“But nothing hides the color of the lights that shine…”

In May 2008, one year after the death of Lloyd Alexander, I read his autobiographical novel The Gawgon and the Boy and wondered, “How many non-Prydain books did my favorite childhood author write?” To my amazement, I found 30 books (not counting picture books and translations from French) and set about writing short blog reviews of all of them.

Four years later, this blog series is complete. I’m genuinely sorry to bid adieu to Lloyd Alexander, but I hope these posts will serve as a starting point for adults who want to reacquaint themselves with an old friend—or find a new novel to read with their kids.

And Let the Credit Go (1955)
My Five Tigers (1956)
August Bondi: Border Hawk (1958)
Janine is French (1959)
My Love Affair with Music (1960)
The Flagship Hope: Aaron Lopez (1960)
Park Avenue Vet (1962)
Fifty Years in the Doghouse (1963)
Time Cat (1963)
The Chronicles of Prydain: The Book of Three (1964)
The Chronicles of Prydain: The Black Cauldron (1965)
The Chronicles of Prydain: The Castle of Llyr (1966)
The Chronicles of Prydain: Taran Wanderer (1967)
The Chronicles of Prydain: The High King (1968)
The Foundling and Other Tales from Prydain (1970)
The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian (1970)
The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man (1973)
The Wizard in the Tree (1974)
The Town Cats and Other Tales (1977)
The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha (1978)
The Westmark Trilogy: Westmark (1981)
The Westmark Trilogy: The Kestrel (1982)
The Westmark Trilogy: The Beggar Queen (1984)
The Vesper Holly Adventures: The Illyrian Adventure (1986)
The Vesper Holly Adventures: The El Dorado Adventure (1987)
The Vesper Holly Adventures: The Drackenberg Adventure (1988)
The Vesper Holly Adventures: The Jedera Adventure (1989)
The Vesper Holly Adventures: The Philadelphia Adventure (1990)
The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen
(1991)
The Arkadians (1995)
The Iron Ring (1997)
Gypsy Rizka (1999)
The Gawgon and the Boy (2001)
The Rope Trick (2002)
The Vesper Holly Adventures: The Xanadu Adventure (2005)
The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio (2007)

* * *

Some unsorted final thoughts:

In book after book for children, Lloyd Alexander manages to plumb serious moral and ethical issues without mentioning religion or sex. I’m not sure many young-adult writers would have either the self-restraint or the philosophical forbearance to pull that off.

The Westmark series—Westmark, The Kestrel, and The Beggar Queen—is Alexander’s masterpiece, a moving and mature story about the morality of violence and the profound cost of revolution and war. It deserves to be better known.

Although it’d be offensive (and futile, and boring) to suss out Alexander’s politics, I’m amused by the extent to which bureaucrats and politicians irk him, not only in the Westmark books, where “statesman” is a dirty word, but also in The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastianwhere a tyrannical government dehumanizes its subjects. The Wizard in the Tree is blatantly about politics and money, and the governing class doesn’t come off well in either The Town Cats and Other Tales or The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man. (“I should add that she always wins!” Alexander once crowed about Gypsy Rizka. “And those idiot town dignitaries always lose, which is exactly the way it ought to be.”)

Of all Alexander’s adult nonfiction, I found My Love Affair with Music the most satisfying; it’s about the sweet frustration of living with your own limitations.

Even though The Arkadians is a fairly formulaic book, I loved it, because it includes something I never thought I’d see: Lloyd Alexander in-jokes.

Alexander writes with a concision that all storytellers would be wise to study. He makes it look easy to convey imagination and wit in fast, tight, unassuming prose.

Did Alexander often fall back on a familiar array of characters and plots? Sure, but I think plenty of writers spend their lives trying to recreate the platonic form of the most important story in their minds. (“I have to hope that maybe this time I got it right,” Alexander said of his final novel.) For a thoughtful take on this question, see Jason Fisher’s 2007 Lingwë post.

On the whole, Alexander’s novels are less sentimental than I’d expected. Like the best fantasists, he’s skeptical of escapism, but his general cheerfulness means that every bittersweet ending comes as a surprise.

Lloyd Alexander was the “Old Cricket” who dispensed wisdom on the final page of Cricket magazine! How fitting.

Many of Alexander’s later books are traced with sadness, none more than the mystical The Rope Trick, the rare novel that appears to divide Alexander’s fans.

* * *

To everyone who’s read, commented, linked, and emailed me about these reviews in the past four years: thank you!

8 thoughts on ““But nothing hides the color of the lights that shine…”

  1. Thank you, Jeff, for an amazing series of posts—and an end to the series just as good as the rest. I treasured Lloyd Alexander as a child and, I suppose, as what is now called a young adult. And your posts have rekindled that love, spurring me to return to the books—though I need to do more of that! I’m very glad you have carved out an appreciative corner of the internet in which to document Alexander’s greatness!

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  2. I am very glad to know that Lloyd’s work continues to be appreciated by faithful fans. I wish that Lloyd had had the benefit of a better film interpretation of the Prydain Chronicles. I prefer a book to its film adaptation; however, I think that filming another of Lloyd’s books might result in a new generation discovering his legacy.

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  3. You really should consider expanding this into a book-length study on LA; one is long overdue. University press? I’ve tried to get Lloyd’s various publishers to consider compiling some of his uncollected work into a volume, but no luck.

    I believe you missed Lloyd’s “Dream-of-Jade: The Emperor’s Cat,” (2005) 5 related tales published in one volume(and unavailable anywhere else). Still in print, too, and it’s a good one.

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  4. Hi, Glenn! I left out Dream-of-Jade somewhat arbitrarily, because it appeared to be a storybook for younger readers, but thanks to your recommendation, I’ll keep an eye out for it when I’m poking around my usual bookstores.

    I appreciate your suggestion for a book-length study, but my hunch is that over time, these blog posts may reach more readers than a university-press book ever would. I also think that a writer with far greater knowledge of Alexander, such as blogger and Tolkien/fantasy scholar Jason Fisher, would do a better job of it.

    That said, I hope I’m not finished writing about Lloyd Alexander! We shall see…

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  5. You may be right — although blogs by their very nature are ephemeral …
    I am also an admirer of Jason Fisher’s work, although he seems to keep himself busy w/ so many other projects …

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  6. Doesn’t Jason Fisher have the greatest name? Argonaut King!

    I was just rooting around in your Alexander posts and then stuck a link on the old books-for-boys post I made for friends with a precocious son. Really fun–I read a good number of these books with my daughter when she was small. I remember reading the Prydain books as a child, but not much else of his… But I was ten when they started to appear, so it makes sense.

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  7. Thanks for stopping by, Marly! My visitor stats indicate that a fair number of people have found and read these Lloyd Alexander reviews over the past seven years. A friend of mine calls blogging “writing for Google,” which seems appropriate here. I think parents looking for something for younger “young adults” might still find Alexander a good alternative to the lurid and “edgy” stuff in the genre now. And as I said several times throughout these reviews, writers of all ages could learn a thing or two from his concise and seemingly effortless prose style.

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