Like Jeff Sypeck, I grew up devouring Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain novels, as well as some of his other fantasy works, so I was saddened by his death a year ago. Jeff, however, had some author-to-author correspondence with Alexander, and read into his work a lot more deeply. For instance, he has read something with the ungainly title of The Gawgon and the Boy, which turns out to be Alexander’s most autobiographical work:
In the Prydain books, Lloyd Alexander used heroic fantasy to chronicle the pain of growing up. In the Westmark trilogy, he cast a kingdom in shades of gray to explore, with greater wisdom than most “adult” writers have done, the moral implications of shedding blood in the name of revolution. These series aren’t as different as they seem: at the heart of every Lloyd Alexander novel is, as the author once explained it, a simple concept: “how we learn to be genuine human beings.” It’s a sign of Alexander’s maturity that The Gawgon and the Boy continues that theme not with monsters or tyrants or magical kingdoms, but through a more subdued story that’s no less engaging: how an author-to-be learned to read and love books.
We read other people to find out about ourselves, and often fantasy is the surest way to appreciate quotidian reality.