Author Alexander Made Hits Out of Myths

Lloyd Alexander, a prize-winning author of children's books, has died at 83. Many of his books were set in mythical lands, but his heroes had modern-day problems. His Chronicles of Prydain concluded in 1969 with a Newbery Medal winner.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

This week, the world of children's literature lost a beloved author. Lloyd Alexander was known for his fantasy books, among them "The Black Cauldron" and "The High King," which won the Newbery Medal in 1969. Alexander died of cancer at the age of 83.

He inspired generations of children and influenced many writers, including Jon Scieszka, a best-selling author of children's books himself. Scieszka remembers when he first read Lloyd Alexander as a kid.

Mr. JON SCIESZKA (Children's Book Author): He just had this combination of real characters that were doing really extraordinary things, like hopping around in time, but it had a sense of humor too, which really just seems so different from the all the other books I was reading as a kid in school.

ELLIOTT: As an adult, Scieszka got to know Lloyd Alexander and remembers him as a striking figure.

Mr. SCIESZKA: I guess, it would be his incredible nose that would, sort of, (unintelligible), and he was just this, kind of, crazy, angular looking guy. He looked like he stepped on a Welsh mythology, and then he just had a personality that match it. I think he was just larger than life.

ELLIOTT: It's fitting that Alexander looked like a bit of Welsh lore. Born in 1924 in Philadelphia, he dropped out of college and joined the U.S. Army as a young man because he wanted to see the world. The Army sent him for training in Wales where he fell in love with the landscape and mythology that later worked their way into many of his books. His five-part series, "The Prydain Chronicles," drew heavily on Welsh mythology.

Here's Jon Scieszka reading the last page of the last book in "The Prydain Chronicles."

Mr. SCIESZKA: (Reading) And so they lived many happy years, and the promised tasks were accomplished. Yet long afterward, when all had passed away into distant memory, there were many who wondered whether King Taran, Queen Eilonwy, and their companions had indeed walked the earth, or whether they had been no more than dreams and a tale set down to beguile children. And in time, only the bards knew the truth of it.

ELLIOTT: Scieszka says Alexander himself was a bard, passing along some kind of deep wisdom in story form.

Mr. SCIESZKA: Taran, his main character, just seemed to be like a version of Lloyd himself, like a lowly pig keeper, who just happened to tap into something that was huger and bigger, and had some purpose in the world. I think that was Lloyd.

ELLIOTT: Alexander won many awards, but Scieszka says he was always a bit embarrassed by the fame. He was an unassuming generous man who just wanted to share his stories. Lloyd Alexander died at his home in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. His last children's novel, "The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio," is scheduled to be published in August.

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