Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Elidor - Alan Garner

I have avoided reading anything written by Alan Garner ever since I read The Owl Service as a child - it scared me silly. However, various references to his work have encouraged me to try again, and I resolved to read whatever the library would yield up - but only in daylight hours !

So far I've only managed to borrow Elidor, which I found somewhat unsatisfying. It is very short, and I felt cheated by the ending which seemed unresolved. I also felt it was a book in which little happens, at least compared to my recollection of The Owl Service. Elidor features four children, 3 brothers and a sister, of whom only Roland is clearly realised, whilst Helen seems little more than a cypher and almost literally a cup bearer. The book opens with the four children visiting the city of Manchester (England) on the day before they move house. At Roland's instigation they go in search of Thursday Street and once there, they are lured, one after the other, into an abandoned church by a mysterious fiddle-player. Roland in the last of the four children to enter, and he finds himself transported to the dying land of Elidor. Once he is there he manages, after a while, to locate his siblings and he enables them to recover the other three Treasures of Elidor, Malebron (the fiddle-player) having already given Roland the spear with a head like flame. Each child recovers a different Treasure: David finds a jewelled sword with a blade like ice, Nicholas recovers a golden stone and Helen finds a cauldron of light. The children are asked by Malebron to guard the Treasures so that the light of Elidor will not die.

The day after they visit Elidor, the children and their parents move house, where they find that guarding the Treasures brings its own trouble as they affect anything electrical (causing an electric razor to spring into action, and the washing to work, whilst the TV and radio lose their signal). The children bury the Treasures deep in their father's flower bed, but they still generate a field of something like static electricity which birds fly around to avoid. None of the children except Roland wants to think much about either Elidor or the Treasures; Roland was the strongest of the four of them when they were in Elidor and he seems to have a special link to it. However, although a year passes more or less peacefully, there are men in Elidor searching for the Treasures, and then a unicorn named Findhorn breaks through into this world. Shortly after that Roland accidentally gives two of the men in Elidor a way to break through into this world also, and they hunt Findhorn. They corner him, in spite of the efforts of Roland and the others, and attack him. As he is dying he sings and in doing so, opens a way through to Elidor and the children return the Treasures.

This book seems to require a sequel, but so far as I know, there isn't one, and the ending left me feeling that the story had not been resolved in a satisfying way. However, Elidor was not scary and I may yet read it again.

Sidenote for those who expressed an interest: I have finished (and today emailed) my piece on the Vale of White Horse for The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia that will be published by Routledge next year. Next week I will start work on researching an article on wizards for an American Casebook. If anyone has a copy of The Fall of the Kings by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, which they'd be willing to lend to me, I'd be really grateful - I can't get hold of a library copy over here. I would be willing to refund the cost of mailing it to England.


Anonymous said...

Hi Michele. I happened upon your blog through idle Googling on the upcoming Tolkien Encyclopedia -- I'm also a contributor to that ambitious work, and I have been curious to discover some of my fellow contributors.

Anyway, more to the point -- I've been a big Alan Garner fan since I was a kid -- he's practically unknown today, isn't he? At least, here in the States.

The Owl Service, as you discovered yourself, is excellent. I would agree that Elidor isn't as good. But you must, must, must read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen — I think it's clearly his best work! Also, Red Shift is excellent. And The Moon of Gomrath is a solid sequel to Weirdstone.

And have you ever read any Ursula K. Le Guin?

Cheers, Jason
(j dot fisher at earthlink dot net)

Michele said...

Hi Jason !

First things first - which entry/entries have you done for the Routledge Encyclopaedia ?

I don't think Garner's unknown here - not if the number of copies of his books that are currently out on loan in Oxfordshire are anything to go by ! That's why I was only able to grab Elidor on Saturday... Today I borrowed a couple more Diana Wynne Jones in lieu of any more Garner (it's turned into a DWJ month !)

And yes, I've read lots of Le Guin - she's one of the authors who'll be featured in my pending book on fantasy heroines. I've read all the Earthsea books, and I've also read some of her essays (I've got The Language of the Night on my shelves and a couple of other books whose titles I can't immediately recall owing to tiredness...)

Feel free to email me (scolere at gmail dot com) to discuss these authors further (or the Tolkien Encyclopaedia project).

Anonymous said...

Hi Michele

Interested to see you're writing on the Vale of the White Horse. As you're also on a DWJ kick, I wonder whether you've read her essay on Tolkien, which actually begins by discussing his use the Thames Valley?

"Here there are stuffy willow-choked flats, Wychwood, rivers like the Windrush and the Evenlode, the Rollright Stones, the longbarrow called Wayland’s Smithy, ploughland and orchards round Didcot, the Seven Barrows, Thames water meadows, and the austere landscape of the chalk downs. And he used them all: there is even a real place called Buckland"

She also sees an echo of the Ridgeway in the road followed by Frodo & Co from the Shire to Rivendell.


Michele said...

Charlie, I haven't read it - where will I find this article, please ? I've not read any of DWJ's criticism, as yet - having been swept away by Alan Garner in the meantime, which means I suddenly abandoned DWJ in his favour (oh faithless one !)

Talking of Garner, I'm saving reading your article on Red Shift until I've actually read the latter (I'm still waiting to get hold of a copy, unfortunately)...