THE ELDER by Cris Freddi


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A grisly fable of rebellion in a mythic glen where power lies in the arthritic hands of the elderly and children are their thralls. This first novel by the author of Pork and Others (1981), a collection of animal stories, creates an ugly, if improbable society, ripe for the upheaval it undergoes in the tale's horrific denouement. At an unspecified time after the construction of the great stone monoliths, in a place that smacks distinctly of England (a valley like a garden, surrounded by fells, marshes, the sea, and jagged mountains encasing a menacing castle keep), a 14-year-old boy, Jeo, chafes against the Glen's aged autocrats and the guardsmen who uphold them. He is abused, as well, by family and other boys who have been made savage by a savage system, with only his contraband dagger and secret rambles on the fells to console him. Given the outrageouness of his condition, these prove paltry consolation; Jeo's wrath ignites when a young guardsman discovers his knife; the Glen's angry young man commits a murder and flees into the hills, only to be forced down into the Pit, from which there is supposedly no return. But Jeo does return, five years hence, messianically, to deliver the children of the Glen from oppression and the tale from morbundity. A modicum of adventure kicks in as an almost feral children's army gathers around him (though prior to this there's been little evidence of an adolescent underground). From here on, gentle readers should be advised to continue only if they can stomach the brutality of the rebellion that ensues and maintain sympathy as Jeo knifes his own compatriots and attains the castle keep, where he kills the eldest Elder, establishing himself as dictator and founding a rule only slightly more benevolent than that of his predecessors. A dark tale, then, and if social parable, disillusioning, if adventure, only tenuously engaging; written in yeomanly fashion, its characters and detail fully consistent with the fantasy realm created, but difficult to relish.

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 1985
Publisher: Knopf