I was hiking in Radnor Lake and came across this little display that someone, or someones, had put together. A miniature Stonehenge, I thought, although Stonehenge is made up of single giant rocks arranged in a circle and probably built to make astronomical calculations and, by the way, isn’t really a henge according to the completely arbitrary definition of henges, but that’s another story.
It also reminded me of Avebury, which is a henge, and also a stone circle that completely encloses a British village which is cool and depending on your disposition a little unnerving. Or a lot unnerving if, like me, you were one of those kids warped by the British miniseries Children Of The Stones. In Britain it was only shown in 1977 and 1978, but on the States side of the pond then fledgling Nickelodeon picked it up as part of its series The Third Eye and ran at least three times between 1983 and 1984. Much of it was filmed in and around Avebury, and the stone circle—in fact the stones themselves—is so integral to the plot it’s practically a character in itself.
Even as an adult it’s a lot of fun for me to watch the series (it’s available on YouTube and with seven half hour episodes is shorter than the last Avengers movie), but not in a nostalgic hey-there’s-that-thing-from-my-childhood way. For a show mainly aimed at younger viewers Children Of The Stones is surprisingly dark and intelligent, which is why it holds up so well. There’s no sex and only a little very mild violence, and it’s hard to describe the plot without giving too much away. The teenage Matthew Brake comes to the village of Milbury with his father Adam, who’s an astrophysicist studying the stones. Each one has a powerful magnetic field. Together with a small group of locals who are also mostly new arrivals they realize something is going on. People within the stone circle change. They become happy all the time, which seems idyllic, but could just as easily be entrapment.
The series writers adapted it into a novel which I found in my school library at about the same time I was watching the show. The novel sticks to the story, but lacks a lot of what makes the broadcast so powerful: the haunting soundtrack and the excellent acting.
What made it so great is, of course, also why Children Of The Stones is fondly remembered—Stewart Lee talked to some of the producers and actors in a 2012 look back—but fortunately it’s never been remade. And it would be a terrible if it were.
Although it holds up well and even though most of the action was contemporary Children Of The Stones is very much a period piece. The period may be more recent than, say, Downton Abbey, but there’s still something about it that’s removed in time. In the first episode Mr. Hendricks, the local lord of the manner, offers up his “usual toast,” saying, “Old times and new.” Even at the time that sort of very English formality, not to mention lords of manors, was starting to disappear. The world was changing, and the changes were even reaching rural places. Trepidation about the vanishing past was captured in series like Upstairs, Downstairs, and the Kinks album The Village Green Preservation Society.
The mystery of Milbury is, of course, that it’s a place more or less stuck in time. It may not quite be William Blake’s Jerusalem, but clinging to the past in Milbury isn’t entirely futile because it’s caught in an endlessly repeating cosmic cycle.
Stone circles and other ancient monuments, and even modern monuments, served or serve various purposes, but the one purpose they all have in common is that they are reminders. The past may slip away from us but the stones of Stonehenge, or Avebury, or a pile of stones placed on a stump in the woods are all someone’s way of saying, I was here.