We still remember finishing the fourth of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, being shocked by Cedric Diggory's murder, and realizing with satisfaction that Rowling was taking her phenomenally successful series someplace very dark and complicated indeed. It was at that moment that we believed that the Harry Potter series might in the end compare with the books that had always been, for us, the gold standard in children's fantasy literature: Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain.
Alexander died yesterday at 83 at his home outside Philadelphia. Though he wrote over 30 books, he's best known for the Prydain series and won the 1969 Newberry Award for The High King, the series' final book. The High King is everything we desperately hope Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be: a sweeping epic, an emotional finale, a series-ender that carefully lets each and every character fulfill his destiny. Beloved characters die; flawed enemies are redeemed; and good triumphs over evil. At book's end, Alexander's protagonist Taran must make a difficult choice: to follow his friends to the Summer Country, a place of immortality and peace, or to stay in Prydain and struggle to make his world a better place. It's the choice he makes that transforms him finally from hapless Assistant Pig-Keeper into a hero.
Alexander based The Chronicles of Prydain on Welsh mythology, but there's also more than a little of The Lord of the Rings in the series. Given the success of its progenitor's film version as well as of the similarly beloved The Chronicles of Narnia, it's surprising that the Prydain series isn't being made into a film — surprising, that is, until you realize that Disney made one of their biggest animated flops, 1985's The Black Cauldron, from the first two books in the series and seems unlikely to go further down that road.
So as you're waiting the seemingly endless two months until Harry Potter 7's release, why not read (or reread) the series that helped teach so many young readers that darkness and peril were as much a part of storytelling as innocence and light? And say a fond farewell to Lloyd Alexander, one of Harry Potter's many spiritual fathers, who's off to the Summer Country himself.