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An Interview with Lloyd Alexander

On May 17, 2007 the world learned of the death of Lloyd Alexander, a master storyteller who loved writing for children and young adults. The author of more than 40 books, he is most well known for the fantasies, The Chronicles of Prydain. The culminating volume of this five book set, The High King won the Newbery Medal in 1968. Mr. Alexander also won the National Book Award twice: in 1970 for The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian and in 1981 for Westmark, the first book in the Westmark trilogy. His last book, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio will be released in August 2007.

I had the great good fortune of meeting Lloyd Alexander twenty years ago at a reading at Books of Wonder, a children's bookstore in New York City. We exchanged letters intermittently over the years and saw each other at conferences and readings. When the opportunity came for me to interview authors for Encountering Enchantment, Lloyd was the first person I asked, and he graciously agreed. Our entire correspondence took place through snailmail, as he did not use a computer. He told me that he typed all of his letters and all of his manuscripts on his old manual typewriter. He was a dear, sweet man and an incredible creator of tales. As Bruce Coville, author of the Magic Shop series, said to me recently, Lloyd set the gold standard in fantasy novels. He did indeed, and both the man and his stories will be greatly missed.

An Interview with Lloyd Alexander
from Encountering Enchantment
by Susan Fichtelberg
Diana Tixier Herald, Series Editor
Copyright (c) 2007
Libraries Unlimited
Reproduced with permission of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., Westport, CT

Conducted via mail June 21-24, 2005

SF:  How did you first come to write fantasy for young people?

LA:  I came to fantasy fairly late.  For some ten years, I had been happily writing fiction and non-fiction for adults.  But I always loved fantasy, whether for adults or young people; and at that particular point in my life, I wanted to try it, to understand it, as part of the process of learning to be a writer.  The results were beyond anything I could have foreseen.  As I’ve said often and elsewhere, it was the most creative and liberating experience of my life.  Paradoxically, in fantasy for young people I was able to express my own deepest feelings and attitudes more than I had ever done in writing for adults.

SF:  Why do you think people read fantasy?

LA:  Ever since human beings learned to talk to each other, we’ve been fascinated with storytelling of every kind.  Blessed (or cursed) with insatiable curiosity, we have to  know what happens next.  Fantasy, however, in addition to being great storytelling, moves us at some unique and profound level.  It has, I think, the power of mythology, or ancient dreams we have always and forever shared.  In it, we find our real world and our real selves.

SF:  Of all your books, do you have a favorite book or character?

LA:  I can’t single out one of my books or characters as a favorite.  In the same way that I don’t have a favorite kidney, my books are organically all part of myself.  I might even say that put all together, the books are one ongoing, developing story—which, not coincidentally, happens to be my own lifestory.

SF:  What was it like to win the Newbery Medal?

LA:  The only way I can describe winning the Newbery Medal is:  indescribable.  Elation?  Astonishment?  Those are very pale words.  What I did realize after the jubilation calmed down a little (it never calmed down completely) is that all awards, marvelous as they are to receive, are given for something already done.  The point is not to look back, but to look ahead to what you hope still to do.

SF:  What were your favorite books growing up, and who were your favorite authors?

LA:  Favorite books and authors while growing up—I’d need a book to list them all.  For the sake of brevity:  Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain, Victor Hugo, world’s mythology, the Arthurian legends.  And the unabridged dictionary.  And they’re still my favorites.  They get better each time I read them.

SF:  What would you say your method of writing is?

LA:  I need a fairly extensive outline, which takes a long time to prepare.  It always changes and surprises me as the work goes on.  Even so, it’s at least a kind of blueprint giving me some sense of proportion—so that the garage, in effect, doesn’t turn out to be bigger than the living room.

SF:  What do you think is the merit or importance of reading fantasy?

LA:  I’m convinced that imagination is at the heart of everything we do—in art, science, even astrophysics and higher mathematics.  Imagination leads us to ask, “What if?”  Fantasy is, I believe, the great nourisher of imagination.  To paraphrase Einstein on how to develop intelligence in young people:  Read fairy tales.  Then read more fairy tales.  If we nourish imagination, we nourish everything else.

After The Lord of the Rings ushered me into the world of fantasy, Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain introduced me to friends that I wanted to keep my whole life--Taran and Eilonwy and their companions.  Little did I know that I would one day have the honor of meeting Lloyd Alexander and becoming friends with such a dear, sweet, talented man.

Lloyd Alexander, died Thursday, May 17, 2007.  We have lost a beloved author and a master storyteller.
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