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