Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Yesterday I got an email from Dear Friend Paulina. She told me that Lloyd Alexander has died at age 83, two weeks after his beloved wife, Janine. Paulina's a librarian and can find out about these things. Here is an article about it.

Some other famous people have recently moved on to a new plane of existence, notably Kurt Vonnegut and Jerry Falwell. But I didn't really have much to do with either of those guys. Lloyd, on the other hand . . . I'm having a hard time imagining it. I feel like I should write him and say, "Dear Lloyd, I heard that you died last week. I hope everything's going okay." Too bad they haven't figured out how to get mail to the afterlife. It might just make the postage hike worth it.

I first “met” Lloyd through some characters of his at the public library I frequented as a child, and it’s probably safe to say my imagination was never the same again. Our sixth grade class was having a contest to see who could read the most Newbery Award books within a certain period of time, and Lloyd Alexander's The High King was on the list. All the boys in my class were reading the Prydain Chronicles, and I was pretty sure I would therefore find the book scary or violent or boring, but on the other hand, it looked sort of interesting . . .

You're not really supposed to read the last book of a series first, but in this case it might have been good I did, because I was completely won over. I proceeded to read the books leading up to it, and then started in on the Westmark Trilogy. I wanted to be Mickle. I loved Theo, and Mickle was a little awkward but very cool and I used to go off into the woods behind our house and act out the stories to myself. In junior high I wrote a letter to Lloyd and he sent me his autograph. In high school I got a local Welsh pastor to teach me Welsh because I had become so enamoured with the place and its mythology through Lloyd's books. I no longer remember any Welsh, apart from the first verse of Psalm 23, but I still have a Welsh Bible and dictionary.

After college during my Life as a Nanny, I met Dear Friend Paulina and found out she was also an avid reader of Lloyd's books. Through a little finagling and working a connexion she had with Trina Schart Hyman, she got Lloyd to agree to a phone call with me for my birthday. I don't know that writers are always very good phone-talkers. At least, I have an intense phobia of the phone except as regards talking to my family--and Lloyd's own powers of conversation were a little stilted. (Furthermore, he had been put in the slightly bizarre situation of trying to talk to someone he didn't know, who doesn't really know how to ask good questions, and who had informed her imagination with ideas out of his head.) I don't remember too much of what we talked about, except for saying that I had just re-read the Prydain Chronicles and cried at the end, as usual, and wondering how he could ever re-read them and revisit those characters. He told me he couldn't, and he didn't. I don't believe he ever read those books again after they were printed. And I believe that almost every book afterwards was an attempt to recreate those characters without actually having to revisit them.

In spite of the awkward phone call, he was very gracious, and out of that conversation a patchy correspondence was born. Paulina and I sent him and Janine a box of cookies (which Janine, apparently, devoured). He gave me writing advice. He allowed me to inform him of my move to London . . . and my return to the U.S. He autographed the first edition copy of Taran Wanderer that Paulina discovered and generously bought for me before the trip to London, and autographed the first edition copy of The Iron Ring she bought hot off the press when I was there. Lloyd wrote to me about his and Janine's health and his garden and the weather and his cats and faith and God and relationships and current events. After a while our correspondence dwindled to simple Christmas cards--mine, the homemade ones I send to almost everyone I know; his, cartoon caricatures of famous paintings in which he is playing the violin to an audience of irritated or bemused cats. I went through a regrettable and completely stupid weeding-stuff-out phase at one point, and so I only have his last four Christmas cards and a few arbitrarily-saved letters. I regret not saving everything. I regret that I never wrote and told him my book is finally getting published. And I'm sorry he never got to read it.
But I'm grateful to him (and Paulina) for the chance to know him a little bit. I miss him and his Christmas cards already. And I really do hope everything's going okay.Artwork:
Prydain Characters, watercolour by jennw2ns, 1995. I painted two and sent Lloyd the other one. I think he framed it.
After Gustave Caillebotte: "Paris in the Rain," Christmas card by Lloyd Alexander, 2003.


Annelise said...

Loved this blog!

The Cubicle Reverend said...

I can understand what you mean. It's amazing how a writers work can mean so much to us that when the person dies it feels like we lost a good friend.

Barry Pike said...

Oh, my. Thanks for sharing this unique and sweet remembrance, Jenn.

My mother was a children's librarian and she introduced the Chronicles of Prydain to me sometime in the early 70's (I know, I'm a geezer), and they had a HUGE impact on my young imagination.

the item said...

Hey, I never knew you corresponded with Lloyd Alexander. Such secrets one needs to pry out of you. I read all those books as well. I even cried at the end (I was 10 of course).

L.L. Barkat said...

I know what you mean about wishing he could read your book. It would be like You giving back to Him in some special way. And it hurts to know there's no mail by which to get it to him.

GreekGeek said...

I never knew you corresponded with him! I've read his books so many many times, and I just bought 2 of his cats books (Town Cats and The Cat who Wished to be a Man) for my landlady who loves cats. I thought she'd appreciate them -- I love the cards he sent you! =] Oh, I'm sad now... My brother also got to hear him read from, oh, it might have been Taryn Wanderer back when he was a kid - I'll have to pass on the news, and my family will join you in mourning. Thanks for this, though, it was a beautiful tribute to a friend and mentor.

Jenn said...

Thank you so much for reminding us that famous authors are people too! Sometimes I hold them in such high esteem that I forget that they lead normal lives and probably even do things like send Christmas cards! This was a lovely blog!