Monday, February 10, 2020
February 10, 2020: Fantasy Stories I Love: Revisiting Lloyd Alexander
[Since I’m teaching the Intro to Sci Fi/Fantasy class this semester, for my annual Valentine’s series I wanted to focus on fantasy authors & stories I’ve loved. Leading up to a weekend post on an emerging community who deserve more love!]
On watching my older son read a childhood favorite series of mine.
Eight and a half years ago, I wrote a post inspired by my delighted discovery that Lloyd Alexander, author of many of my childhood favorite books including the Chronicles of Prydain series, was born outside of Philadelphia (rather than in Wales as I had always thought, given the Welsh-inspired side to the Prydain books in particular). Obviously Alexander could be from the Moon and his books would still be the same wonderful contributors to my childhood love of all things fantastic (and more than a little mischievous), but it’s nonetheless very cool for this AmericanStudier to know that Alexander was bringing these old European myths and legends to a late 20th century American context, a la Shadow and Wednesday and company in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. The detail made me feel that much more connected to Alexander, and that much more excited to start sharing his books with the boys when they got old enough.
I think I read them Time Cat (1963) at some point in our early days with chapter books, but it clearly didn’t make too much of an impression (not for any fault with the book, just don’t think we were quite ready for it); so it was really a couple years ago when I truly got to share Alexander with them for the first time. My older son had just finished his last Rick Riordan book (until the next one came out in late 2019, anyway—man that dude writes fast!), and I got him the first Prydain Chronicle, The Book of Three (1964), from the library. The boys are open to most everything, but certainly they have read books that didn’t quite work, or at least didn’t grab them enough that they would feel a need to continue with that series or author. So needless to say I’ve was beyond thrilled that he seems to have enjoyed Prydain as much as I did—he tore through all five books, and was doing the thing where he asks me to mute commercials when we’re watching playoff football games so he can read literally every possible second (his father used to read a book while walking down the halls at school, so I know the feeling quite well).
For whatever reason he’s not a big fan of talking to me too much about the books he reads (I think he thinks of me as an English Professor and that I’m asking as a kind of homework or the like), but I managed to get a couple thoughts out of him when he had finished the series (with his explicit permission to include them as part of this blog post). He said that he could tell by the language that they weren’t written recently, although we talked about how that was a choice even in the 1960s and an attempt to make the books feel more like classic myths or legends. And he said that he really loved the characters, that despite that archaic language they didn’t feel like they were part of an old story but like he could imagine interacting with them in his own life (a paraphrase but definitely the gist of his thoughts). I think (without making this into, y’know, literary analysis homework or anything) that he has hit the nail on the head in terms of the combination that makes Alexander’s series so perennially engaging: a legendary story and style that satisfies our human need for myths, wedded to deeply human and relatable characters that can draw in any audience, young or old. Sounds like some good goals for any YA and fantasy series to me!
Next loving tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Favorite fantasy authors or stories you’d share?