Afternoon of the Elves Critical Essays

Janet Taylor Lisle


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Afternoon of the Elves has significant ties to the genre of enchanted realism. Typically, a novel written in this genre portrays a magical person or object that enters the life of a contemporary child in an otherwise realistic and ordinary setting. By presenting magical experiences in this way, authors can make magic seem immediate and credible to young readers. Janet Taylor Lisle, however, chooses to emphasize the uncertain, unprovable, and elusive qualities of magic. Hilary longs to see the elves in person and to have her faith in magic confirmed by observation, but her most careful and persistent attention is constantly frustrated: “She was never sure what she had seen. It was maddening.”

Only once in the novel does the author describe an event that Hilary unequivocally accepts as having a magical provenance. In this scene, a bicycle wheel that serves as an elfin Ferris wheel seems to turn around of its own accord, as if by magic. Readers are aware, however, that Hilary is deeply susceptible to Sara-Kate’s hypnotic personality, that this perception may have been induced by her friend’s powers of suggestion. Although the elves remain hidden and unproven throughout the story, the powerful allure of magical possibilities is reinforced. The reader sees how Hilary’s interest in the elves leads her to a more reflective, curious, and analytical pattern of thought, how it motivates a keener observation of the natural world, and how it adds a...

(The entire section is 581 words.)