Monday, March 4, 2019

Elidor

Elidor, by Alan Garner

I chose this book for Dewithon, because I was under the impression that it had something to do with Wales...and it's set in Manchester.  So I was only a couple pages in and thought I was wrong, but Chris at Calmgrove pointed out some details, and the story features threads of both Irish and Welsh legend.

The four Watson siblings, bored and wandering around, go exploring and are suddenly shoved into a different world.  Elidor is not a lovely adventure world at all; it's a barren, post-apocalyptic wasteland, and Roland, the youngest, meets Malebron -- who promptly shoves him into a terrifying barrow to find some treasures and save his trapped siblings.  Malebron then tells them to take the treasures and hide them in their own world, and for over a year, nothing happens.  Until all of a sudden it does and the children are being hunted by men who mean to kill them to get those treasures.

Like most of Garner's work, Elidor is an unusual kind of fantasy story.  The children spend hardly any time in Elidor and much of the meaning is a bit buried.  There are clear echoes of Narnia: four siblings, and the youngest is the most faithful and the strongest, who has to learn to do what he needs to do regardless of what his older siblings are telling him.  (The oldest brother is desperate to find any way out of believing that there are four magic treasures and another world, not to mention a unicorn.)

So, what connections to Ireland and Wales?  I was glad for Chris' hint, because it's been far too long since I read my Irish mythology and I'd forgotten exactly what the treasures of Ireland are, but Garner really lays it out pretty clearly.  (And then I started reading something else and they popped up there too.)  Each treasure belongs to a city, which Garner shows as four castles, only one of which is still inhabited.  I need a chart:
Spear of Lugh    Gorias    Invincibility
Stone of Fál    Falias    Cries out for the king
Sword of Nuada    Findias    Also Invincibility
Cauldron of the Dagda    Murias    Plenty
These aren't given their proper names, or properties, and in fact once they're in our world they look like junk (luckily).

All right, so what about the Wales connection?  That's a good deal less obvious, and while I would have spotted the treasures anyway, I needed a big hint here.  Gerald of Wales told a story in his Journey Through Wales  about a priest who told a story about when he was a little boy: young Elidyr met two little men, who took him into their own land through a tunnel.  It was beautiful, though with no sun, and there was pleasure all the time.  They ate milk dishes with saffron, and hated lies, and gold was common there.  Elidyr visited often, and told his mother about the land, and she asked him to bring her a present of gold.  So he stole a golden ball and took it home, but the little men chased him and took it back, and he could never find the tunnel again.

Elidyr would be pronounced the same as Elidor, as far as I can figure, so Garner used a Welsh name connected with the otherworld for his tale.  A picture book of the story was printed in 1973 in the UK, which must have been fun. I'd like to see that.


4 comments:

Lory said...

It's been so long since I read this, I have no memory of it. Interesting to tease out the Wales connection.

ed.pendragon said...

I've read this a couple of times over the years, Jean, but it's clear that you've been as bemused by it as I was. However you've got me enthused to try it again, despite not being as engaged with it and the cbaracters as I'd hoped in the 70s and, I think, late 90s.

I fancy that Garner was trying to work in some contemporary theories about how Celtic myths were more integrated across traditions (Irish and Welsh in particular) than is now believed, and that this accounted to some extent for its unsatisfying nature---but I shall have to reread it to prove or disprove my impression! I know that I felt I was missing something both times.

Anyway, The Owl Service is my priority this month, but I'll try to come up with some coherent thoughts before too long!

Jean said...

I think Elidor made a bit more sense to me this time, but yeah, it's still not an easy book to connect with. The Owl Service made a lot more sense the second time I read it! Perhaps with enough re-readings...

Beth said...

I read The Owl Service last year and thought it was great, maybe the best children's book that I did not read as a child. I could not get into Elidor though.