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October 2014

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Lloyd Alexander's Newbery Prize Acceptance Speech

Despite his faults, Taran, hero and Assistant Pig-Keeper in The High King, somehow manages to find enough courage and wisdom to go through the most difficult and perilous ordeals. In an equally difficult and perilous undertaking, whether his author will manage to do the same is open to serious question. For a man who has loved the English language and tried to serve it well, at this point I can only ask: Where is it when I really need it?

...Beginnings are always frightening - for a child at the first day of school, for an author at page one of a manuscript. Beginnings are signs of life and a chance for growth. The actively creative garden is plagued with its own crab grass of anxieties, doubts, and difficulties. But, as handsome as laurels may be, they are uncomfortable to rest on.

I'm speaking in terms of beginnings instead of endings for this reason: coming to the last page of The High King was a sad moment for me, a feeling more akin to loss than liberation; as if something one had loved deeply for a long time had suddenly gone away. Yet it was a loss with more than equal gain. Throughout the writing of the book, and even from the first of the five books of Prydain, I believe I had a glimpse of what it felt like to create something; of how it felt, if only for a moment, truly to be a writer. Now, perhaps, I can start being one. Certainly no work has given me greater joy in the doing; and writing for children has been the happiest discovery of all.

I have to smile, remembering myself as a very much younger man... I was still looking for a way to say - whatever it was, if anything, I had to say... Although it didn't feel that way at the time, those years were a blessing, heavily disguised. Or, say, the kind of gift the enchantresses Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch bestow on the unwitting recipient. Perhaps we have to serve an apprenticeship to life before we can serve one to art. We can't begin doing our best for children until we ourselves begin growing up...

I still can't say precisely what unreasonable reasons brought me to write for children - beyond saying I simply wanted to... Even though I can't analyze what led me to children's literature, I do know what I found there. For me, a true form of art that not only helped me understand something of what I wanted to say but also let me discover ideas, attitudes, and feelings I never suspected were there in the first place...

At heart, the issues raised in a work of fantasy are those we face in real life. In whatever guise - our own daily nightmares of war, intolerance, inhumanity, or the struggles of an Assistant Pig-Keeper against the Lord of Death - the problems are agonizingly familiar. And an openness to compassion, love, and mercy is as essential to us here and now as it is to any inhabitant of an imaginary kingdom...

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