Book of a lifetime: Boneland, By Alan Garner


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The Independent Culture

When I was first taught shamanic healing, I worked to a set framework: scan the chakras, be the hollow bone; if I'm feeling brave (and centred and grounded), perform such extractions as may be necessary; find the missing soul-part(s), bring them back and then balance before finishing.

These days, everything is more free-form; there seems to be more of a direct connection to the dreamtime and what happens is more raw, more spectacular, infinitely more terrifying, with results that are far more profound.

At least for some, writing seems to follow a similar path. These writers start by working out character, plot and location, do the research on which the text will rest, and then let them all loose in the hope that they come alive. And then slowly, book by book, something else opens up that lets the writing happen from a different place. If you follow writers' careers for long enough, you can see those in which this happens, but there are few as striking as Alan Garner.

Garner wrote his first two novels when he was 21. His tales of two children on Alderley Edge in Cheshire, of the Goldenstone and Fundindelve and the raising of the "Wild Hunt", are well-structured and grounded in the past of his land.

Growing up, I endeavoured in more adult ways to find the roots of all that Garner had described. That path became shamanic: the study of the indigenous spirituality of every culture on the planet that shaped us for millennia before the mind-men took over and turned us away from the truth of who we were, are and might be.

Eventually, I began to teach shamanic dreaming, and was taking the students through the North Gate – place of the warrior, of the hunter and hunted, of the guardian – when I read Boneland, the final part of what is now Garner's Alderley trilogy.

And what I found is a book of raw dreaming. Yes, it is a sequel of sorts. Yes, Colin grown-up is a strange and driven creature: utterly brilliant and barely able to function in human company. Yes, his story is one of consciousness and mind and memory and psychotherapy, of the coming Singularity and of who we might be on its other side.

But in another, very ancient time, the Watcher is carving rock, and dancing, and calling to the wolf, and searching for the Woman. It is here that a dreaming lies of such ancient, bone-deep understanding that I can only read a few pages at a time or my capacity for language becomes swamped. If I ever end up on a desert island, this is the book I will take. No music: only this, and time to dream.

'Rome: the art of war' by MC Scott is published by Bantam