Fundamental Spaces: The Hearth

The Inglenook,
Hemingford Grey (“Green Knowe”)

We had the chimney swept this week. Lots of soot and detritus were brought down (I blame the jackdaws) and the sweep was amazed how much had accumulated in the chimney since we last had it done. Thinking of chimneys and hearths I often think of the inglenook in Green Knowe, a magic place of meeting the living and the dead, and the quickest of dives into the internet finds this evocative piece by Terri Windling – but at the moment, I am full, not of the warming logs that delight Tolly, but of the heart of all that is, in Garner’s wonderful Treacle Walker.

If hearths remind me first of Green Knowe, then Green Knowe takes me to Bachelard. When I first read The Poetics of Space, in the winter of 2018/9, I underlined this phrase

Everything in the life of a poet is germinal

Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, p90

I noted in the margin “Garner?” But perhaps it is best to read the whole sentence with that comment in mind:

When a dreamer can reconstruct the world from an object that he transforms magically through his care of it, we become convinced that everything in the life of a poet is germinal.

The little pot of salve that opens Joseph’s eye; the key that unlocks the Oldknow past-and-present for Tolly; seeding points for solitary boys to grow and understand that a house

…is not experienced from day to day only, on the thread of a narrative, or in the telling of our own story

Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, p27

I am struck by how much of Bachelard’s vision of house is about dream, and about how time and dream are interconnected (please that note Terri Windling, like Bachelard and Garner, cites Jung and the power of the hourse-as-symbol). Is Bachelard a source for Garner as he contemplates his own house? Is even where Alan Garner lives a place of germinating ideas? I suspect it is; or if not a place for germination, then for growing on, for allowing his visions of space and time and belonging to flourish.

In such daydreams as these the past is very old indeed. For they reach into the great domain of the undated past … No doubt, one one would have to sink into profound daydreaming to be moved by the vast museum of insignificant things…

Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, pp 160, 161

At one level, Green Knowe and Garner’s own house (the setting for Treacle Walker) tell Joseph and Tolly’s own story, but in doing so they open the boys’ eyes to how they fit into bigger stories. It is worth remembering another solitary boy who learns his place in a bigger story: Tom, who in Tom’s Midnight Garden exclaims

We’re both real: Then and Now. It’s as the angel said: Time No Longer.

Philippa Pearce: Tom’s Midnight Garden, p216

Time No Longer, especially in the context in which Tom realises how the past has come to affect his present, and how they flow into one another, echoes much of Garner: the time shifts in Red Shift and Thursbitch, the awkwardness of the flow of time at the start of Elidor, where the glove is trapped in the quartz, the movement of story between the Man and Colin, between Myth and Garner’s fiction in Boneland… Here is Alan Garner himself, sitting by his hearth, and if not explaining, then at least exploring the themes he returns to in Treacle Walker.

Garner is too hard-nosed, rooted perhaps, in the physics of his neighbours at Jodrell Bank across the field, to assert with Bachelard, that

time and place are impregnated with a sense of unreality. It is as though we sojourned in a limbo of being

Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, p78

but in the chimney, beside the hearth, on the threshold of the house at the centre of Treacle Walker, we watch three characters (or is it a Trinity?) meet, converse, cajole and set themselves to rights in a state where place is vitally important but in which time shifts through different modes. Whose present are we in? Who is alive? Who is asleep?

I feel we are nodding by the fire as we watch the story unfold…

These dreamlike episodes in so much of Garner’s writing are important indicators of his world view, and perhaps Thin Amren, the Bog Man whose dreaming is so key to the final dialogues in Treacle Walker, stands for the dreaming writer. I am reminded of Bachelard’s comments throughout Poetics, of how dreams allow the dreamer to see an older house, a house in another land. And as I noted above, he comments that in such daydreams the past is very old indeed.

Afterthought: We don’t need always to be quite so solemn about the chimney, however: there is also the jolly Carnival (and [in this clip freom about 1’30”] a touch of the transcendent) of Mary Poppins and the singing of Mr Waldo in Under Milk Wood [The first of these two is my favourite, sung by Steffan Rhodri and the residents of the Sailors Arms, undisciplined, rambling and earthy as befits Waldo several pints into his evening, but Tom Jones’ version from earlier has its own delights as he throws himself into it].