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The Owl Service (Collins Modern Classics) Paperback – 2 Nov 1998

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollinsChildren'sBooks; New Ed edition (2 Nov. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006754015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006754015
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.4 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,335,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alan Garner was born in Congleton, Cheshire, in 1934. His began writing his first novel at the age of 22 and is renowned as one of Britain's outstanding writers. He has won many prizes for his writing, and, in 2001 he was awarded the OBE for services to literature. He holds two honorary doctorates and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. In 2004 he co-founded The Blackden Trust

Product Description


‘Remarkable… a rare imaginative feat.”
The Observer

From the Back Cover

The flowery owl pattern on the old dinner service, which Gwyn finds in a loft, obsesses Alison. Its discovery marks the start of an extraordinary chain of events that affect not only Gwyn and Alison, but also her stepbrother, Roger. For there's a power stirring in the remote valley that dates from a sad and distant myth – a tragic Welsh legend that has begun to repeat itself. Gwyn tries to shake off his involvement by running away, but he cannot escape, and, as the tension mounts, he is made to realise that only by facing up to the myth can it be resolved.

'The Owl Service' won both The Carnegie Medal and The Guardian Award.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Booksthatmatter on 11 Jun. 2004
Format: Paperback
When I read this in my early teens, I don't think I even vaguely understood it, but somehow it clawed its way under my skin and stayed there. I returned to it, ahem, quite a few years later, to find it a fascinating portrait of taut family dynamics (children adjusting to 'new' family structures), unspoken rivalries and generally the horrible hormonal tensions of adolescent change. It wasn't about owls at all!
It's a stunning, sparsely written and fast-paced read, underscored with a creepy, scary atmosphere that could well put you off family holidays in Wales for ever.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Rod Williams on 16 Dec. 2003
Format: Paperback
Two English teenagers, Alison and Roger, have been brought to a quiet Welsh valley by Roger’s father Clive and Alison’s mother (who remains offstage throughout the novel and interestingly, becomes one of those characters of whom we can only draw a picture from the conversations of others) to stay for the summer in a house which once belonged to Alison’s Uncle Bertram.
The house is also home to the mad gardener Huw, the surly and possessive housekeeper Nancy and her ambitious son, Gwyn.
It’s an impressive novel originally intended for a juvenile readership but, as these things tend to do, ended up being just as popular with adults.
The style is fast-paced, sparse, and doesn’t patronise the reader with pages, or even paragraphs of scene-setting. The reader learns all they need to know from the action, the language and the conversations. The name of the valley is never mentioned, nor even the village, yet within a few pages we are able to find our feet and things immediately start getting weird.
Alison, ill in bed seemingly with stomach-ache, is plagued by scratching noises from the attic above. Gwyn, sent to investigate, discovers only a dinner-service with a complex floral design around the edge of each piece.
Alison discovers that when she traces the design and cuts it out, elements of it can be folded to produce the stylised body of an owl.
The paper owls disappear as she creates them, and with them, the design from beneath the glaze of the plates.
It transpires that an ancient power is still bound by the valley and an emotional and physical triangle is repeating itself down through the ages, finding candidates in each generation to re-enact an old drama in order to release the power stored in the valley.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER on 15 Aug. 2009
Format: Paperback
Alison and Roger, newly-step-brother and -sister, are in Wales staying in an old house left to Alison by her father. Nancy, an irascible Welsh housekeeper, has also brought her son Gwyn and a strange triangle is formed between the three teenagers. The discovery of a dinner set patterned with owls sets off a series of haunting events in the house which replay a murderous event from Welsh myth and time merges so that past and present are inextricably intertwined with each other.

I first read this as a child and it has stayed with me since then. While it's not as frightening now as I remember, it is wonderfully eerie book while at the same time being quite beautiful. The final image as the book ends (which I'm not going to give away here) has something wonderfully timeless and poignant about it and it has certainly lingered in my mind in a memorable fashion.

The interplay of past and present, and the overlay of myth is handled masterfully. But Garner also makes this a very modern book (it was first published in 1967) as he simultaneously makes it about class tensions and Welsh nationalism, and the problems of re-forming a broken family.

With a delicate and almost tender lyricism this is far more than a children's book: imaginative, moving, funny and scary by turns it deserves the prizes it has won.
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72 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Gregory S. Buzwell VINE VOICE on 1 Jan. 2007
Format: Paperback
Some books go beyond being mere stories, tales with which to while away the hours, and become far more central within one's life. The Owl Service, which I first read at the age of about ten, is one such book for me. In my youth I was only concerned with the story of Alison, Gwyn and Roger and how the mythical past of a Welsh legend was reaching out to play itself out once again in the present day world, but with each successive reading, and there have been several, new meanings and layers of thought have revealed themselves. Around the age old tale of rivalries in love Garner has managed to weave comments on class (for example Gwyn's attempts to conform and lose his working-class Welsh roots, which he sees as a hinderance, are set against Roger's smug superiority, safe in his comfortable position as heir to the family firm); ambition (how far do we set our own parameters for what we can achieve, simply by settling for what is expected for us rather than holding out for what we really want) and the way the events of the real, everyday world run parallel with a much older world of imagination, myth and legend.

I probably discovered more about the possibilities of well-written fiction from this book than I did from any other. There are beautiful, haunting, descriptions such as Gwyn's nocturnal walk through the wood, spooked by phantom flames which he unconvincingly tries to reason away as marsh gas; there are moments of intense drama such as the attempt to escape from the valley during a torrential downpour and there are beautifully deft character descriptions: Gwyn's mother Nancy's fear and panic as she sees the past inevitably reaching out to the present for example, or the way Alison unknowingly plays the coquette.
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