Reliving Britain in William Mayne’s Earthfasts

Earthfasts is William Mayne’s most famous book and deals with Arthurian mythology.

Keith and David are crossing the Dales when they hear drumming and are surprised when a drummer, Nellie Jack John,  appears from underneath the land. Unaware of the date, he is convinced that he is still in the seventeenth century. They take him around the castle to show him that nothing has really changed in terms of landscape. The culture shock is too great and he returns to the hill.

In the aftermath, boggarts and giants come alive and play up as if the landscape’s mythology has been reborn. David disappears whilst they are walking, presumed killed in a lightning strike, and Keith is left to try and carry on alone. Deciding to venture through the stone circles, he comes across King Arthur and travels into time to resue David.

Mayne’s land comes vividly to life when the Matter of Britain is invoked. Like Alan Garner and Susan Cooper, he is aware that you cannot use such a powerful mythos without care which Mayne discussed with Raymond H Thompson for his collection of interviews with writers dealing with Arthurian legends. There  is  a glimpse into a lost time which comes to life and remakes the landscape, opening portals that are normally stone circles but allows them to be mysterious and threatening. The older land dovetails into the present landscape and is accepted by the boys.

Mayne’s interest in the changing dialects moves from an older generation, such as parents, using Yorkshire dialect to a boy who is well out of time. Superficially,  it presents a question of whether dialect is being lost in an increasingly modern world. Yet is also anchors the modern world into time, reminding us that the past is always with us but we choose to forget it or mythologise it. The way that the candle burns slowly echoes the change of the time in the older Britain.

I’ve got the sequel, Cradlefasts, (although there is a third book Candlefasts) to read shortly. Mayne’s version of the Matter of Britain is more accessible than Alan Garner’s yet equally they are intimately involved with the land and the language. They are aware of the close relationship and use it to change the direction of the fantastic from secondary worlds into a living Britain.

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2 Responses to Reliving Britain in William Mayne’s Earthfasts

  1. John B says:

    Hi – You give a good summary in your review, but there are a couple of points: The boys weren’t out “crossing the Dales ” as in a hike – they were just out in a lovely evening on the hillside near their home. And Nellie Jack John is from the 18th century, not the 17th: as he says,”forty-two” meaning 1742, acknowledged by David “You were two hundred years and more in that passage…”

  2. Iain says:

    Hi John, that’ll teach me to blog in a hurry and not fact check. 🙁 You’re right about those. I really need to reread William Mayne anyhow – one he gets under your skin that’s it.

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