In The Aimer Gate, the chronological third volume in the quartet that began with The Stone Book (p. 65, J-21), Joseph--who chose the smith's trade in Granny Reardon--is now reduced to making horseshoes for World War I and concerned that there might be nothing for his son Robert, still a boy, to "get aback of." At present Robert's job is to transport legless Faddock Allman, a Boer War veteran, to the field, and to fetch the stones Allman breaks for road flints. On this day Robert's Uncle Charlie, a soldier home on leave, is also in the fields, helping to scythe the corn hill and then, with his army rifle, shooting the rabbits so uncovered. In Tom Fobble's Day, where we learn that Charlie was killed in his war, we follow Joseph's grandson William through a day and an evening of sledding with Stewart Allman under World War II bombers and spotlights and anti-aircraft fire. It is Joseph's last day at the forge and, it turns out, his last day of life. ("I really do not know," he sighs early on, considering what times have come to.) Through both these short, beautifully crafted stories, which have even less conventional plot structure than the first two, the keynotes of time, change, timelessness, and generations first struck in The Stone Book are developed by means of parallels, bonds, and variations among the books themselves. In The Aimer Gate, Faddock Allman's delight in "the best stone" (readers will remember that it is from the old Allman house) both recalls and contrasts with old Robert's in the previous volume; and Robert's climb to the church clock-tower, where he finds old Robert's sign and his own name on the perfectly finished capstone, echoes and extends Mary's heady steeple-top ride in the first book. In Tom Fobble's Day old Robert's pipe ends up with Joseph's "prentice piece" forge key and his wedding horseshoes; and Joseph makes young William a sled of old William's loom (he was Mary's technologically bypassed uncle in the first book) and iron from the forge. On the sled, in the concluding sentence, "through hand and eye, block, forge and loom to the hill and all that he owned, he sledged sledged sledged for the black and glittering night and the sky flying on fire and the expectation of snow." More could be said, but needn't be here. Garner says it in his layered images, in regional speech that is somehow both direct and glancing, and in moments like the final passage, which contain the whole. Michael Foreman's illustrations for all four books are fine complements, with a slant of their own that points up the experience but does not obtrude.
Though she can't read, Mary wants a book--the other girls press flowers in theirs--and in the end her father, a stonemason who reads rocks instead of books, makes her one of stone. "It's better than a book you can open. A book has only one story," says Father. "And I'll guarantee Lizzie Allman and Annie Leah haven't them flowers pressed in their books." But before she asks for the book, Father has spun her around astride the golden cockerel that tops the church steeple he's working on. "You'll remember this day, my girl, for the rest of your life," he says. "I already have," says Mary, no less engaging a child for the heights and depths to which Garner exposes her. And before she gets her book, Father takes her inside the hill, sending her ahead along underground passages where he no longer fits, to a secret place with footprints all about her and "daubing" on the wall: Father's mason sign on a shaggy bull and a hand her size outlined in white. "Once you've seen it, you're changed for the rest of your days." In Cranny Reardun, the second of four illuminated moments in a family history, the emphasis shifts from the awesomely elemental to the social-historical, and young Joseph's choice of smithing over his Grandfather's stonecutting trade is in tune with the times. So is that instance of stunning injustice, the Allman's house being torn down--and the family evicted--to make the Rector's wife a garden wall. With good stone running scarce and the call going to brick, Grandfather begins the day of Joseph's decision hilariously mocking a temperance hymn; he ends it, full of beer and Bible verse, jubilant over Joseph's move and his own acquisition of some Allman stone for his proudly crafted wall. Joseph is a "granny reardun" because his mother, the Mary we thought we knew in The Stone Book, can't afford to raise him herself. There's no hint of how that experience affected her or what became of the little girl who wanted "to live in a grand house, and look after every kind of beautiful thing you can think of--old things, brass"; with respect and integrity Garner sticks to the bone of his story. In similar spirit he informs his dialogue with the old regional (Cheshire) speech, without condescending to his characters or readers. "Organic" is an unavoidable word in describing both stories' structure, vision, and imagery. Simple, profound, and splendidly clear, they will leave children as exhilarated as Joseph is when the personal significance of the smith-crafted weathercock, clock, bell and steeple bursts through: "He knew something he didn't know.