I was at the public library some weeks ago, as is my wont, when I stumbled upon an intriguing volume in the juvenile nonfiction. (Don’t knock juvenile nonfiction. Rhoda Blumberg’s Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun is the best account of the Opening of Japan I’ve ever read.) It was called The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy, compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus, and featured interviews with such luminaries of children’s fantasy as Brian Jacques, Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip Pullman, and Jane Yolen.
As the interviews in the book are organized by the subject’s last name, the first one I read was with Lloyd Alexander (who passed away in 2007, the year after The Wand in the Word was published). Everything he said resonated with me, and I found myself wanting to know more about his writings. I don’t know how I missed him in my childhood reading. I loved fantasy, especially C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the works of Roald Dahl, The Phantom Tollbooth, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Ella Enchanted, Artemis Fowl… and yet somehow I got through my entire childhood and adolescence without having so much as heard of Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. So last week I made sure to pick up The Book of Three, the first in the series, when I visited the public library again.
I’m only about halfway through, but I love everything about it. Un-self-conscious, pure, classic children’s fantasy, without any of the “modern twists” or ironic wink-wink-nudge-nudges that I find in a lot of contemporary children’s fantasy.* Kids these days are too cool for taking fantasy worlds seriously, I guess.
From the author’s note prefacing The Book of Three:
The chronicle of Prydain is a fantasy. Such things never happen in real life. Or do they? Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we believe we can do. Our capabilities seldom match our aspirations, and we are often woefully unprepared. To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers at heart.
Aren’t I just.
*One notable exception that comes to mind: Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Oh, and another: Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver. There are more, but I can’t think of them at the moment.