Elidor – Alan Garner

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It’s cruel to expect children to save a world. Yet this is a relatively common motif in children’s fantasy literature, I think, and it’s kind of what’s going to happen with global warming. (Admittedly, today’s children will become adults before they can do anything about it, but it’s still a slightly poignant point.)

Published in 1965, in a particularly miserable vision of post-war Britain, Elidor is a story of four siblings who fall into a fantasy medieval wasteland where they are charged with protecting four treasures from nebulous baddies. There’s also a prophecy.

Most of the book deals with how the four children process their fantastic experience and hide their treasures. There’s real drama here, with the older brother reading up on mass hallucinations and the protagonist steadfastly remaining certain that they did briefly visit a magical land. That’s great, the interpersonal struggle between the children more than made up for the fact that I had no clue what was going on with the magical conflict. I figured that it was meant to be a metaphor for Britain’s loss of relevance after the Second World War.

The way the children interact with each other and their magical circumstances plays out like a darker retelling of an E. Nesbit novel, while the focus on English folklore and feeling of dread prefigures Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising. Critically underrated visionary Robin Jarvis rates Alan Garner as one his favourite authors, although I prefer Jarvis. The thing with Jarvis is his goofiness lead you to underestimate him, which makes it all the more rewarding when he does something brilliantly borderline taboo like find a way to make North Korea seem sympathetic. With Garner you get the feeling he’s always in control, with his terse sentences which are probably easy for prepubescent eyes to follow, but it doesn’t have such an impact on me.

Like a Robin Jarvis book, Elidor has about one atmospheric illustration per chapter. The illustrator here is Charles Keeping.

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They look good even in my blog. Just think about it, these kids were born around the same time as my parents. Try to imagine your mother or father being tasked with such a fantastical responsibility at such a young age. It’s not easy.

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I’d guess these pictures were either ink or lino cuts. I don’t know much about art. But what I do know is this: fantasy novels need pictures more than any kind, to distinguish themselves from the Tolkien clones. You ever need proof of this, go check out Paul Stewart and Christopher Riddle’s brilliant Edge Chronicles, Clive Barker’s Abarat or anything Robin Jarvis has ever done. I believe that when you make a writer draw their characters, their forced to consider their physical appearance in a way describing in words doesn’t.

Anyway, I think I’d have enjoyed this novel a lot more when I was primary school, and I plan on keeping it until such as a time as when I need to quickly supply a birthday present for a child intelligent enough to appreciate it.

 

 

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