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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ad Memoriam

This week I re-read one of the enduring classical book series of my childhood, The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. This week's entry is my own humble tribute to the late Mr. Alexander, who passed away in 2007, and how his stories have shaped me and my writing and characters.

My mother first read the beginning chapters of The Book of Three when Aaron, Adam and I were ten and nine, respectively and it fired our imagination since. Aaron and I finished the book ourselves when we left off reading out loud (an unfortunate habit in our family)  and even Adam devoured the next four books in the sequence. The characters that Mr. Alexander created are as well-known and beloved to me as my own family. Well-meaning, heroic, if not somewhat bumbling Taran, the sharp-tongued, clever Elionwy, faithful Gurgi and his everlasting devotion to "crunchings and munchings," the valiant, hot-headed Fflewdur Fflam and the noble Prince Gwydion of the House of Don. I read these books now and I am in awe of what Mr. Alexander accomplished. Stories rousing and clear enough for a child to read, but deep and layered enough for teenagers and adults to enjoy them.

It would be too easy to say that Mr. Alexander's stories, the ones in this series in particular are wonderful, his characters fully realized and fleshed out and the world of his imaginings, Prydain, inspired by Wales as is as real as any country in myth. But it is all that and more. To me, it's on the level of Tolkien and Lewis: every time I read the series again, I read it with new eyes and see something that I haven't seen before.  I read Alexander before I could fully appreciate the works of Lewis and Tolkien and I realize now that Alexander's Prydain paved the way for Narnia and Middle-earth. Fantasy worlds rooted in something familiar and yet altogether fantastical.

I am a fervent devotee of the rest of Alexander's works, not just his Prydain Chronicles. The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, Gypsy Rizka, The Arkadians, The Iron Ring  and The Rope Trick are some of the few books I periodically check out from the library whenever I get the chance. It never fails to amaze me how Alexander took real world cultures, countries and mythologies and remade them into something wholly original and his own. Italy, ancient Greece, Central Europe, China, India and many other lands are woven into his stories. There are arch types in his works, ones that he uses again and again, but to great affect and different result every time. A well-meaning hero, a clever, sensible heroine (who usually gets the best one-liners), a unprincipled, if not good-at-heart rogue, a faithful companion to the hero and sometimes, a truly noble and epically awesome nobleman, such as Gwydion of Don. You can see similar characters all throughout Alexander's works, but to me, they are as new and as unexpected as if they had been freshly created.

Alexander's character types inspired my own; Taran and Elionwy are cousins under the skin to Ayden and Sydney. I've never gotten tired of reading Alexander's works, and I hope I never will. I'll pass them on to my own children, and I hope they love them as I do.

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