[Here’s the final post in a series of reviews of all of Lloyd Alexander’s non-Prydain books. To see all posts in this series, click on the “Lloyd Alexander” tag.]
“I have finished my life’s work,” Lloyd Alexander reportedly said after completing his final novel, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio. Published posthumously, the book is a light romp through a mythical Arabia that offers readers one last tour of many of its author’s favorite themes, freshened by a conviction that dreamers and fools can end up in better places than they’re able to imagine.
Lacking the necessary focus to prosper in his merchant uncle’s business—shades of Alexander’s own youth?—the bumbling, bookwormish Carlo (a “chooch,” or loser, in the patois of his island home) searches for treasure by following a map that bears little resemblance to reality. Along the way, he gathers a typical Lloyd Alexander ensemble, including Shira, a capable heroine; Salomon, an ancient wanderer who delights in every leaf and tree; and Baksheesh, an ornery, obsequious servant. What keeps their adventure from growing conventional is this book’s slippery sense of unreality, as Carlo and his friends meet a bookseller whose market-stall vanishes, unremembered by its neighbors; a cave-bound artist who paints things that haven’t yet happened; and a merchant who sells custom dreams on bottle and flask at a time.
There’s a villain here, but like many of Alexander’s least interesting bad guys, he’s offstage for most of the action. He’s remarkable, though, for threatening a young woman with rape; even if Alexander never uses the word, it’s the only time I can remember a hint of it in any of his novels. More intriguing in Carlo Chuchio is the hero’s maturation, defined by a merciful act that leads to a death. Even at the end of his life, Alexander was haunted by the possibility that we remain guilty of misdeeds even when our intentions are good.
Alexander also wants us to be suspicious of storytellers. “Idlers! Layabouts! Lazy to the marrow of their bones,” Baksheesh complains, voicing the author’s self-deprecation. “Notorious liars, without a grain of truth among all of them put together.” And yet Alexander adapts the Middle Eastern legends, as he did with every mythos from India to Wales, for a reason. If this book comes off a bit like the old Sinbad movies, populated by camel-pullers and warrior nomads speaking broken English, only a true grouch can complain. After all, Lloyd Alexander books aren’t about actual places, but something far more real. “I would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the fools of one country and the fools of another,” the wandering Salomon notes. “Folly is our common bond.”