Monday, 21 May 2007

Lloyd Alexander Passes On

Writer Lloyd Alexander, best known for his fantasy series The Chronicles of Prydain and other books for young adults, passed on May 17. He was 83 years old and had been fighting a long battle with cancer.

Lloyd Alexander was born in Philadelphia on January 30, 1924. His parents were not exactly supportive of Alexander's decision to be a writer at age 15. They enrolled him in a local college, where he attended for only one term. During World War II he served in the U. S. Army in intelligence and counterintelligence. While he was in the Army he was stationed in Wales, whose myths and legends would serve as the basis for many of Alexander's books. Following his stint in the Army, Alexander attended the University of Paris.

In 1955, Lloyd Alexander's first book, And Let the Credit Go, was published. Unlike his later novel, this novel was an autobiographical satire. Alexander would publish six more books before the first book in The Chronicles of Prydain, The Book of Three, in 1964 would make his famous. The Chronicles of Prydain would become his most successful works. He would even receive the Newbery Medal for the final novel in The Chronicles of Prydain, The High King. The novels are set in Prydain, essentially a fantasy version of Wales (although, as Alexander always emphasised, it is distinct from Wales). The protagonist of the series, Taran, begins as assistant pig keeper to Hen Wen, the oracular sow who originally belonged to the warrior Coll. The series draws heavily upon Welsh mythos, including such characters as Gwydion and High King Math. The Disney film The Black Cauldron was based on The Chronicles of Prydain.

Following The Chronicles of Prydain, Alexander would write The Westmark Trilogy. Taking place in the fictional kingdom of Westmark, the novels were heavily influenced by French existentialist writers and for the most part darker than The Chronicles of Prydain. He would also write a series of novels centred around the character of Vesper Holly, essentially a female version of Indiana Jones.

Although less famous than either J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, I always thought that Lloyd Alexander was equally talented. I read The Chronicles of Prydain while I was growing up and as a young adult, and they always impressed me as inventive and original. With Prydain Alexander created a world as complex as Middle Earth or Narnia. What set it apart is that while Middle Earth drew heavily upon Germanic myths and Narnia drew heavily upon Christian themes and classical myths, Prydain was based around the Welsh mythos. This gives it a different flavour from any other fantasy series around. In fact, I am rather surprised that in the wake of The Lord of the Rings films that no one has snatched up the rights to do a series of live action feature films based on The Chronicles of Prydain. Lloyd Alexander was certainly a talented writer and he will be sorely missed.

1 comment:

Feral Cat Protection Agency said...

Thanks for posting about him--I will look for the books.