When I was 10 years old, my teacher introduced me to Taran, Eilonwy, and Gurgi by way of assigning “The Black Cauldron” as class reading. I loved that book, and was thrilled to find two more books by the author, Lloyd Alexander, in our school library. I read “Taran Wanderer” several times, then read “The High King.” Then I found more of his books at our community library. I read the “Westmark” trilogy several times, and afterwards I read “The Book of Three” and “The Castle of Llyr.”
I liked to daydream about visiting Prydain. One of my favorite things to ponder was, if I could bring one thing with me, what would it be? Eventually, I decided I’d take a bag that, if I reached inside, I could pull out a book on any subject. That way, if Coll needed more iron for swords, I could pull out books on the geology of Prydain; or if we were wandering in the forests, I could pull out a book on edible wild plants. Thinking about these characters and places filled a great deal of my inner monologue during those years of my life.
In college, the author himself visited our campus and gave a lecture in the de Jong Concert Hall. He was slight and soft-spoken. At the end, he invited questions. One person asked how to pronounce the characters’ names. He instantly answered, “However you think they should be pronounced.” When pressed to tell us how he, personally, pronounced the names, he hesitantly revealed how he hears them. He said “Eilonwy” in a way so lovely that I wished I’d known it from the start.
Although I couldn’t afford them, I bought hardback copies of two of his books. Then I stood in the long line for signing. I considered what I could say to him, and I decided there was nothing that could express the depths of my respect and gratitude in that brief moment, so I should just give him the books and be satisfied.
When I started to hand him my newly-purchased copy of “The Kestrel,” the guy behind me said to my hero, “Wait, don’t sign that.” Then he said to me, “You can exchange it if it isn’t written in.” When I gave him a confused look, he said, “Are you sure you want that one? It isn’t the first book in the series.”
I mumbled something about how I really liked this one, and then I again offered it to Lloyd Alexander.
He took it from me, and in his gentle voice, he said, “Yes, this one is rather darker.” His tone convinced me that he understood everything.
I’ve heard of people being disappointed when they meet their heroes. But I came away from that encounter with even greater appreciation for the author who provided such rich material for my childhood imagination to work on.