Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

A common criticism of Elidor is that, while the setting and plot are absorbing, the characters are shallow, stereotypical, and uninteresting. Although there is little depth of characterization, the children do have certain individual traits. In addition, Garner makes the adult characters somewhat different from the stock figures of fantasy.

Of the four Watson children, Roland, the youngest, is the most fully realized, and much of the story is seen through his eyes. While his siblings criticize him for being overwrought and too imaginative, he is the best-equipped for the encounters with Elidor. He has the mental power to escape the stone circle and open the mound in Elidor, and is able to release his sister and brothers from the evil spell. Back home, when the men of Elidor are about to break through to the children's world, Roland faces the truth, while the other children continue to avoid it. Imagination, sensitivity, and concentration are Roland's strengths, and he uses them, not always wisely and well, but certainly in good faith.

The other children are less fully drawn. But it is clear that Nicholas is the most practical one. He is reluctant to admit the full meaning of their experiences and refuses to recognize that Elidor will continue to reach into their lives so long as they protect the treasures. David, the scientist, looks for rational explanations for everything, including the weird occurrences in their own home and neighborhood. Helen is less aggressive in her denials, but provides Roland with little help. However, she demonstrates sensitivity and tenderness, and is courageous in the last scene. Perfectly ordinary children in their own world, the Watson children are mythical figures to Elidor. There, as in their own world, they must take responsibility and act; adults provide little protection, advice, or aid.

Unlike the kindly wizards of much fantasy fiction, Malebron of Elidor is a more ambiguous figure. He protects and encourages the children to a degree, but it is clear from the beginning that he is interested only in saving his land. He is on the side of "good" or "light," so, while they are in Elidor, the children's interests coincide with his. However, he has lured them into Elidor in the first place, knowing that he can hide the treasures with them. Later he calls them again, despite the great danger, when it is time to return the treasures. He is clearly capable of sacrificing the children to save Elidor.

Mr. and Mrs. Watson are no help to their children. It is not that they are bad or abusive parents, but their thinking is so shallow that they cannot possibly offer aid and advice in a supernatural emergency. Their obtuseness is laughable, and the triviality of their lives stands in sharp contrast to the life and death struggle in Elidor. The Watson parents are stereotypes and their way of life is satirized effectively.

Findhorn's identity is a mystery until the last few chapters, when he turns out to be a fierce, wild unicorn, both beautiful and terrible, perhaps a symbol of the best of Elidor. Some readers note that Findhorn substitutes for Roland, taking over his...

(The entire section is 1289 words.)