Did you know that Lloyd Alexander was born on January 30, 1924 right here in Philadelphia? The celebrated children’s author published over three dozen books before he died in 2007, including The Black Cauldron (1965), Time Cat (1963), and The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian (1970). He’s always been a special favorite of ours at the Free Library of Philadelphia, especially since he donated his personal papers and literary manuscripts to our Children’s Literature Research Collection in 1995. You may have heard about the CLIR grant we recently received to process his papers and make them available to researchers, or read this earlier blog post about the work we’ve done so far. Since his birthday is just around the corner, we thought we’d take this opportunity to talk about what we’ve uncovered in his archives.
Lloyd Alexander grew up near Philadelphia in Drexel Hill, and after serving in the military during World War II, returned to live in Drexel Hill for the rest of his life. Early in his career, he often took inspiration from his home town of Philadelphia. In the early 1950s Alexander sent his agent an outline for a book entitled The Beautiful Children, which was set in Philadelphia and its suburbs at the close of World War II. He wrote, “I chose this scene because it’s one I’m most familiar with and one I can show with most naturalness.” The Beautiful Children never made it to the press, but several (semi-)autobiographical books about Alexander’s life in Philadelphia suburbs did—including And Let the Credit Go (1955), My Five Tigers (1956), and My Love Affair with Music (1960). Among the most popular in this vein, Janine is French (1960) humorously recounts the culture clashes that result when a soldier returns from abroad to settle with his Parisian wife in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The book met with moderate success, and Alexander also collaborated to write a stage adaptation of his work.
When Alexander shifted his focus to children’s books in the 1960s, he began writing about fantastical versions of foreign lands. The characters of Time Cat (1963) travel magically around the world to Ancient Egypt, Japan, Peru, and other places; The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha (1978) takes place in a land influenced by Persian culture; The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen (1991) in a land much like China. But as Alexander wrote in the author’s note to The Book of Three (1964), regarding the relationship between Prydain and Wales, “The inspiration for it comes from that magnificent land and its legends; but, essentially, Prydain is a country existing only in the imagination.”
So it should be no surprise that when Alexander wrote a book set in Philadelphia, it was not quite the Philadelphia you and I know so well. Check out this map hand-drawn by Lloyd Alexander for The Philadelphia Adventure (1990), part of the Vesper Holly series. Notice anything…strange? In the author’s note, Alexander explains, “The geography of the imagination is always true.”
All of the manuscripts for the books mentioned above may be found in the Children’s Literature Research Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia. We look forward to unveiling the finding aid to the Lloyd Alexander papers later this year! In the meantime, keep up with us on Twitter and Facebook.