January 30 – Happy Birthday, Lloyd Alexander

Posted on January 30, 2016

Here are some of my favorite friends from my childhood: Taran, Eilonwy, and Gurgi. Here are some of my kids' favorite friends, from their childhood: Taran, Eilonwy, and Gurgi.

I'm sure you realize that when I say friends, I really mean “friends” with quotation marks. Really, they were beloved characters from oft-read, much-loved books.

And therein lies the beauty of books – new generations can enjoy wonderful characters and engaging plots just as much as their parents and maybe even grandparents before them did!

Getting back to Taran, Eilonwy, and Gurgi: 

Taran was a wanderer; a boy who had no station in life, no known parents; a boy who really wanted to be a hero. 

Eilonwy was a princess with a non-stop tongue, a handy bauble that serves as a flashlight (among other things), and a stick-up-for-herself attitude. 

Gurgi was...well, nobody really knew what Gurgi was. He wasn't quite human, but he could talk, after a fashion. He was mussy and hairy and always hungry – “crunchings and munchings” were big in his life (and in my family's discussion of snacks as well)!

These three are some of the characters of the five-book Chronicles of Prydain. They were written by today's birthday. Lloyd Alexander, in the 1960s, and two of the five were honored with a Newbery Honor and a Newbery Medal. An honor that is even harder to get is a Disney movie; in 1985, Disney released a Prydain animated movie that wasn't very like the books (and wasn't, in my opinion, all that good).

Maybe I was just disappointed because the Disney Taran, Eilonwy, and Gurgi were not MY Taran, Eilonwy, or Gurgi!

Lloyd Alexander wrote more than just Prydain books...

Born on this date in 1924, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Lloyd Alexander loved to read the books his parents bought at the Salvation Army. Alexander's childhood was shadowed by the Great Depression, which hugely affected his stockbroker father (and most Americans) – but Alexander could get his escape by reading.

By age 15, Alexander wanted to be a writer. He worked the job that his parents found for him, as a bank messenger, while finishing high school by age 16, but he only went to college for one year before he decided to launch out on his career. He thought that he needed to have adventures before he began to write about others' adventures, so he enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was lucky not to be deployed until late in the war; he trained and served in intelligence and counterintelligence.

Spy stuff!

One of the places where he trained was Wales.

After the war, Alexander went to university in Paris, got married, and moved back to the U.S. to write.

He wrote books for seven long years before he got any of his books published!

His first hit was fantasy, meant for children: Time Cat. Because of that success, Alexander decided to stick with children's fantasy. He revisited his wartime home, Wales, for the settings of the Prydain books. The books are about  Welsh names and were inspired by aspects of Welsh mythology – although the beloved main characters and the plots of the Prydain books were entirely Alexander's own!

  • To celebrate Alexander's birthday, check out his books!

  • If you already know and love the Prydain books, did you know that there is a wiki about Prydain? (Don't check this out if you haven't read the books – loads of spoilers!)

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