I came late to magic. The stories of my childhood were mainly Greek myths (there was a Cyclops at the bottom of our garden) or the plots – with copious quotations – of Jane Austen’s novels, my mother, the storyteller, having a deep love for and knowledge of both. Later, with pretensions to intellectual sophistication, I had no time for kids’ stuff. So it was at a relatively advanced age that I discovered Lewis Carroll, George Macdonald, James Stephens, Masefield of The Midnight Folk, Tolkien, T. H. White. They burst upon my reading, fresh and new. Of the more modern books, the one that has gripped me most is Elidor by Alan Garner.
Garner has a long list of children’s books and plays to his credit – perhaps his best known being The Owl Service (1967), in which three adolescents are caught up in the re-enactment of an ancient tragedy, one of the saddest and most beautiful of The Mabinogion stories, and The Stone Book Quartet (1976), in which he returns to his own family and their Cheshire village at four different points in time.
Elidor, published in 1965, is the third book Garner wrote. The first two, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) and The Moon of Gomrath (1963), are both good reads and contain some striking magic – Garner has said of them that he wanted something thrilling to happen on every page – but it seems to me the sources are a bit too near the surface: dangerous creatures that live underground and come out at night to capture our heroes; a powerful talisman that must not be allowed to fall into the enemy’s hands; even the way in which magic penetrates the everyday world. These are all familiar and I find nothing special in the way Garner treats them. But in Elidor he made this territory his own.
Elidor is a story of parallel worlds. Not another, I hear you groan. Well, yes, but not just any other. It was published before
The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.Subscribe now or Sign in