14 July 1921|
Brighton, Sussex, England
|Died||2 June 1996
Islington, London, England
|Genre||Children's historical novels, literary adaptation of classical myth and legend|
|Notable works||The God Beneath the Sea|
|Notable awards||Guardian Prize
Leon Garfield FRSL (14 July 1921 – 2 June 1996) was a British writer of fiction. He is best known for children's historical novels, though he also wrote for adults. He wrote more than thirty books and scripted Shakespeare: The Animated Tales for television.
Garfield attended Brighton Grammar School (1932-1938) and went on to study art at Regent Street Polytechnic, but his studies were interrupted first by lack of funds for fees, then by the outbreak of World War II. He married Lena Leah Davies in April, 1941, at Golders Green Synagogue but they separated after only a few months. For his service in the war he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. While posted in Belgium he met Vivien Alcock, then an ambulance driver, who would go on to become his second wife (in 1948) and a well-known children's author. She would also greatly influence Garfield's writing, giving him suggestions for his writing, including the original idea for Smith. After the war Garfield worked as a biochemical laboratory technician at the Whittington Hospital in Islington, writing in his spare time until the 1960s, when he was successful enough to write full-time. In 1964, the couple adopted a baby girl, called Jane after Jane Austen, a favourite writer of both parents.
Garfield wrote his first book, the pirate novel Jack Holborn, for adult readers but a Constable & Co. editor saw its potential as a children's novel and persuaded him to adapt it for a younger audience. In that form it was published by Constable in 1964. His second book, Devil-in-the-Fog (1966), won the first annual Guardian Prize and was serialised for television, as were several later works (below). Devil was the first of several historical adventure novels, typically set late in the eighteenth century and featuring a character of humble origins (in this case a boy from a family of traveling actors) pushed into the midst of a threatening intrigue. Another was Smith (1967), with the eponymous hero a young pickpocket accepted into a wealthy household; it won the Phoenix Award in 1987. Yet another was Black Jack (1968), in which a young apprentice is forced by accident and his conscience to accompany a murderous criminal.
In 1970, Garfield's work started to move in new directions with The God Beneath the Sea, a re-telling of numerous Greek myths in one narrative, written by Garfield and Edward Blishen and illustrated by Charles Keeping. It won the annual Carnegie Medal for British children's books. Garfield, Blishen, and Keeping collaborated again on a sequel, The Golden Shadow (1973). The Drummer Boy (1970) was another adventure story, but concerned more with a central moral problem, and apparently aimed at somewhat older readers, a trend continued in The Prisoners of September (1975) republished in 1989 by Lions Tracks, under the title Revolution!, The Pleasure Garden (1976) and The Confidence Man (1978). The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris (1972) was a black comedy in which two boys decide to test the plausibility of Romulus and Remus using one of the boys' baby sister. Most notable at the time was a series of linked long short stories about apprentices, published separately between 1976 and 1978, and then as a collection, The Apprentices. The more adult themed books of the mid-1970s met with a mixed reception and Garfield returned to the model of his earlier books with John Diamond, which won a Whitbread Award in 1980, and The December Rose (1986). In 1980 he also wrote an ending for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished at the 1870 death of Dickens, an author who had been a major influence on Garfield's own style.
Themes, influences, style
Garfield's novels for children all have a historical setting. In the early novels this is mostly the late eighteenth century, from John Diamond on, it is the nineteenth century. But they are not novels about historical events, which are rarely depicted, or social conditions, which provide only the starting point for the personal stories of the characters. In the few novels where Garfield handles actual events, he writes from the limited and subjective viewpoint of his characters.
The historical books owe much to Dickens and to Stevenson. The latter's Treasure Island clearly provided a model for Jack Holborn, with its shifting alliances of manipulative characters in pursuit of a treasure; and Garfield also acknowledges the brothers in Stevenson's The Master of Ballantrae as an inspiration for the book. Beyond these specific debts, Garfield shares Stevenson's fondness for binding a relatively conservative hero to a more forceful personality outside of conventional morality.[a] Another recurring plot form (most evident in Smith and The December Rose), in which an outcast is integrated into a supporting household, owes more to Dickens. Garfield also shares with Dickens a strong preference for an urban setting, generally London.
Garfield's father had broken contact with him when he divorced his Jewish wife; and Garfield scholar Roni Natov sees this difficult relationship as a major influence on his work, giving particular significance to the fathers and father figures in the novels. This view is partly supported by Garfield's own commentary.
