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Alan Garner
Magic Carpet/Harcourt Brace, 173 pages

Tristan Elwell
Alan Garner
Alan Garner is the award-winning author of The Moon of Gomrath, Elidor, The Owl Service, and most recently, Strandloper. He has lived most of his life near the Alderley Edge, which is the setting for much of his fantasy work.

Alan Garner Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen
SF Site Review: The Moon of Gomrath

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Magic Carpet continues its reissue of Alan Garner titles with Elidor, first published in 1965.

In the middle of an urban wasteland -- a vast city slum razed to make way for new construction -- three brothers and a sister discover a ruined church. Playing with a football they've found, they kick it too high, and it vanishes through one of the church's broken windows. One by one the children go off to look for the ball, and fail to return. At last Roland, the youngest, follows his siblings, only to find himself inexplicably transported to another world: Elidor, once a place of light and magic, now dark, sick, and dying.

Roland meets a warrior, Malebron, who tells him of the Darkness that has overtaken Elidor, and seized all but one of its four Castles and four Treasures. The Darkness holds the Treasures in the ancient mound that is its stronghold; it has also captured Roland's sister and brothers, each of whom was transported to Elidor as Roland was, and entered the mound in an attempt take the Treasures back. Roland is Malebron's last hope. If Roland can succeed in bringing both the Treasures and his siblings out of the mound, the children must guard the Treasures against the Darkness, according to the instructions of an ancient prophecy. As long as the Treasures are safe, Elidor won't completely die. But light will not return to Elidor until the second part of the prophecy is fulfilled, and the Song of Findhorn is heard across the land.

Roland does succeed. Pursued by the forces of Darkness, the children escape back into their own world, where they find a safe place to hide the Treasures. Time passes; almost, they forget their strange experience. But then it becomes clear that Elidor's Darkness is still hunting them. The final piece of the prophecy must be fulfilled, or all is lost. But who is Findhorn? Where is he? And how can he be made to sing?

Like all Garner's novels, Elidor is steeped in legend and folklore -- in this case, the story of Childe Roland, whose sister (Helen, as in the book) and two brothers vanish into Elfland while seeking a lost ball, and must be rescued from an enchanted mound. There are also echoes of Browning's poem Childe Roland, whose narrator's nightmare journey through a blighted land is strongly recalled in the struggle of Garner's Roland when he first crosses into Elidor. Passing these mythic elements through the lens of his imagination and weaving them together with a story in real time, Garner creates a tale in which the eclipse of Elidor subtly comments on the darkness of our own world, on the decay of cities and the indifference of people who draw their curtains rather than respond to a cry for help.

"'The darkness grew,' said Malebron. 'It is always there. We did not watch, and the power of night closed on Elidor. We had so much of ease that we did not mark the signs -- a crop blighted, a spring failed, a man killed. Then it was too late -- war, and siege, and betrayal, and the dying of the light.'"
Garner's vision of faery is wondrous and even beautiful, but always strange and often fearful. Ruined Elidor and the menacing stone circle where the Darkness lives are terrifying. The Treasures, radiant in Elidor, become ugly everyday objects in our world, but their power wreaks such havoc that the children have to bury them. Findhorn, the unicorn of the prophecy, is no big-eyed Disney beast, but a savage being that kills brutally to protect itself. The song that saves Elidor can spring only from destruction. This consistent sense of the harshness of myth, of the alienness of magic, is one of the most characteristic qualities of Garner's writing, and lends his reworking of legend great power and uniqueness.

Gorgeously written and thematically fascinating, Elidor is less successful as a piece of fiction. The beginning, in which the children pass into Elidor and escape from it, is enthralling, as is the ending, where the process is reversed and elements of Elidor pass into our world. The mid-section, however, in which the children try to figure out how best to hide the Treasures and (except for Roland) begin to forget what happened to them, is much less strong. The characters of the children -- again with the exception of Roland -- aren't well-differentiated, a thing that doesn't matter so much in the high fantasy sections of the book, where stark imagery and swift action carry the story, but diminishes interest once the children become the main focus of the narrative. With homemade transistor radios and birthday parties and the children's good-natured but oblivious parents, it all feels a bit too Enid Blytonish.

Elidor seems to end on a tragic note, with Elidor restored and the children left behind in the urban wasteland where the story began. On the other hand --

"'Remember, I have said the worlds are linked,' said Malebron. 'And what you have done here will be reflected in some way, at some time, in your world.'"
Will our world, too, find light again? Or is the book's final sentence as bleak as it seems? One doesn't really know. And with that very Garnerian ambiguity, the reader must be content.

Copyright © 1999 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Arm of the Stone, is currently available from Avon Eos. For an excerpt, visit her website.

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