The Plot (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)
Nicholas, David, Helen, and Roland are exploring an unfamiliar part of Manchester, England, when they discover a derelict church. Retrieving a ball lost during a game, the children go into the building, one by one, until only Roland is left outside. Frightened by music that the other children have not heard and by glimpses of a lame fiddler whom they did not see, he retreats into the church. He meets the fiddler, who, through the power of his music, transports them to another world.
Roland finds himself on a barren seashore close to a castle, which proves to be empty, although he hears the sound of a man singing. The fiddler leads him away from the castle, through desolate countryside that is devoid of living things and any evidence of human presence. They reach a mound, topped by a stone circle, where Roland finally confronts the musician.
The fiddler is Malebron, the ruler of Elidor, a land that gradually is being swamped by the powers of Darkness. Of the four castles of Elidor, only Gorias, visible in the distance, remains in the Light. Malebron is fighting to preserve it and to save the land. He has brought the children into Elidor to rescue its Treasures from the Mound of Vandwy. Roland’s brothers and sister already have entered the mound but did not emerge. Roland must save the Treasures and his siblings, a task in which he succeeds.
Malebron tells the children that he is following a book of ancient prophecies that will...
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Because Elidor is a novel of parallel worlds, setting is a crucial element in its structure. One afternoon, the four Watson children, tired of waiting at the Manchester station for their suburban train, decide to take a walk, choosing their destination at random. A street finder dial selects Thursday Street, which turns out to be an area of old Victorian buildings—some bomb damaged, some just dilapidated—which are being torn down. At the center of this desolate neighborhood stands an old church scheduled for demolition. As they enter the church one by one, the children are transported, through the intervention of a mysterious fiddler, to the land of Elidor.
Elidor is a desolate, nearly ruined medieval kingdom, a parallel world which can be entered through "thin places" in the ordinary world. The thin places are borderline areas like slums, boundary lands, and demolition sites. While it coexists with our world, it is normally unseen—-just as our world is mysterious and unseen to it. Movement between the worlds is not easy, but the children of Manchester enter Elidor briefly, and men of Elidor pass through to Manchester, by getting a "fix" on a mind or on a tone. Although the languages of the two worlds are apparently the same, the cultures are different. Magic and the power of the mind are more influential in Elidor, while Manchester is ruled by technology and the laws of physics.
Although the land of Elidor is the major influence...
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Garner uses a concentrated, poetic style, moving deftly from scene to scene and world to world. The dialogue is terse, with few explanations; and sometimes the reader must draw inferences to fill in the gaps. Garner effectively uses concrete words to emphasize dualities in his story, especially light and shadow.
Much of the novel's power lies in the myths which Garner integrates into the story. The epigraph, "Childe Rowland to the Dark Tower came—," suggests the Scottish ballad, in which Childe Rowland, guided by Merlin, enters elfland to rescue his older sister, Burd Ellen, who has been abducted by fairies. Roland Watson, in our story, enters Elidor to rescue his sister Helen and his brothers. The Mound of Vandwy, in which they are imprisoned, is analogous to the Dark Tower of Childe Rowland.
The four treasures of Elidor and the names of the four castles come from Celtic mythology. According to these myths, the Tuatha De Danaan came to Ireland from the cities of Falias, Findias, Murias, and Gorias, and from the islands in the sea. With them they brought four treasures: the spear of Lug, the cauldron of Dagda, the sword of Nuada, and the stone of Fal. These are the same magical treasures that the children find in the mound and take home with them, transformed into a length of iron railing, a cracked cup, two pieces of lath nailed together, and a keystone from the church. The novel's title comes from the medieval fairy story, "Elidor and the...
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When Elidor was first published, Library Journal suggested it for grades five through seven, but it is not always easy to say what age group Garner's novels are written for. Some critics suggest that he writes for adults, but Garner himself has stated that his early books were written with young people of ages ten to eighteen in mind. Garner has stated that he attempts to create works with several layers of meaning so that they can be read and enjoyed by young people of various ages.
