Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Gawgon and the Boy

Lloyd Alexander
Dutton Juvenile 2001

My mother-in-law works at a book store. This suits me fine! For birthdays, instead of clothes or toys, my children get books! Lloyd Alexander's The Gawgon and the Boy came in a box with a few other books as a gift to my ten year old son a few weeks ago. I recognized the author's name of course, as I had read all the Prydain books both as a child and then again as an adult. Neither pass had impressed me greatly, so at first I regarded the book with cool disinterest. Could Lloyd Alexander still be writing books? Inside the front cover, the list of his published works spanned two pages. Still, I was skeptical. With his reputation, he could probably publish any old thing.

So the book languished on my front room table. One day I picked it up during what was supposed to be a five minute break from house cleaning. I opened the book, turned over the table of contents, and found the little bylines on the family tree perfectly charming. Intrigued, I went on to page one and was immediately caught by the cheerful, boyish relish the main character felt for having a near fatal case of pneumonia. I read on. Every page I told myself that it would be the last, that I must get up and do more housework, but the book was too much of a delight! Only decades of writing fiction can give an author the poise to dash off such a piece of work.

Finally, in chapter five, I managed to tear myself away for a few hours, but I was soon back. The convalescent boy is put under the tutelage of an elderly aunt. At first frightened of his aunt, whom he nicknames "Gawgon" after the gorgon Medusa, the boy soon finds out there's more to the old woman than he thought.

My favorite parts of the book are the yarns the boy spins in his imagination. A delightful blend of history, mythology, literature, geometry, and an eleven year old sense of high adventure, these stories kept me laughing as the boy's family faces the Great Depression and the changes it brings about in their lives.

In the friendship between the boy and his aunt I remembered my favorite teachers, the ones who really inspired me to learn. I loved the jolly cast of the boy's eccentric extended family. Full of sparkly, funny bits, this book is a marvelous read. I highly recommend it.

So why weren't those Prydain books more like this? I suppose thirty years of writing books does count for something.

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