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A memory of Elidor
on 31 March 2012
When I was nine (back in the dim, distant past that we'll refer to as 1968) I had a teacher called Mrs McEke. She was a strict disciplinarian but she probably needed to be given that her class was full of little oiks from the local council estate (like me!). Mrs McEke used to spend the last half-hour of every school day reading to us. She loved language and was a wonderful orator, bringing the stories to life through the strength of her vocal delivery.
Given that we were only nine she made some fairly ambitious choices; The Hobbit, The War of the Worlds, The Silver Sword, The Railway Children and even John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos (definitely left-field). However I will always be indebted to her for choosing to read Alan Garner's Elidor.
Elidor had only been published in 1965, so at that stage it was a fairly contemporary novel. Although Garner was ostensibly writing for children the book had some very adult themes. It was a brave Mrs McEke that tried to illustrate symbolism to a bunch of largely disinterested nine year olds. However she would probably be delighted to learn that some forty-four years on at least one of her pupils still remembers the symbolic importance of the sword, the spear, the stone and the cauldron.
I was completely entranced by the tale of four children and their rusty relics, which opened a gateway to another world. It seemed like a cool and edgy version of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" but set in the real world, or at least a world that I could identify with.
We used to have a travelling library van that visited the estate every Monday evening, and I managed to obtain a copy of Elidor and raced through it in advance of Mrs McEke's reading so that I was always one step ahead of her. Garner's writing was a revelation to me and he became one of my early heroes as I worked my way through his other books.
Characterisation is not really his strong point as a writer, although his dialogue is an object lesson to any aspiring writer, exploding like little emotional depth charges on the page. As ever with Garner it is the power of myth which is his main fascination.
As an adult I do have a few gripes with the novel which weren't as apparent to me when I first read it. Overall the tone is cold and distant. There is very little to engage the reader in Elidor's plight, and therefore very little sense of empathy. The ending seems horribly rushed, almost as if Garner had grown tired of his tale and wanted to finish it up and move on. However these minor gripes aside Elidor will always have a special place in the memories of my childhood.