The Owl Service, by Alan Garner, was a really important book for me as a child, and my entry point into Welsh mythology. More than that, it was resonant, and I felt a kinship with the woman made of flowers and turned into an owl. That kinship would define much of my teenage Paganism. It summed up for me the way I found my own nature contradictory. I still do. I’m still working on understanding what it means to be owl and flowers.
This is a book I’ve read repeatedly over my life, but I re-visited it this time as part of my re-enchantment quest. I was surprised by what I found. I had never appreciated before how much female rage there is in this book.
There’s Alison, a young woman central to the plot, who also own the house central to the plot but is never allowed her own voice and opinions. She’s talked over, spoken fork, bossed around, her anger is always there beneath the surface, but there’s never room for it to come out as more than snapping. Her mother never appears in a scene with other characters, but her anger is a constant presence – the fear of not upsetting her. Because her anger is only allowed out as distress most of the time. There’s Nancy – domestic servant, profoundly wronged and the only woman who is able to express her rage, or at least some of it, but nowhere near as much as she wants to. And behind all of them is the mythic figure of Blodeuwedd, wronged, and wronged again, and then wronged some more.
In all the years I have spent thinking about Blodeuwedd and her story, I’ve never really thought about her anger before – just as I’ve not thought enough about mine. How much anger this story should bring up. She is made of flowers and given to a man – which is ghastly enough, and then when she wants control of her body and sexuality, the only way she can do that is by getting the man who owns her killed. And while he comes back to life and her lover is slain, she is punished with transformation into an owl. At no point, in the usual version, does she get to say who she is. And in Garner’s novel, she doesn’t speak at all – which is a powerful way of expressing this.
I’ve always felt there must have been another story that pre-dates this one. A story about Blodewedd, who is owls and flowers and that the story we have is the story of men and feudal thinking taming that myth and getting the dangerous woman under their control. It’s a story I’ve wondered about, and wanted to know and tell. Perhaps it will come to me.