of their teacher. One class in particular that the teacher had described as enjoying the book so much damn it utterly, telling Garner that he shouldn’t have written the book, that it was boring, that there was no action, no humour. He doesn’t relate this in order to give out about the children, but rather to point out this disconnect between the teacher and the pupils. He has many other letters that praise his books, that reveal how Garner’s work has touched people’s lives, so you don’t need to feel sorry for reading a series of such horrible feedback.

Another major theme of many of the essays is the importance of language and a sense of place to Garner’s writing and to his sense of himself as a person. He describes having his mouth washed out with carbolic soap for speaking with his natural accent/dialect. And how all through his education he was taught the “correct” way to speak English, only when grown and studying Old English did he realise that that “correct” English wasn’t any more correct that any other form of English, it was simply the dialect and accent of the winners.

And of course we know that colonising powers often stamp out indigenous languages, people are backwards for not learning English, but it stuck me then that the English did that first of all in their own country, before beginning to work their way around the world.

One other little thing that I really liked about Garner’s essays was the way he uses the term Australians. Usually if you read about Australians you are reading about the white Australians, but Garner uses it when discussing the original Australians, which only makes sense, they were there first after all.

I borrowed this book from the library but I really think I need to own a copy at some stage. I also need to read a whole heap more of Garner’s work, whether that is his fiction or his non-fiction I don’t mind.
Profile Image for Liam Guilar.
Author 10 books42 followers
September 8, 2012

"It went through my head: if only would-be Doctors of Philosophy who write to me asking for opinions on my work and its relationships to structuralism, deconstructuralism, phenomenology, semiotics, reductionism, with special reference to sub-plot, after-plot, sub-vocalisation, not forgetting metacognition, if they could only see that writing lies more in trying to keep an old man's trousers up and that from such moments is born a "Strandloper'. (p228)

A books of essays and talks, one man's investigation of his own craft and its relationship to the world. Rewarding rereading for anyone interested in creativity/writing, the importance of story telling, place, myth and folk lore.

It probably should also be compulsory reading for anyone who either teaches literature, wants to teach literature or "trains" future teachers. The lecture 'Hard Things', in which Garner shares some of the responses he's had from schools who were "doing" his books (the verb is mine, not his) made me want to disown my profession and then contact the man and say "Please, we are not all like that".

(But I would swear that I first read this book when I found a discarded copy of it in the common room at Golant Youth Hostel in the summer of 1985...I remember the story about the filming of The Owl Service. Which makes no sense since the publication data says this wasn't published until 1996)
Profile Image for T.E. Shepherd.
Author 3 books25 followers
June 9, 2014
I began to read this book of essays and lectures with some trepidation. Since before my teenage years I have loved Alan Garner's books and have grown up with them at my side, but it has been a relationship that has become progressively difficult. His books, particularly Strandloper and Thursbitch, which can be near to incomprehensible. I was thus worried, that this book of essays would be a similarly difficult read.

I am so glad that I didn't let these concerns stop me from reading The Voice That Thunders though. Yes, there are some intellectally challenging chapters that shows Garner's detailed knowledge of his subject, but mostly it is a collection of talks that cannot fail you to write stories and enjoy words.

