Four children find a gateway into another world, Elidor. They meet Malebron who gives them four treasures to take back into their world and guard against the forces of darkness who are trying to kill Elidor. Needless to say, they also encounter prophecies.
Back in Manchester strange things happen to electrical equipment and they work out that the treasures (not disguised as junk) are sending out some sort of signal. But as time passes the older children start to rationalise their experiences and only the youngest, over-imaginative Roland (the book is prefaced with a quote from King Lear: Childe Rowland to the Dark Tower came), continues to believe that their house is under repeated attack. All comes to a head on New Year's Eve.
A classic Hero's Journey type of tale with overtones of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
The book transcends the genre by setting much of the action in the slums of Manchester and bringing in aspects of everyday life, such as televisions slipping out of tuning and slum clearance and buses. Many of these details, however, are probably unimaginable to today's child.
There are some great moments:
- "They sat on the bench beneath the statue of Watt. The sculptor had given him a stern face, but the pigeons had made him look as though he was just very sick of Manchester." (C 1)
- "There was a jam jar furred green with long-dried water." (C 1)
- "It was the sound Roland had heard upstairs, but now it was louder, building waves that jarred the church, and went through Roland's body until he felt that he was threaded on the sound." (C 1)
- "Dust, or ash, kicked up under Roland's feet, muffling his walk and coating his body so aridly that his skin rasped." (C 3)
- "We had so much of ease that we did not mark the signs - a crop blighted, a spring failed, a man killed ..." (C 4)
- "He had to read twenty pages, and he found that he was more aware of the number of a page than of what was printed on it." (C 12)
- "Behind the sky was a bloom of darkness." (C 14)
- "Roland shivered with the effort of looking." (C 19)
Garner is author of a number of novels, mostly aimed at children, in which ancient legends and magical worlds impact upon everyday life:
- The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and its sequel The Moon of Gomrath
- The utterly brilliant Owl Service (aimed at young adults)
- Red Shift, also aimed at young adults and perhaps the darkest of Garner's novels. A line in Elidor - "The legend says that there was once a ploughboy in Elidor: an idiot, given to fits. But in his fit he spoke clearly, and was thought to prophesy." (C 6) - seems to be a link with one of the characters in Red Shift.
September 2020; 188 pages