One of the first books I was aware of in our house as a young boy was a Puffin paperback edition of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) by Alan Garner, whose midnight blue cover featured a staring-eyed black-bearded figure clasping a golden cup. It was a fast-paced, atmospheric fantasy featuring a brother and sister (Colin and Susan) caught up in the eternal struggle between good and evil, as personified by Cadellin Silverbrow and the Morrigan and Grimnir. It was my favourite book for years and I read it until it fell to bits, finally buying myself a new copy some years later.
I was thrilled to discover that the author had written a sequel, but when I at last came to read The Moon of Gomrath (1963), I remember feeling a bit baffled – I didn’t quite get it. A lot of adults have a similar reaction to many of Alan Garner’s books, and he himself once told me, when I spoke with him as a librarianship student, that children don’t have the same difficulty with his books. Perhaps I’d just lost that childish intuition. However, I did read some time later that Garner had intended to write a third book about his characters which he didn’t complete –perhaps because he had grown bored of the central figures?
Now, after a gap of almost 50 years, Boneland, the third book in the series has been published. In the intervening years Garner had branched out in a number of different directions, and produced some astonishing writing, including the book which has been my favourite for the last thirty years, The Stone Book Quartet.
I’m almost afraid to revisit Colin and Susan after all these years – they’re not children any more, and they’ll have moved on, just as I have. But it is an adventure that is waiting to happen.
Could this be the longest-running series of books ever? There are a few other contenders:
Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series was originally a trilogy, with A Wizard of Earthsea published in 1968, The Tombs of Atuan (1971), and The Farthest Shore (1973). There then came Tehanu: the last book of Earthsea in 1990 and The Other Wind (2001). A mere 33 years from beginning to end of the series, and a mere 44 years since the publication of the first… could there possibly be more?
The SF / Fantasy genre does seem to be the natural home of the long-running series, with Frank Herbert’s Dune, started in the 1960s and continued, with prequels, sequels and interquels (is that *really* a word?!?) by his son Brian. There’s another fasmily affair in the Dragonriders of Pern, started by Anne McCaffrey in 1968 and now continued by her son Todd, writing alone and with his mother. Just nine years more writing to beat Garner…
A relative latecomer to the competition is the still-ongoing historical saga series The Morland Dynasty by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, which follows the progress of a family line through British history. The first book came out in 1980, set in the Wars of the Roses. 34 books later she is still going and has got up to the 1920s! She’s got a while to go to catch up with Alan Garner’s 52 years , but we’ll be keeping track… roll on 2032.