Older readers of 'Elidor' might notice first its period detail: we're in mid-sixties Manchester, a fragmenting city of slum clearance, bomb sites and sprawling new council estates. The more inquisitive might seek out the story's mythic underpinning: a very little online sleuthing will reveal the elements of Welsh and Irish mythology on which Garner has drawn. Some will admire the terse, driven prose: stripped back and sandblasted, bearing nuggets of poetry that gleam like gemstones. Every word necessary.
Younger readers will simply be seduced by the tale itself.
Its enduring power lies in its unresolved mystery. Garner primes his protagonists by dislocating them - literally. The children are moving house, out from the city to a country cottage that's now surrounded by suburbia. The mundane world is fracturing around them; it's through the rents torn by demolition that the other world erupts.
What's clever is that we learn so little about that world. Only once do we enter Elidor for any extended period; mostly we glimpse it, as do the children, through keyholes and porches. We, like them, never fully understand the source of the darkness that threatens this realm, or the reason for the conflict that tears it apart. After all, as Malebron tells them: "Darkness needs no shape. It uses. It possesses."
The children - led by Roland's troubled imagination - embrace their mission unwillingly; even as they redeem Elidor on the book's final page, they remain baffled by the forces that they've engaged. All they know is that, in triumphing over some inarticulate evil, they've condemned themselves to exile from Elidor's reawakened glory. On one side of the imaginative divide, "streams danced, and the rivers were set free, and all the shining air was new". On the other, the children are abandoned, "alone with the broken windows of a slum."
'Elidor' isn't fantasy. It shows imagination for what it is: confusing, demanding, and painful. And because young people know these qualities from experience, they respond with recognition to Garner's book. It was great in 1965, and it's great now.