Assistant Pig-Keepers and Time Cats
It is no exaggeration to say that Mr. Alexander's novels were more beloved and important to me than almost any other authors that I read as a child. More than Tolkien, more than C.S. Lewis, more than Susan Cooper. More than any other author I read voraciously, from Scott O'Dell to Madeline L'engle. John Bellairs is probably the only children's author (maybe any author, for that matter) who comes even close to having the effect that Lloyd Alexander has had on me.
If North Mianus Elementary School still has its hardcover copies of the Prydain Chronicles, you might be able to verify my statement. For two years, I borrowed The High King, the last book of the quintet, constantly, and my name is the only one on the library cards. It got to the point that the librarians would give me strange looks every other week, as if to say "haven't you memorized this book yet?"
Perhaps I had, but re-reading books isn't about finding missed details or becoming somehow more familiar with the characters. It was like reminiscing about past exploits and adventures with an old friend.
And I grew so familiar with Mr. Alexander (dare I say that he was my friend?) recounting to me the Welsh mythology-based adventures of Taran, Gurgi, Eilonwy and Fflewdur Flam that I needed to know where the stories came from. I was instantly enchanted by his stories, which are sometimes more tragic, and thus more human, than you would expect of a children's author. The Prydain Chronicles officially set me on the road to becoming an anglo-phile (although Britophile might be a more accurate term).
In sixth grade, I found a copy of the Mabinogion, the major book of Welsh mythology, in my library. I have to admit, I still can't pronounce half the names in the book, but it got me started in seriously reading about Arthur and his Knights, which of course gave me a nice grounding for Chaucer and Milton (whose first idea for an epic was Arthurian and NOT Adamic).
More importantly, it got me interested in discovering the origins of stories, which has honestly informed every major undertaking I've set out for academically since then, from my undergraduate Milton thesis investigating the origins of Milton's conceptions of image and narcissism to my (unfortunately dormant) dream to document fan accounts of Negro League Baseball to my love of anthropology classes and the literature of Zora Neale Hurston.
I read all his other books too - The Westmark Trilogy, the Vesper Holly books, the Town Cats...
In my desk at work are two hardcover copies of the latter two books from the Westmark Trilogy, which I happily found at a used book sale last Spring. On the stand next to my bed, there's a copy of The Drackenburg Adventure (Vesper Holly), which I found at the same book sale.
I'm not sure if my interest in gender studies stems from Mr. Alexander's strong and unconventional female characters, but it's certainly possible. But it's absolutely a fact that Eilonwy from the Prydain Chronicles was my first crush. Yes, my first crush was on a character in a novel with a fantasy setting. Is that so strange? It's not as if the movie stars or singers idolized by others are any more attainable.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that Lloyd Alexander affected my taste in women, but that's also certainly possible. Another fact is that when I used to tell Jen stories, some of the ones I turned to when I ran out of personal anecdotes and mythological tales were from Lloyd Alexander's writings. I basically have The Town Cats (and Other Tales) memorized, so it was a logical source for stories, as the stories are more or less fairy tales with humorous twists involving cats.
I wonder how many people can say that the literature of Lloyd Alexander played a role in their relationships? Probably not many.
So I mourn the passing of this man, who, despite being six decades my senior, whom I never had the honor of meeting, has had such an amazing and deep influence on my life.
Would I be able to touch a fraction of the lives you reached through your books, Mr. Alexander, I would consider myself an incredibly successful and rich individual.
May your voyage to the Summer Country be a pleasant one, and may you live forever there with your loved ones, the ones you encountered in life and the ones you created to enrich us all.
"And so they lived many happy years, and the promised tasks were accomplished. Yet long afterward, when all had passed away into distant memory, there were many who wondered whether [the] companions had indeed walked the earth, or whether they had been no more than dreams in a tale set down to beguile children. And, in time, only the bards knew the truth of it." -- The High King by Lloyd Alexander