Saturday, January 29, 2011

Elidyr and the Golden Ball

For some reason, Alan Garner is not a commonly read author these days. It is a real shame because I loved his books. I discovered The Weirdstone of Brisingamen back when I was 12 and visiting Alderley Edge was, I think, the highlight of my trip to England a few years back.
I recently shared his book Elidor with some friends and they enjoyed it. Clearly some of the details in the book are taken from Irish mythology like the four cities of Elidor are the very names of the four cities of the Tuatha de Danaan: Gorias, Falias, Murias, and Findias. The four objects that need to be kept safe correspond to the Four Hallows that the Tuatha de Danaan brought with them to Ireland.
Normally, Garner plunders Welsh literature since he lives near the Welsh border, having lived his entire life in Cheshire. He has admitted to using the Mabinogion for names especially the 'Dream of Rhonabwy'. For the name of Elidor, it appears he has plundered a name and an idea from Gerald of Wales (who I am sure won't mind since Medieval authors did not get as fussed about copyright as authors do today).
While Gerald was touring Wales, trying to drum up support for the Third Crusade, he and his group stayed overnight at Swansea, near the location of a story, which Gerald had been told and one of the local priests had claimed to be the Elidyr of the story. The priest was twelve years of age, at the time of the events, and was hiding from his teacher, whom he was tired of being beaten by (the good ole days!). He was hiding in a hollow bank of a river for two days when two little men appeared to him and offered to take him someplace where it was all fun and games. He went and it was a great place, underground, the people treated him well and he played with the son of the king.
He was allowed to come home and visit back and forth, telling only his mother about the land. She asked him to bring something of gold back for her so he took a golden ball that he used when playing with the king's son. He ran home and tripped over the threshold, dropping the golden ball. The little people, who were right behind him, grabbed it and ran off jeering at him. He never found the way back to the land and eventually went back to his studies and became a priest. When he was old, he told the Bishop of St. David's, who was Gerald's uncle about the story. In response to the question of if he believes the story, Gerald wrote that if he were to reject it then he would be placing a limit on the power of God but he cannot accept it either with any real conviction.
What has this to do with Garner's tale besides the name of the otherworldly land the children must protect? It is the loss of a ball that draws the four children one by one into the ruined church which is the gateway to Elidor. Perhaps it is due to Elidyr's having been a priest that he made the gateway in a church.


Tracy said...

Yes, a big thank you for introducing me to Elidor and Alan Garner.
I think it's fascinating exploring the mythology behind stories. The myth of 'you can only enjoy this elusive secret knowledge/access to a secret land/wealth as long as it remains a secret, try to prove it's existence, and you lose everything' is a very common one, and frequently crops up in fairy stories.

Anachronist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anachronist said...

Yes, a very nice book - I love it when an author uses mythology in a conscious way! Does the golden ball represent losing innocence of your childhood? I think this tale has more than one meaning.

eta: I had to delete my previous post - too many mistakes :(

The Red Witch said...

You are welcome! I am happy to repay you for some great books.
There are always conditions attached to remaining in the Otherworld. Perhaps the loss of the ball means just that - childhood's end and the leaving behind of fairy stories. Some people just never grow up. :-)
I found it interesting that Gerald would not dismiss fairies altogether and refused to call them demonic.

Tracy said...

Some people just never grow up.
If growing up means losing a sense of wonder and interest in the world, then no, I don't think anyone should grow up.

And Gerald does seem refreshingly open-minded.

Kristin said...

There's a golden ball in The Frog Prince, too. In that story, the ball is the princess' source of power. If you've ever read Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, Eilonwy's golden ball serves the same purpose (although her power comes from her ring).