It's a book that I can't begin to count the number of times I quoted sections from it, let alone the number of times I didn't because it wasn't convenient at the time, and then I'd passed another half dozen of quotable passages. An inspiring read!
Profile Image for Nigel.
Author 12 books57 followers
October 31, 2014
Amazing collection of essays, speeches and talks spanning more than thirty years by Garner, whose books I read and reread when I was young until I got to Red Shift, which broke my brain in a good way. This collection reflects his thinking on creativity and spirituality, the relationship between language and landscape, the functions and forms of myth, his attitudes to his own books being used as educational tools and his own mental health problems and the high frequency of manic-depression among writers, poets and artists. They are perfectly written, passionate, lucid and profound. Used correctly, I think they are a manual for the creative mind, lessons for writers on engaging with their own work, and through that, their own histories.
Profile Image for Daniel.
11 reviews
September 27, 2021
As near to an autobiography as you can get. A roughly chronological detail of the various things that have shaped Alan Garner's outlook and writing.
A pleasure to read in itself and also quite open and frank for an otherwise elusive writer. A review can't really do it justice - if you like his work, then it should be on your bookshelf.
Will probably be of interest to folk who have a professional interest in books, publishing and literature, together with people with anthropology interests that overlap folklore, mythology and man's place in the landscape...
Profile Image for Karen Floyd.
368 reviews19 followers
April 18, 2021
This is a volume of talks and articles by Alan Garner, who is best known for his books for youth, "The Wierdstone of Brisingamen," "The Moon of Gomrath," "Elidor," and "The Owl Service." He covers all manner of subjects in this book, from his own isolated childhood during WWII (he was ill a lot), growing up, and still living, in the shadow of Alderley Edge in Cheshire, the stories he heard from family members and community elders, developing as a writer, and his struggles with mental health. He is incredibly knowledgeable, and along the way shares his insights into mythology and legend, geology, archaeology, language, history, especially the local history of the area of Cheshire where he grew up and still lives. This is a fascinating and emotionally powerful book. I wasn't ready to be done with it at the end, so went back and started it all over again.
Profile Image for Mark Redman.
587 reviews25 followers
November 9, 2019
The voice that thunders, is a collection of essays written over two decades. It’s a rich collection, covering in the main his deep family connections to the landscape, language, archaeology, myth, education, a spiritual quest and mental health.

At times this is a deep and absorbing read, showing a great sense of time. It is written in a clear style that brings value and insight into everything he writes.

A pure gem of a book and a spiritual journey.

Profile Image for Griflet.
452 reviews
July 22, 2019
It's taken me nearly a year to finish this. I wanted to savour it - I've not quite read a writer on writing like this before. Compelling, honest, and in the chapter 'Hard Cases' uproariously funny.
A beauty thing.
Highly recommended for those not in a tearing hurry.
35 reviews1 follower
November 10, 2021
Alan Garner's description of his struggle with bi polar / mental ills was transformative for me. He has such an intelligent but emotional voice.
Author 15 books8 followers
November 23, 2013
This book of essays didn't give me quite what I was hoping for, whatever that was, but it's an interesting glimpse into the mind and life of Alan Garner.

He was born of a long line of craftsmen whose family had lived at Alderley Edge in Cheshire for at least four centuries. He was the first not to work with his hands and to get an education (regarded by the family as something like getting a car). He harboured a brief, and maybe not unrealistic, ambition to become Professor of Greek at Oxford but was deflected by the related lures of personal freedom and fiction-writing.

Garner has lived all his life near Alderley Edge, now within sight of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope. But his world reaches out in both space and time. He has spent time in Russia (cf. Tom and Jan briefly speaking Russian in Red Shift?), and visited Australia to learn the Aboriginal view of the universe; he collects family oral history and communicates with academics about the Mabinogian. He has helped trace the archaeology of Alderley Edge back to the bronze age.

In fact he seems to be a compulsive self-educator. He taught himself Welsh as background for The Owl Service (the real-life prototype of the scene in the Welsh grocery shop in that novel is probably better than fictional version, with French restored to Greek among other changes).

Work on each of his novels begins with a period of research usually lasting several years. It is then followed by a similar period of wretched self doubt until finally a spark flashes and triggers a crescendo of furious output.

The extremity of such emotional highs and lows was finally diagnosed as manic depression. Like other such victims he tried and then rejected the offered medication, working out his own internal processes for dealing with the low states. He talks about psychotherapy and how it relates to the process of creation.

Clearly Garner sees his writing as the search for and evocation of something mysterious and sacred. He deeply values the effect of the arts, particularly on the young; several of these essays are based on speeches given to educators. But he is not always serious; a puckish humour flickers. (His initial reaction to being asked to give an acceptance speech for an award: "Awards are an irrelevant impertinence, a distorting imposition on a book, and I want every one I can get.")

So what did I find lacking among these essays? Not surprisingly there is some repetition. Some of his explorations of his own world view drift into obscurity. One or two deliver less than they promise. (His account of his attempts to pin down the prehistorical basis for the [genuine] folk-tale told at the start of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen produces some intriguing geographical connections and thematic echoes, but then stops short.) Unlike most writers of his stature, Garner seems to have avoided writing book reviews; and I would have liked to hear his thoughts on Tolkien, Golding, Le Guin, Ballard, Miéville . . .

Finally, two quotes from his grandfather that summarise Garner's attitude to his own work and to craftsmanship in general.

