Vital to the modern moment…are the novels of Alan Garner and Susan Cooper; especially Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) and The Owl Service (1967), and Cooper’s dazzling The Dark Is Rising sequence, published between 1965 and 1977. Once read, these novels are hard to forget. They lodge and loom in the memory. Garner turned eighty last autumn, and a volume of essays exploring his legacy, called First Light, is being compiled at present, with contributions from Philip Pullman, Ali Smith and Neil Gaiman among others. I regard the second book of Cooper’s sequence as among the eeriest texts I know; Helen Macdonald is another for whom Cooper’s novels have been imaginatively vital.

It would be easy to dismiss all this as an excess of hokey woo-woo; a surge of something-in-the-woodshed rustic gothic. But engaging with the eerie emphatically doesn’t mean believing in ghosts. Few of the practitioners named here would endorse earth mysteries or ectoplasm. What is under way, across a broad spectrum of culture, is an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism. The supernatural and paranormal have always been means of figuring powers that cannot otherwise find visible expression. Contemporary anxieties and dissents are here being reassembled and re-presented as spectres, shadows or monsters: our noun monster, indeed, shares an etymology with our verb to demonstrate, meaning to show or reveal (with a largely lost sense of omen or portent).

Robert Macfarlane
The eeriness of the English countryside

close a book

March 12, 2019

Books, like landscapes, leave their marks in us. Sometimes these traces are so faint as to be imperceptible  –  tiny shifts in the weather of the spirit that do not register on the usual instruments. Mostly, these marks are temporary: we close a book, and for the next hour or two the world seems oddly brighter at its edges; or we are moved to a kindness or a meanness that would otherwise have gone unexpressed. Certain books, though, like certain landscapes, stay with us even when we have left them, changing not just our weathers but our climates.

Robert Macfarlane
Landmarks

woods and otherworlds

October 2, 2018

path

There is no mystery in this association of woods and otherworlds, for as anyone who has walked the woods knows, they are places of correspondence, of call and answer. Visual affinities of colour, relief and texture abound. A fallen branch echoes the deltoid form of a streambed into which it has come to rest. Chrome yellow autumn elm leaves find their colour rhyme in the eye-ring of the blackbird. Different aspects of the forest link unexpectedly with each other, and so it is that within the stories, different times and worlds can be joined.

Robert Macfarlane
The Wild Places