When Elidor was published, some thought it might be "too terrifying" for young people. Although the novel has some frightening scenes, it does not seem terrifying by today's standards. Readers may need to discuss the implications of the downbeat ending, which some find depressing.
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Topics for Discussion
1. Roland is the youngest and weakest of the Watsons, but he seems to succeed in Elidor while his brothers and sisters do not. Why do you think this is so? What kind of power does he have in Elidor? Does he have the same power at home? Why or why not?
2. How do people get into and out of Elidor? Malebron says that the fall of Elidor would have an effect on the children's own world. What do you suppose would happen in the ordinary world if Elidor fell to the forces of darkness?
3. Is this just a fantasy novel, or does it deal with real problems that young people have? What real-world dissatisfactions, frustrations, and problems do the children encounter? To what extent does their experience help them deal with these problems?
4. How do you feel about Malebron when you first meet him in the book? Is he a likable character? To what extent do you trust him? Does your attitude toward him change as the story moves along? Why?
5. Nicholas and Roland disagree over what should be done about Elidor. Who do you think is right? Or is there some other solution that no one has thought of? Do you think it was a good idea for the children to hide the treasures and try to help Elidor? Why?
6. What difficulties do the Watson children have with adults? Why? Do you think Garner has accurately shown what adults seem like to young people, or do you think he has exaggerated? Which scenes seem true to life, and which seem...
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Elidor is a fantasy world, but it is based on prehistoric and medieval sites that Garner is acquainted with. Read about dolmens, stone circles, or mounds built by prehistoric people. You might look up pictures and accounts of sites like Stonehenge and Avebury. Present a report to the class on one of these terms or sites.
2. Draw a chart comparing this novel with one of the Narnia books or with another fantasy novel about main characters moving between our ordinary world and another, magical world. Think about characters, places, strange creatures, and final outcomes.
3. Is Findhorn a typical unicorn? Read about unicorn stories in folklore. Write or report on one. Or compare the unicorn as you have imagined it with Findhorn as Garner has portrayed him.
4. Garner hasn't provided us with a map of Elidor. From the information given in the novel, draw a map of Elidor. Remember the four castles, the forest, the ring of stones, and the mound, but feel free to add any features you wish.
5. Garner doesn't tell us much about the events in Elidor either. We only know that a battle between good and evil is going on, and that the light has gone out of three of the cities. Write a story about something that has happened in Elidor before the children arrive. Or write a story about an event that occurs in Elidor during the year in which the children have the treasures.
6. We see all the events in the novel from the point...
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For Further Reference
Chambers, Aidan. "An Interview with Alan Garner." Signal 27 (September 1978): 119-137. Reprinted in The Signal Approach to Children's Books, edited by Nancy Chambers. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1980. A conversation about point of view, language, critics, and writing for children.
Eyre, Frank. British Children's Books in the Twentieth Century. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1971. Eyre discusses Garner in the context of other British writers of books for young people.
Finlayson, Iain. "Myths and Passages." Books and Bookmen (November 1977): 74-79. An interview with Garner, emphasizing his use of myth and archetype.
Garner, Alan. "A Bit More Practice." Times Literary Supplement (June 6, 1968). Garner tells about his writing practices, including the research he does for each novel.
"The Death of Myth." New Statesman (November 6, 1970). In a review, Garner discusses the uses of myth in literature and argues that myth should be restored to its original vigor.
Gillies, Carolyn. "Possession and Structure in the Novels of Alan Gamer." Children's Literature in Education 18 (Fall 1975): 107-117. Gillies emphasizes the importance of the concept of possession (in the twin senses of "owning" and "being possessed") and the function of trios of characters in Garner's novels. Elidor's important trio includes Roland, Helen, and Malebron.
Jones, Cornelia, and...
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