Friday, April 8, 2016

The Gawgon and The Boy

The Gawgon and The Boy
by Lloyd Alexander
Recommended Ages: 11+

This book, which may also be known under the title Fantastical Adventures of the Invisible Boy, is a thinly veiled portrait of the artist as a very young man, as he grew up in Philadelphia, USA during the Great Depression. As David approaches sixth grade, he nearly dies of an illness. The family doctor advises his parents not to send him back to school for a while, so he takes free tutoring from the terrible Aunt Annie, actually a distant cousin of his grandmother, whom he privately calls "The Gawgon" (based on another aunt's mispronunciation of "Gorgon"). The Gawgon, in return, calls him The Boy, with two capital initials, and they soon develop a surprisingly deep friendship that is put only slightly out of order by The Gawgon's death.

This is a very touching, funny, honest, personal story about the events that lead a boy to discover an ambition to be an artist and writer, in spite of getting no encouragement from anybody except an eccentric old lady who almost never leaves his grandmother's boarding-house. In a few light brushstrokes, it portrays a cast of goofy yet endearingly ordinary characters, while its unusual structure focuses mainly on the boy's inner life - a life of the imagination, stirred up by his lessons with The Gawgon, and featuring such characters as Napoleon Bonaparte, Sherlock Holmes, and Leonardo da Vinci.

During the last quarter of the book or so, the Gawgon herself lives in David's imagination, taking a slow leave as though hesitant to go without seeing how everything will turn out. As the stack of remaining pages grows thin, it's an attitude many a reader may share. Like so many of this author's books, this is a story to cherish in one's heart.

Lloyd Alexander (1924-2007) was the Philadelphia-born author of the rightly celebrated Prydain Chronicles, including the Newbery Medal-winning The High King, and a two-time National Book Award winner for children's fiction (The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian, Westmark). He was also noted as an illustrator of children's books. His numerous other titles include the Vesper Holly series, The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man, The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, and Gypsy Rizka, to name only some of the titles I haven't already reviewed. If you haven't read most of his books, you have a big assignment ahead of you - but one I think you will enjoy.

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