Few writers have inspired as much affection and interest among readers young and old as Lloyd Alexander. Few writers have won so many literary honors. At one point however it seemed unlikely that he would ever be a writer at all.
"My parents were horrified when I told them I wanted to be an author " Alexander recalls. "I was fifteen in my last year of high school. My family pleaded with me to forget literature and do something sensible such as find some sort of useful work. "I had no idea how to find work useful or otherwise. In fact I had no idea how to become an author. If reading offered any preparation for writing there were grounds for hope. I had been reading as long as I could remember. Shakespeare Dickens Mark Twain and so many others were my dearest friends and greatest teachers. I loved all the world s mythologies; King Arthur was one of my heroes; I played with a trash can lid for a knightly shield and my uncle's cane for the sword Excalibur. But I was afraid that not even Merlin the enchanter could transform me into a writer."
His parents could not afford to send him to college. And so when a Philadelphia bank had an opening for a messenger boy he went to work there feeling he says "like Robin Hood chained in the Sheriff of Nottingham s dungeon. As a would-be writer I thought it was a catastrophe. As a bank employee I could barely add or subtract and had to count on my fingers."
Finally having saved some money he quit and went to a local college. Dissatisfied with not having learned enough to be a writer he left at the end of one term. Adventure he decided was the best way. The United States had already entered World War II. Convinced that here was a chance for real deeds of derring-do he joined the army -- and was promptly shipped to Texas where he became in disheartening succession an artilleryman a cymbal player in the band an organist in the post chapel and a first-aid man. At last he was assigned to a military intelligence center in Maryland.
There he trained as a member of a combat team to be parachuted into France to work with the Resistance. "This to my intense relief did not happen " says Alexander. "Adventurous in imagination a real parachute jump would have scared me out of my wits."
Instead Alexander and his group sailed to Wales to finish their training. This ancient rough-hewn country with its castles mountains and its own beautiful language made a tremendous impression on him. But not until years later did he realize he had been given a glimpse of another enchanted kingdom.
Alexander was sent to Alsace-Lorraine the Rhineland and southern Germany. When the war ended he was assigned to a counterintelligence unit in Paris. Later he was discharged to attend the University of Paris. While a student he met a beautiful Parisian girl Janine and they soon married. Life abroad was fascinating but eventually Alexander longed for home. "If I was to write anything worthwhile " he says "I would have to be closer to my own roots."
The young couple went back to Drexel Hill near Philadelphia where Alexander wrote novel after novel which publishers unhesitatingly turned down. To earn his living he worked as a cartoonist advertising writer layout artist and associate editor for a small magazine. It took seven years of constant rejection before his first novel was at last published.
During the next ten years he wrote for adults. And then he began writing for young people. It was Alexander says "the most creative and liberating experience of my life. In books for young people I was able to express my own deepest feelings far more than I ever could when writing for adults."
Doing historical research for Time Cat he discovered material on Welsh mythology. As Alexander says "It was as if all the hero tales games dreams and imaginings of my childhood had suddenly come back to me." The result was The Book of Three and the other chronicles of Prydain the imaginary kingdom being something like the enchanted land of Wales. In The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen Alexander explored yet another fantastic world. Evoking an atmosphere of ancient China this unique multi-layered novel was critically acclaimed as one of his finest works. Trina Schart Hyman illustrated The Fortune-tellers as a Cameroonian folktale sparkling with vibrant images keen insight and delicious wit.
Most of the books have been written in the form of fantasy. But fantasy Alexander believes is merely one of many ways to express attitudes and feelings about real people real human relationships and problems. "My concern is how we learn to be genuine human beings. I never have found out all I want to know about writing and realize I never will. All that writers can do is keep trying to say what is deepest in their hearts. If writers learn more from their books than do readers perhaps I may have begun to learn."
Copyright © 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.