Transcript for Alan Garner on Alan Turing

Jim Fleming:  Something a lot of people don't remember about Alan Turing is that he wasn't all brain. He was also a serious athlete, a runner. He nearly qualified for the Olympics in 1948. British writer and children's book author Alan Garner was also a serious runner at about the same time. Steve Paulson reached him at his home in rural England and asked how he and Turing me.

Alan Garner:  It must have been about 1950 and when I was that age, which would have been 16-17, I was a serious athlete. In those days people didn't go around clogging up the roads with jogging. So when I was out training for me to see somebody else running was a very strange experience. And so I fell into talking with a strange man who was quite in different shape from me. I was tall and thin and he was stocky with a great bow chest. It was strange to see him running because he didn't run. He was hammering the road. He was running into the ground, not over it.

He had a very extraordinary voice. It was an aristocratic English voice, high pitched, but he had the most remarkable sense of humor and I realized immediately once we got talking that we had quite a lot of common which is a sense of the absurd. That's how it grew. So made loose agreement to, you know, will you be out running on Tuesday. Okay, I'll see you then. And this went on for nearly three years until I went to do my military service.

Steve Paulson:  Was it mainly running when you would get together and talk with him?

Garner:  It was only running. And I realized that why he was doing it, if I'd had a tape recorder I would be a very wealthy man. He was thinking. He was using running to think.

Paulson:  And yet he clearly enjoyed talking with you. So what was it? I mean it would seem that you two might be very different. I mean you were a linguist. Of course, best known now as a novelist. He was a serious mathematician. What was it that drew you two together?

Garner:  I think it was the fact that we laughed a lot. He would make very good puns and we would play with words. We just got on, you know how you don't have to know some people very well or at all socially. It's just when you're together you start to spark and we reached heights of absurdity. But there was one point where we did have a long, serious conversation. It was because we discovered that we'd both been traumatized by the same event. That was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Paulson:  The Disney movie?

Garner:  Yep. He used to give seminars at Cambridge University on the psychology of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Disney version. Now for me at the age or two or three, I was taken to a cinema for the first time. Nobody said what it was and the lights went out and then when the queen turned into the witch I screamed and I screamed and I screamed. And my mother, instead of calming me down, called for an attendant and all I could remember was a bright light shining on me and strange smelling arms picking me up and taking me away from my mother. The exit for the cinema was at the foot of the screen. So I was being carried by a stranger pinioned in the dark towards the witch.

Paulson:  Away from your mother.

Garner:  Away from my mother. And I had nightmares about that until I was about 14 or 15. And he, Alan Turning, had this obsession with the connection between good and evil, beauty and ugliness, and this is where the apple came in because in folk lore it's a common thing that the magic apple that brings on the deathlike sleep is bright red on one side and bright green on the other and it depends on which side you bit into. He used to talk and talk and talk as we ran about how easy it was to be fooled. We discovered that we had both realized independently that quite often life and death are the same thing, beauty and evil are the same thing.

Paulson:  Why do you think that obsessed him so much, that question of the fine line between life and death?

Garner:  Well, he came from a high level middle class family. He knew that he didn't fit in. Now, of course, his homosexuality was not known about and the first time I can remember feeling absolutely helpless was when the disgusting way that he was spoken to by a puny minded judge who reveled in telling Alan Turing how worthless he was. But we never had that depth of conversation. He was just a very good friend who I intuitively felt was somebody particularly special.

Fleming:  Alan Garner is an English novelist best known for his children's fantasy novels.

Comments for this interview

Alan Garner on Alan Turing (Randy F., 06/17/2013 - 4:55pm)

What a delightful and insightful interview. Mr. Garner is given excellent questions by Steve Paulson and then, a rarity on many shows, ample time to answer. A personal portrait emerges of this legendary thinker, "Father of Computer Science" who is precariously close to losing a dimension and becoming a stone statue who is admired solely for his achievements. Mr. Garner introduces a warm, funny, engaging side to Alan Turing. This adds immeasurably to an appreciation of the man as a whole and adds depth of insight into his genius as Turing is described as using running as a means to unencumber his thoughts.