Sunday, January 30, 2011

Story Elements in Elidor

I was struck by several things reading Elidor by Alan Garner. First, there is the theme of the Fisher King. When Roland goes into Elidor to find his brothers and sister, he wanders into a wasteland where the only person he finds is Malebron, who is a lamed king. Bron is the name of the Fisher King in some of the grail stories. So it is no wonder that he gave a spear to Roland rather than a sword like Childe Rowland was given.
At first I thought the one child who is strong enough to overcome the enchantment of the barrow is called Roland after the nephew of Charlemagne, who was the strongest and the bravest knight, but it seems he is called Roland for a fairy story called Childe Rowland. This boy went into fairy land to find his two brothers and sister who were under an enchantment after losing a ball in a church and after the sister went to get the ball but had gone widdershins(counter to the sun).
I was also struck by how much the barrow scene resembled the hobbits' battle with the barrow wights of the Barrow Downs in Lord of the Rings. Most likely, Garner and Tolkien were drawing on the same folk tales. It seems to me the stone circle, with the eighty one uncountable stones, could be any one of stone circles in England but Stonehenge had eighty one Sarsen stones.
The 'Lay of the Starved Fool' that Malebron is using as his own Sibylline prophecy book hearkens to the grail stories because Percival, the original grail knight was also the 'fool'. Some etymologies say Parzival did not mean 'pierced valley' but 'wise fool'. This also leads into tarot because Percival's journey is rather like that of the Fool. The treasures are hidden under a bed of roses, the rose garden being an important location in Medieval song.
The thing that is needed to heal Elidor and Malebron is not a grail but the song of a unicorn. While digging the hole to bury and hide the Treasures, the children dig up and accidentally break a jug with unicorn on it. This is what sets the unicorn free. Roland's sister Helen is needed to capture the unicorn, Findhorn (white horn), but the virgin is usually used to lure the unicorn so it can be killed and Findhorn, although not killed by the children, is killed by the men hunting them. Its dying song brings the light back to Elidor. The different elements of older stories brought together in a new way reminds me of J.R.R. Tolkiens' essay 'On Fairy Stories' and the cauldron of story. You can throw whatever ingredients you want in the 'soup' but of course they have to blend well together and these ones do.

And one last word, if you are not Canadian, you likely have not heard the Unicorn Song but here it is.


Anachronist said...

Indeed I didn't hear the Unicorn Song up to now and didn't know they are supposed to sing. The swan's song is another story!

Tracy said...

Yes, most stone circles have legends about being uncountable (eg. The Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire), in many the stones are said to be capable of movement (usually at Midnight) , and many are thought to be people who have been petrified eg. The Merry Maidens in Cornwall, thought to be young women turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath.

And it's Helen who actually breaks the jug with the Unicorn on it - she glues it back together, but it's never going to be the same.

I like the way this story mixes the fantastical with the mundane - the children start off bored in the middle of Manchester in the afternoon, they're not in some creepy mansion or fogbound moor.

The Red Witch said...

I liked the way he made the ordinary become extraordinary too. Especially the way the treasures were giving off an energy that was interfering with electrics and that the danger came from their own imagination just like the marshmallow man at the end of Ghostbusters.
I think the song of the unicorn is a new element but it works in the story. The other unicorn song is ancient according to these fast moving times. :-)

Tracy said...

Yes, it did have that element of 'Choose the method of your own destruction', didn't it? Except that like the marshmallow man, although it was a figment of their imagination originally (and certainly everyone would have thought they were mad), the danger was very real and had to be defeated.

Kristin said...

We used to roast Stay-Puft marshmallows by the fire at Camp Waconda.

Tracy said...

Thanks, Kristin - I was trying to remember the brand-name - but we don't have them over here. I trust your campfire marshmallows just behaved normally, no attempt at destroying the world?

The Red Witch said...

The Stay Puff man was very real in Ghostbusters too.
I thought you would have more to say about the fisher king but then he doesn't really explore it in depth. It is more of a backdrop.

Kristin said...

Tracy, that was a quote from the movie. LOL

Stantz: It's the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

Venkman: Well, that's something you don't see every day.

Stantz: I tried to think of the most harmless thing– something that I loved from my childhood, something that would never ever possibly destroy us: Mr. Stay-Puft.

Venkman: Nice thinking, Ray.

Stantz: We used to roast Stay-Puft marshmallows by the fire at Camp Waconda.

Venkman: Ray has gone bye-bye, Egon. What have you got left?

Spengler: Sorry, Venkman. I'm terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.

I thought you would have more to say about the fisher king but then he doesn't really explore it in depth.

Malebron is the Fisher King or the Maimed King. In de Boron's Joseph of Arimathea, the Fisher King is even named "Bron." (Sounds like another series, eh?)Roland is Percival, the young man who the Fisher King thinks can heal the Wasteland. Elidor is, obviously, the Wasteland. In the older Arthurian stories, the man who kidnaps Guinevere is called Maleagant. What does the prefix "mal" mean in French?

I think Findhorn the unicorn is the symbol for Christ. He's pierced in the side by the Spear, just as Christ was supposedly pierced by the Spear of Destiny. Helen carries the cauldron and comforts Findhorn, just as Mary Magdalene collected Christ's blood in the Grail. And, of course, Findhorn's death cleanses Elidor of its "sins" and heals it.

Tracy said...

LOL - shows you how long it is since I last saw that movie - there's me thinking someone had named a real product after it (which would be a pretty good marketing ploy)

Did Malebron realise that the Song of the Unicorn is only sung when the unicorn dies?

The Red Witch said...

Mal means bad or harm. I hadn't thought about the unicorn being a Christ figure. I don't think Malebron knows the unicorn must die. He doesn't say much about The Lay of the Starved Fool but I suspect the unicorn is resurrected and dies again at need.
Speaking of Bill Murray movies, Groundhog Day really should be on.