IF YOU DRIVE THROUGH the West Country of England, you cannot avoid the impression that the whole population of aboriginal Britain must have spent their lives trundling dirt and sledding giant stones. The countryside is one of the most plastically manipulated in the world, with mounds, procession grounds, rings and stone monuments wherever one looks.
The crown of this ancient remodeling is the great stone circle of Stonehenge. It stands on a small sculptured turf, the object of speculation and spoliation since the Middle Ages. In March 1978, to prevent vandalism, it was fenced off and public access restricted. This closing, perhaps defensible, aroused much protest. Something sacred was lost, went the complaint.
This feeling of loss and production is the sensory point of novelist John Fowles' text and is the impetus behind The Enigma of Stonehenge. For Fowles, Stonehenge exists on two levels -- not only that of the physical site, but also that of the "other Stonehenge," the image of Stonehenge in life and the arts. This book is intended to create a "layman's picture of how both Stonehenges arose: the one in the stone, the one in the mind."
Fowles first tells us the expected facts with conversational ease (but with some very odd cultural comparisons and much irrelevant material). Stonehenge arose around 2800 B.C., but it was not like the present site. It was rebuilt several times, but by 2000 B.C. was much like the monument of today. Who built it? Late Neolithic men started it; Early Bronze Age men finished it. Who were they? Peoples, now lost, who lived long before the advent of Celts, Romans, Saxons and others we think of as British. What was Stonehenge? A ceremonial place and to some extent a gigantic stone calendar where sights could be taken for the sun and moon, and perhaps eclipses could be predicted. This last point is controversial.
What Fowles calls the "other Stonehenge" is the emotional power that the stone circle has manifested in the British imagination. This is the Stonehenge that was long taken to be a Druidic temple where secret rites were practiced; the Stonehenge of the curious organic stones in the watercolors of Constable and Turner; the mystically perfected monument in William Blake's Jerusalem. For Fowles, this Stonehenge, irrational, poetically valid though wrong, lies between science and lunacy. It is not a minor thread in the history of ideas, but a living symbol that is now in danger.
This poetic Stonehenge is the more important one to Fowles, but he may not convince an American reader. Stonehenge has never been a prime poetic or religious symbol in Western culture. Even in England, until the occultists seized upon the ruins, it has been on the back burner of enthusiasm. It is also difficult to share Fowles' dismay at the fencing in the site. Ignoring the question of preservation, almost certainly when Stonehenge was functioning and holy, it would have been taboo, and unwanted "tourists" would have been excluded.
Brukoff, the photographer, has, in a way, an easier task than Fowles, and he carries it off better. The older official photographs of Stonehenge were good enough as records, but they made the ruins look like the Acropolis. Brukoff, on the other hand, has concentrated on the emotional impact of the stones. With some of his photographs it is easy to see why ancient texts speak of the stones as dancing, for some of the uprights seem frozen in a hieratic stopped-leap. In other pictures the stones loom in vague humanoid shapes, male and female, all with a sense of mystery.
The photographs are enhanced by exceptionally good printing. (They are reproduced with a 175-line screen, which is much finer than is ordinarily used in books, and what look like black-and-white photographs are revealed, under the lens, to be two-color work.) Textures, irregularities, lichens, and shadowings all emerge in what are among the best photographic simulations of stone that I have seen. The color photographs, on the other hand, are lurid and much less successful.
Fowles and Brukoff's Stonehenge may not be everyone's, for the "other Stonehenge" is a little whimsical and muddled. But Fowles writes vividly, the book is stimulating, and the photographs are worth having for their own sake, regardless of the great temple in Wiltshire.