"Always take as long as the job tells you; because it'll be here when you're not, and you don't want folk saying, 'What fool made that codge?'"

"If the other feller can do it, let him." [p. 25]
Profile Image for Veronica.
752 reviews108 followers
January 21, 2014
I can't really put it better than the Goodreads blurb. This book of essays is a fascinating insight into the mind of a very unusual and very talented writer.He is lucid and frank about his creative process, his episodes of mental illness and how they relate to the act of creation, and his passion for myth in its widest sense. Interesting asides on the teaching of English Literature in schools (exactly mirrors my experience and opinion of it) and archaeology. All, of course, suffused with his rootedness in Alderley Edge, where he's lived all his life. Inevitably there's a bit of repetition as these are lectures and articles produced for specific circumstances over a long period of time. But if you're a fan of Garner's work, you should read this.

To gauge the impact of this book -- I'd only read his first four books (officially described as written "for children" although Garner says he doesn't write for anyone except himself), plus Boneland the sequel to The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and Moon Of Gomrath. Reading this collection, I immediately put Strandloper (12 years in the writing) and The Stone Book Quartet on my wishlist.

Quotes to live by from Garner's grandfather:

Always take as long as the job tells you; because it'll be here when you're not, and you don't want folk saying, 'What fool made that codge?'

If the other feller can do it, let him.
Profile Image for Denni.
266 reviews4 followers
October 24, 2012
Oh dear, this is probably going to sound a bit odd to some people but I have to say it. I've been a great fan of Garner's books since I was at school, have read some of them to my children (who've also loved them). I've also been interested in the ideas that underlie his writing so was pleased to have the chance to read this selection of his other writings/essays/talks etc., and I WAS enjoying reading what he had to say. And then I read his comments about visiting Wales as an older school boy and the same old rubbish about 'we walked into a shop and they were all talking English but as soon as we arrived, as they could see we were English, they switched to Welsh'. I expect better from a writer and thinker of Garner's calibre, and though I tried to continue reading this book, I was left feeling too uncomfortable so I had to stop. I live in Wales. I came to Wales, as an adult, from England. I live in the Welsh-speaking part of Wales. Now, admittedly, I was not a posh boarding school boy in uniform and, admittedly, I made the effort to learn Welsh pretty fast (and it was a delight to do so--I had more fun learning Welsh than I've had learning anything else in my whole life!) but the 'experience' Garner relates has never been my experience nor that of anyone I know. And, indeed, why would you assume--in Wales, in a Welsh-speaking part of Wales (and this would have been so much more true at the time Garner writes of)--that Welsh speakers had been speaking English to each other? I was pretty cross when I read this 'anecdote' in the book, and then bitterly disappointed. One of my writing heroes to be shown to be so blinkered. None of us can be perfect, I know, myself very much included, but it spoiled the book for me so I was unable to finish it.
Profile Image for Neil.
496 reviews4 followers
February 18, 2011
A collection of lectures and articles that define a great artist. For most of my childhood I only knew Garner from his first 3 books Brisingamen, Gomrath and Elidor I had attempted the owl service aged around 10 but at that time I was too young to understand and didn't finish it, aged around 30 I found that I had been missing out on one of the greatest novels in the English language. Since than I have read all the rest of Garner's major works and found him to be a unique figure. "The Voice that thunders" gives an impression of a man who has dedicated his life to his art far beyond the normal. it gives the sense of a man who understands what it is to be human, a man so ingrained in the place of his birth and his family that he is part of the landscape. He has made a tiny corner of Cheshire a place that his readers understand as well as, if not better than their own homes.
Profile Image for Martin.
231 reviews3 followers
October 20, 2016
I love Garners early work but find his more recent books increasingly difficult to understand. Although this is more memoir told through a collection of essays and talks, sadly this too was tough going. Some was enjoyable but most just went over my head. Some interesting anecdotes but mostly disappointing.
Profile Image for Cooper Renner.
Author 21 books41 followers
December 14, 2011
A mixed bag, as all collections of essays and lectures, are, but Garner is an almost unique voice in contemporary writing and well worth listening too.
Profile Image for J.S. Watts.
Author 31 books39 followers
July 29, 2014
A fascinating insight into the writing and thought processes of Alan Garner. Thoughtful, insightful and at times positively poetic.
Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.