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Who’s Lloyd Alexander?

By Ann Durell

At the cocktail party following the National Book Award presentations in New York City last March a lady asked Meindert DeJong to autograph her copy of Journey from Peppermint Street (Harper), winner of the first National Book Award for children’s literature. The prizewinning author looked about helplessly and then politely asked the gentleman with whom he had been conversing to lend him his back as writing stand. The book was inscribed “To Miss Blank with best wishes written on the back of Lloyd Alexander by Meindert DeJong.”

The lady checked her autograph carefully and then asked, “Who’s Lloyd Alexander?”

One answer could be found in the March 1969 ALA Bulletin report on the Midwinter Meeting in Washington — “Lloyd Alexander, looking like a replica of Hans Christian Andersen…”

Or in a letter to me from Robert Burch, the author of Queenie Peavey (Viking): “Mr. Alexander and I were on the same program at the Friday morning session on children’s books (National Council of Teachers meeting in Milwaukee, November, 1968). I spoke on realistic fiction and he spoke on fantasy and both of us were pleased afterwards that our viewpoints had not clashed. I did not get to know him well, but I found him quite interesting. He looks as if he belongs in one of his stories as a character; in fact, I’m wondering if you didn’t invent him for the purpose of going out to library and school gatherings! Tell the truth, is the real Lloyd Alexander locked in some back room at Holt, grinding out books, while the one I met takes the bows!”

Or in the illustrations by Evaline Ness for The Truthful Harp by Lloyd Alexander, in which the kingly bard (or bardic king) Fflewddur Fflam bears at least a family resemblance to — well, to Hans Christian Andersen.

Or in Mr. Alexander’s own words in The Black Cauldron to describe the pessimistic Gwystyl of the Fair Folk: “. . . he was extremely thin. His sparse hair was long and stringy; his nose drooped wearily above his upper lip, which in turn drooped toward his chin in a most mournful expression. Wrinkles puckered his forehead; his eyes blinked anxiously; and he seemed on the verge of bursting into tears.”

Or in his description of Gwydion, Prince of Don, as first met in The Book of Three: “The stranger had the shaggy, gray-streaked hair of a wolf. His eyes were deep-set, flecked with green. Sun and wind had leathered his broad face, burnt it dark and grained it with fine lines. His cloak was coarse and travel-stained. A wide belt with an intricately wrought buckle circled his waist.”

I have known Lloyd Alexander since 1961, when he started work on his first children’s book for Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Time Cat. We have worked together on eight books, and since an editor gets to know an author where he lives — in his creative and creating self — I can say I am pretty familiar with this particular author at this point. And I must report that all the answers above are correct!

Lloyd is all the characters in his books, sometimes in turn, sometimes all at once. As humble as Gurgi, as brave as Gwydion, as capricious as Eilonwy, as singleminded as Achren, as questing as Taran, as greedy as Glew — the list goes on and on. Most Prydain fans, on meeting him for the first time, think he is most like Fflewddur Fflam; and indeed they are both great storytellers who cannot resist the temptation to make a good tale better even at the risk of stretching the truth to the breaking point. To me, however, if I had to choose, I would say he is most like Dallben the enchanter, custodian of The Book of Three, “thus called because it tells all three parts of our lives: the past, the present, and the future.”


 

Ann Durell, the editor-in-chief of Children’s Books for Holt, Rinehart and Winston, wrote the biography of Caldecott-prizewinner Evaline Ness for the August 1967 issue of The Horn Book.

From the August 1969 issue of The Horn Book Magazine

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