Friday, 21 February 2020

What do Alan Garner and L. M. Montgomery have in common?

A previous article describes how neither Noel Streatfeild nor Isaac Asimov ever forgot being refused some information that they eagerly asked for. They never forgave their teachers for impatiently brushing them off.

I have since read about two more very different writers who also experienced painful incidents that they never forgot: as children they were unjustly and cruelly punished for speaking in ways that their teachers disapproved of. 

The first incident was mentioned by L. M. Montgomery in a letter she wrote in 1907 about some discoveries she made while reading the Bible:

When I was a child a school teacher gave me a whipping because I used the expression ‘by the skin of my teeth.’ He said it was slang. If I had but known then what I know now!!! It is in Job—those very words.”

From The Green Gables Letters from L. M. Montgomery to Ephraim Weber 1905-1909

What’s wrong with a gentle reminder of the importance of speaking good English? That teacher should have known his Bible too.

I wonder whether that teacher ever learned about the literary achievements of his former pupil.

L. M. Montgomery at the age of 8:

The second incident involves Alan Garner.

The article about Alan Garner’s Owl Service had been outstanding for many years. While working on it I came across some information about a painful incident in his life in his Wikipedia entry

He attended a local village school, where he found that, despite being praised for his intelligence, he was punished for speaking in his native Cheshire dialect; for instance, when he was six his primary school teacher washed his mouth out with soapy water.

This would have been in 1940 or 1941. At that time teachers were permitted to use such violence against children.

Just as Noel Streatfeild went on to write best-selling books about ballet and Isaac Asimov a book about the slide-rule despite their teachers’ refusals to pass on the information they wanted, Alan Garner’s works are very influenced by the Cheshire dialect despite his teacher’s attempt to stop him using it.

Gwyn in The Owl Service is criticised for speaking Welsh. This suggests to me that Alan Garner never forgot this incident from his childhood.

Never forgetting, never forgiving and often never completely recovering from such injuries are characteristics often found in writers and other creative people. 

Alan Garner at the age of six: