I wish I could say that I have a lot of books by, say . . . G.K Chesterton or Shakespeare or something intelligent like that. But I can’t say that because it is not true. Alas I have no impressive collection of classics, or great library of the Great Books! What I do have is almost the complete works of Lloyd Alexander (I think I am missing one or two of his more mature books, hence the ‘almost complete collection’).
If, as a child, you ever saw the animated movie The Black Cauldron, then you have encountered Mr. Alexander in a very perverted form. That movie is a combination of the first two books of his Prydain Chronicles, and it is nothing at all like the actual story, except for the barest minimal for them to keep the name.
The real story is placed a mythical land that is based on Wales and contains real mythical figures such as Prince Gwydion. It introduces you to new and charming characters like Fflewder Fflam, Gurgi, and Eilonwy.
The author spent several years in Wales, and so it does not feel as though he is describing places or people that are not real, it feels as real as the mountains outside my window, and the story he weaves is one of growth, as children grow into men and women, and a world grows from a primordial place filled with unstable magic, into a land that is lived in and loved by man. For a book aimed at children it is strangely beautiful and deep.
Another story told by him is called The Arcadians, a simple and charming book filled with oracular chickens and stories that seem strangely familiar. A young bean counter escapes from the palace of the Bear King just in time to save his life (for he overheard a plot to cheat the people out of their food) and runs into a Poet (who was turned into a donkey because he drank from a fountain sacred to the gods) who goes along creating stories that turn even the smallest happenstance into an amazing tale; for instance he says that in his case, it would have been better that, instead of a donkey, he had been transformed into a flower at the side of the pool, or was turned into a woman. They have enough adventures without his storytelling though, as in his travels he encounter a very young Pythoness, a goat people, a horse people, a cunning sailor who has been wandering for ten years trying to go home, a king who yearly demands a tribute of seven maidens and seven young men for him to kill, and a host of other adventures. In the end he must return and stop two evil advisors from persuading the Bear King (who is not all that bright) to sacrifice himself to stop the famine in the land. Sound familiar?
Yet for all the retelling of the old tales, he weaves them into something that it at once united, (not nearly as sporadic as my jumbled words might give the impression) and something entirely new. It is not a retelling of the myths, but it has its own life, its own vigor, and its own story. Aih, what bliss!!
Not all his books follow along these lines; some have magic some do not. The range of lands that his stories is vast; from some that could be likened to Wales, to something that is similar to Persia or Arabia, to a small country town in what could possibly be called Germany. And they are all a joy to read.
I will always love and re-read his books, even though they might not be as impressive as the complete works of Charles Dickens.