Alan Garner is a titan of British literature, but it took two other lions of language and a slow day in the shop for me to finally crack open one of his tales. Why did I wait so long? Treacle Walker is exactly the kind of woodsy weirdness that calls to me from the gloam.
It was a snowy evening and dead quiet in the bookstore. Every task was complete, everything that could be tidied was tidy beyond tidy, and I had some time to peek about in the new fiction. Blurbs from Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman summoned me over to Treacle Walker– if they had rapturous things to say, then surely it should be a treat!
Reader, it was! It was a treat as sticky and confounding as treacle; the entire (very short) piece is written in dialect.
Johnny lives alone somewhere in the fields and swamps of England. He tells time by marking when the train goes by, and he spends his time collecting egg shells and reading comics. His days mush together into a foggy soup until he meets the titular Treacle Walker…then his days get even weirder.
Treacle Walker is a Rag and Bone man, and if Johnny trades him some treasures, he will give glorious goods in return. These goods can bring winter in a moment, can raise ancient men from the bogs, can bring cartoons to life, and can maybe fix Johnny’s bum eye. Johnny wears an eye patch over his good eye to train his lazy eye, but Treacle Man’s gifts will make mischief instead of making better.
I do not know how much of this story relies on folk tales that exist. I do not know how much of this was created whole-cloth by Alan Garner. Honestly, I don’t want to know. I want to sink into the swampy mire and just…be.