Book review

Elidor by Alan Garner (1965)

This is a classic. The power of it lies in the awful build-up of suspense.

Manchester in 1965 is a place of bombsites and slum clearance programmes. Mooching around with a football one cold afternoon, the four Watson children roam inside a Victorian red-brick church which is about to be demolished. They can't find their ball, which was carelessly kicked over the wall, and one by one the children disappear as they go to look for it. When only Roland is left, he finds that the heavy iron-handled door which the mysterious lame fiddler urges him to open, is a portal into the troubled land of Elidor.

Elidor is a wild and empty kingdom on the point of being devoured by the forces of evil. Of four castles in the landscape, three have been lost to evil and the fourth is failing. The lame fiddler of Manchester is the lame King Malebron of Elidor and he charges Roland to help him to regain the three treasures which are held in the Mound of Vandwy. Roland is able to do this by visualizing a door in the mound and walking in. Inside he is reunited with his brothers and sister who had, each in turn, tried to help Malebron but failed. They locate the three treasures: a cauldron, a sword and a stone and bear them outside to the waiting Malebron.

Malebron is in desperate straits and asks the children to take all four treasures of Elidor, including his own spear, back to their world to hide them from the powers of evil. In this way Elidor cannot totally succumb.

Back in Manchester, the exquisite treasures of Elidor take the form of nothing more valuable than a broken teacup, a stone and a piece of iron railing but the children dutifully bury them in their back garden and try to think no more about them.

Unfortunately, Roland's big mistake was in visualizing his own front door when he sought an opening into the Mound of Vandwy. The treasures act as a beacon for the forces of evil from Elidor and they soon come come round peeping through the letter box.

One of the most memorable and powerful pieces of writing I have ever come across occurs in this book. The buried treasures of Elidor generate some kind of powerful energy which is capable of being picked up in Elidor, but it also interferes with all the electrical goods in the house and surrounding area, and even the car. In the silence of the winter evening, after the television and radio pack up, the family listen with growing disquiet as first the electric razor upstairs starts itself, then the electric mixer and the washing machine in the kitchen. Nothing can be done to stop them since they are not plugged in.

The children must return the treasures to Elidor where they belong, but they must also help Malebron defeat the forces of evil by fulfilling a prophecy. If you read this book you will see how they manage to achieve all this from the backstreets of Manchester.

What can I read next?

Alan Garner has written other books too. If you enjoy Elidor you might like to try:

  • Red Shift
  • The Owl Service
  • The Weirdstone of Brisingamen

Peter Dickinson wrote an interesting trilogy which you might like to look at. It's called the Changes trilogy:

Susan Cooper has written a sequence of five books called The Dark is Rising:

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