Alexander was born in Philadelphia in 1924 and grew up in Drexel Hill, a western suburb. His father was a stockbroker and the family was much affected by the Great Depression. His parents read only newspapers but bought books "at the Salvation Army to fill up empty shelves." Lloyd was a reader of books: "Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain, and so many other were my dearest friends and greatest teachers. I loved all the world's mythologies; King Arthur was one of my heroes..."
By fifteen he had determined to be a writer. His parents found him a practical job as bank messenger, which inspired a satire that would become his first book published fifteen years later, And Let the Credit Go (1955). He graduated at age sixteen in 1940 from Upper Darby High School, where he was inducted into the school's Wall of Fame in 1995.
Alexander judged that adventure, not college, was the best school for a writer, and that US Army participation in World War II was an opportunity. The army shipped him to Texas where he played the cymbals in band and the organ in chapel. He received combat intelligence training in Maryland, then in Wales, before late wartime deployment in western and southern borderlands of Germany that had already been conquered. He rose to be a staff sergeant in intelligence and counterintelligence.
After the war Alexander attended the University of Paris, where he met Janine Denni. They were married in 1946 and soon moved back home (for Lloyd) to Philadelphia.
For about fifteen years in Philadelphia, Alexander wrote primarily fiction, non-fiction, and translations for adults. He wrote "novel after novel" for seven years before his first book was published in 1955. That was "the story of a young person going out into the world for the first time and finding the world a very difficult place indeed. That's the story that all of us have to tell." During that time he wrote two non-fiction books for children, biographies for August Bondi and Aaron Lopez.
Alexander succeeded on his first try writing fantasy for children, which he later called "the most creative and liberating experience of my life". The book was Time Cat (1963), a fantasy inspired by one of his pet cats, Solomon. Solomon would visit the office while Alexander was working, but the author would never see him come or go.
Almost forty, he then specialized in children's fantasy, the genre of his best-known works. His wartime tenure in Wales introduced him to castles and scenery that would inspire settings for many of his books, and to Welsh language whose medieval literature — especially the Mabinogion — was a source for The Chronicles of Prydain in particular. These five novels detail the adventures of a young man named Taran, who dreams of being a sword-bearing hero but has only the title Assistant Pig-Keeper. He progresses from youth to maturity and must finally choose whether to become High King of Prydain. Twenty years later, a Disney animated film, The Black Cauldron (1985) was based on the first two books, telling a combined story which proved a commercial and critical failure -- not due to any flaws in the source material, but (as can be gleaned from reading reviews of the day) because of many unfortunate changes and otherwise poor choices made by the filmmakers.
After the success of the Prydain books, Alexander was chosen to be Author-in-Residence at Temple University from 1970 to 1974. He once described it as being educational for him and as "rather like being a visiting uncle, who has a marvelous time with his nephews and nieces, then goes off leaving the parents to cope with attacks of whooping cough, mending socks and blackmailing the kids to straighten up the mess in their rooms."
Alexander's other fiction series are Westmark (1981 to 1984) and Vesper Holly (1987 to 1990 and 2005). Westmark features a former printer's apprentice involved in rebellion and civil war in a fictional European kingdom around 1800. Vesper Holly is a wealthy and brilliant Philadelphia orphan who has adventures in various fictional countries during the 1870s.
There was some controversy about The Fortune Tellers (1993), a picture book illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Some felt that the story was European in origin and therefore inappropriate for its African setting. But Alexander early on established his interest in the intersection of African and European history (as well as his political leanings) with his 1958 profile of August Bondi (August Bondi: Border Hawk), the Jewish radical abolitionist who rode with John Brown in Kansas attacking pro-slavery militants.
Alexander's last novel, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, was published in August 2007. "I have finished my life work," he said about the book before he died.
According to Dictionary of Literary Biography, Alexander's books had "the special depth and insight provided by characters who not only act, but think, feel and struggle with the same kinds of problems that confuse and trouble people in the twentieth century."
Alexander first garnered significant critical acclaim with his The Chronicles of Prydain series. The second volume (The Black Cauldron) was a 1966 Newbery Honor Book; the fourth (Taran Wanderer) was a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year; the fifth and concluding volume (The High King) won the 1969 Newbery Medal.
Many of Alexander's later books were similarly praised. The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian won the 1971 National Book Award in category Children's Books, and Westmark also won a 1982 National Book Award. The Fortune-Tellers, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, won the 1992 Boston Globe – Horn Book Award in the illustrated category.
Alexander was included in the 1972 volume of the reference series, Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators and he received at least three lifetime achievement awards. In 1991, the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Center for the Book bestowed upon him the Pennbook Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2001, he received the Parent's Choice Foundation's first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2003, Alexander was recognized for Life Achievement from the World Fantasy Awards.
On January 28, 2010 an exhibit opened at the Harold B. Lee Library on the campus of Brigham Young University, displaying several items from Alexander's home office, which he referred to as "the Box." Items include manuscripts, editions of all his books, his violin, typewriter, and desk.
His daughter, Madeleine Khalil, died in 1990.
(For more information specifically on Lloyd Alexander and his other books, consider visiting the Lloyd Alexander Wiki.)
The Chronicles of Prydain
The Westmark Trilogy
- The Kestrel
- The Beggar Queen
The Vesper Holly series
- The Illyrian Adventure
- The El Dorado Adventure
- The Drackenberg Adventure
- The Jedera Adventure
- The Philadelphia Adventure
- The Xanadu Adventure
- And Let the Credit Go (first published book)
- My Five Tigers
- August Bondi: Border Hawk
- Aaron Lopez: The Flagship Hope
- Fifty Years in the Doghouse
- Time Cat: The Remarkable Journeys of Jason And Gareth
- Coll and His White Pig
- The Truthful Harp
- The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian
- The King's Fountain
- The Four Donkeys
- The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man
- The Wizard in the Tree
- The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha
- The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen
- The Fortune-Tellers
- The Arkadians
- The House Gobbaleen
- The Iron Ring
- Gypsy Rizka
- How the Cat Swallowed Thunder
- The Gawgon and the Boy
- The Rope Trick
- Dream-of-Jade: The Emperor's Cat
- The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio