An Owl decorated service starts a sparkling mystery

Favourite Stories: The Owl Service – by Alan Garner


Scratching noises in an attic give The Owl Service, a novel for young adults, the most atmospheric of beginnings.

New stepbrother and sister, Alison and Roger, are on holiday in Wales, staying at an old house which Alison has inherited. Gwyn is the son of Nancy, the cook who has been enticed back to serve the family. Hoping to reassure Alison that there are no mice above her room, Gwyn climbs into the attic and finds the owl service of the title, a set of dinner plates decorated with an owl design. From then on very strange things begin to happen.

The plot is inspired by, and incorporates, a tale from The Mabinogion, a thirteenth century collection of Welsh folklore. Gradually, the three teenagers begin to realise that they are becoming fixated by the story of Blodeuwedd, a woman made of flowers who was turned into an owl, and discover that Alison’s uncle and Gwyn’s mother had also once been caught up in a similar set of circumstances.

The novel takes place in the 1960s, but it could just as easily be set today, apart from the lack of modern equipment; Roger needs film for his camera and no one has an ipad…

I first read this book when I was 12 and I loved it because I could identify so much with Alison. She comes across an object with a personal connection to herself and then becomes obsessed with its history. There are plenty of scary moments, along with blossoming romance and dangerous jealousy.

I think the reason why I love it still is because of the very appealing theme of whether the past can repeat itself, something which I would later find compelling in The Great Gatsby and The Glass Menagerie.

The Owl Service is an absorbing mix of fantasy and reality. I have read it at least ten times and I recommend it to others at any opportunity.