My parents were horrified when I told them I wanted to be an author. I was fifteen, in my last year of high school. My family pleaded with me to forget literature and do something sensible, such as find some sort of useful work.
I had no idea how to find work, useful or otherwise. In fact, I had no idea how to become an author. If reading offered any preparation for writing, there were grounds for hope. I had been reading as long as I could remember. Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain, and so many others were my dearest friends and greatest teachers. I loved all the world's mythologies. King Arthur was one of my heroes — I played with a trash can lid for a knightly shield and my uncle's cane for the sword Excalibur. But I was afraid that not even Merlin the enchanter could transform me into a writer.
After high school, I worked as a messenger boy at a local bank. I was miserable. I felt like Robin Hood chained in the Sheriff of Nottingham's dungeon. As a would-be writer, I thought it was a catastrophe. As a bank employee, I could barely add or subtract, and had to count on my fingers.
After I saved some money, I quit work and went to a local college. But after the first term, I left, dissatisfied with the coursework. I decided that adventure was the best way to learn about writing. It was 1943. The U.S. had already entered World War II, so I decided to join the army.
Eventually, I was sent to Wales and Germany, and after the war, to Paris. When I was discharged, I attended the University of Paris and met a beautiful Parisian girl, Janine. We soon married and eventually returned to the States. Life abroad was fascinating, but I longed for home. If I was to write anything worthwhile, I needed to be closer to my roots.
After seven years of writing — and working many jobs to support my family — I finally got published. I first wrote for adults, but when I started writing for young people, it was the most creative and liberating experience of my life. I was able to express my own deepest feelings far more than I ever could when writing for adults.
Most of my books have been written in the form of fantasy. Using the device of an imaginary world allows me in some strange way to go to the central issues — it's one of many ways to express feelings about real people, about real human relationships. My concern is how we learn to be genuine human beings. I never have found out all I want to know about writing and realize I never will. All that writers can do is keep trying to say what is deepest in their hearts. If writers learn more from their books than do readers, perhaps I may have begun to learn.
Note: Lloyd Alexander passed away on May 17, 2007 at his home in Drexel Hill, Pa. He was 83.