Film and television
Many of Garfield's books have been adapted for film or television: Devil-in-the-Fog was televised in 1968; Smith in 1970; The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris was made into a 6-part BBC serial in 1979; Black Jack was made into a feature film by Ken Loach in the same year; John Diamond was made into a BBC television series in 1981; Jack Holborn was made into the German Christmas mini-series Jack Holborn by ZDF in 1982; The Ghost Downstairs was televised in 1982; "Mr Corbett's Ghost" was made into a television film with Paul Scofield and John Huston in 1987. In addition Garfield himself wrote the script for the 1986 television serial, The December Rose, afterwards adapting it as a novel, and for Shakespeare: The Animated Tales (1992 and 1994), a well regarded Russian animation of Shakespeare, commissioned by the Welsh Channel Four, S4C; for this he was awarded the 1995 Sam Wanamaker Award.
Devil-in-the-Fog (1966) won the inaugural, 1967 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. The newspaper-sponsored Prize is judged by a panel of children's writers and it annually recognises one new British children's novel by an author who has not won it.
The God Beneath the Sea (1970) won the annual Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book by a British subject that has not previously won the prize.[b] From 1967 to 1970 Garfield was also a Commended runner up for the Carnegie Medal three times, for Smith, Black Jack, and Drummer Boy, the latter in competition with his Medal-winning work.[c]
Smith won the 1987 Phoenix Award (from the mythical phoenix, which is reborn from its ashes) from the Children's Literature Association as the best English-language children's book that did not win a major award when originally published.
- For example, in the pirate stories Jack Holborn and Black Jack on Garfield's part. Consider Stevenson's supporting characters Alan Breck Stewart in Kidnapped and Long John Silver in Treasure Island.
- The Carnegie Medal had been established as a once-in-a-lifetime award in 1936 and the restriction was retained for a few decades before it became a true "year's best" award for British children's books. The Carnegie Medal for 1966 publications was "withheld as no book considered suitable"; a new distinction, Highly Commended books, was introduced and conferred upon The Bayeux Tapestry: The Story of the Norman Conquest, 1066 by Norman Denny and Josephine Filmer-Sankey.CCSU As nonfiction that work was ineligible for the Guardian Prize, the new once-in-a-lifetime award that Garfield won.
- Today there are usually eight books on the Carnegie shortlist. According to CCSU, there were about 160 commendations of two kinds in 49 years from 1954 to 2002, including four for 1967 (one highly commended), three 1968, and three 1970.
- Natov, 5.
- Carpenter and Prichard, 196-97.
- "Guardian children's fiction prize relaunched: Entry details and list of past winners". guardian.co.uk 12 March 2001. Retrieved 2012-08-06.
- "Phoenix Award Brochure 2012". Children's Literature Association. Retrieved 2012-12-14.
See also the current homepage "Phoenix Award".
- (Carnegie Winner 1970). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-08-06.
- Natov, 105.
- Townsend, 202; Natov, 132.
- Natov, 13-14.
- Natov 133.
- Copson. Quote: "His novels … owe much to the classic adventure story as epitomized by Robert Louis Stevenson."
- Townsend, 214; Natov, 6, 17.
- Natov, 21, on Smith and Oliver Twist.
- Natov, passim.
- Natov, 2.
- "The Devil in the Fog (1968– )". Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
- "Smith (1970– )". IMDb.
- "The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris (1979– )". IMDB.
- "John Diamond (1981)". IMDb.
- "The Ghost Downstairs (1982)". IMDb.
- "Mister Corbett's Ghost (1987)". IMDb.
- Natov, 15.
- "The December Rose (1986– )". IMDb.
- "Carnegie Medal Award". 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Retrieved 2012-08-10.
- (past_winners_complete_list.pdf). Costa Book Awards. Retrieved 2012-12-14.
- H. Carpenter and M. Prichard, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature (Oxford: OUP, 1984); official website
- B. Copson, "Garfield, Leon (1921-1996)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP), September 2004; online edition January 2007
- R. Natov, Leon Garfield (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994)
- J. R. Townsend, Written for Children: An Outline of English-language Children's Literature (London: Penguin, ed. 3, 1987); first edition 1965
- Feay, Suzi (Jun–Jul 2014). "On re-reading Leon Garfield". The London Magazine: 5–10.
- Leon Garfield at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- The mystery of Edwin Drood in libraries (WorldCat catalog) —immediately, the first edition of Garfield's version
- Shakespeare Stories in libraries (WorldCat catalog) —immediately, the first edition
- Shakespeare Stories II in libraries (WorldCat catalog) —immediately, a record for the first edition