Elidor, by British author Alan Garner, is a children’s fantasy story, which holds a very special place in my affections. I first encountered the book when it was read aloud to me by a teaching practice student in the small primary school I attended in the 1960’s. I’d be about eight or nine. It was common to have stories read aloud to the class in our school, but Elidor was very different to the staid stories we normally got to listen to. It immediately thrilled me and helped confirm my love of stories.
Garner’s novel is the story of four children from Manchester – Roland, Helen, Nicholas and David Watson – who find a hidden portal to another world, Elidor. The children are entrusted with four treasures, which they must take out of Elidor help save it from it’s enemies. Most of the story is about what befalls them after they return home.
Why Elidor was important to me then
What made the story special to me was that most of it took place in the normal, almost mundane world I was familiar with as a child. The portal to Elidor, for example, was in the kind of half-demolished Manchester slum I remember from shopping trips to the city. The ordinary lives of the Watson children’s was very similar to mine. It was this normality, contrasted with the epic struggle the children were involved in, that made the story so real to me.
What Alan Garner did was create a story where I could easily have been one of the Watson children: I could have stumbled upon Elidor and had fantastic adventures. Because the Watson’s were normal children in a normal world, it made the the world of Elidor seem believable too, and drew me into the story. I lived every minute of the Watson’s adventures, shared their secret and felt their excitement and terror as events unfolded.
It wasn’t just the plot of Elidor or it’s setting that made the story special: the writing was very special too. Garner’s style is spare and economical and, most importantly, he didn’t talk down to, or patronise his readers. A lot of children’s books at the time read like they were written by adults for children: Garner wrote like he was writing for his equals. Elidor reads like an adult book, but written from the Watson children’s point of view, in a way that takes their dilemma seriously.
As a child Elidor completely fired my imagination in a way that no other story had ever done. It turned me into a voracious reader and made me want to write stories too.
Why Elidor is still important to me now
I re-read Elidor pretty much every year, and I must be on my fifth or sixth copy. The story still thrills me and the writing is as good as ever. When I read Elidor it doesn’t feel like I’m reading a children’s book. I really admire the way that Alan Garner has been able to write a book that reaches across generations, and across the years, and is still believable.
But I have slightly different reasons for reading Elidor nowadays. Right from the opening sentence, reading it takes me back to my childhood world. I’m back there in the classroom and in the 1960’s. Elidor recreates the world I used to live in better than anything else I know: it has become my literary safe place.
I hope you read Elidor and enjoy it as much as I do. It might not be for you, but it’s one of the few books I’ve ever read that’s truly magical in every respect.
Elidor, by Alan Garner, is published by Harper Collins Children’s Books.