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BYU exhibit and student's film about famous author getting national recognition

By Teri Harman

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, June 29 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

Tucked into a quiet corner of the juvenile literature section of the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University is a collection of literary treasures. The personal belongings of legendary and well-loved fantasy writer Lloyd Alexander are respectfully kept behind glass and shown with special permission.

The collection, a re-creation of Alexander’s home office, is affectionately called “Alexander’s Box” and includes some of his favorite personal items, such as an antique Welsh harp that served as inspiration for a magical harp in one of his most popular books, many books from his extensive personal collection, his typewriter, awards and all 48 of his published books.

“Lloyd Alexander was a very private man,” said Rachel Wadham, Education and Juvenile Collection librarian for the Harold B. Lee Library. “He liked to stay home to write, read and research, but he answered every piece of fan mail by hand. Praise and awards always surprised him because he was just doing what he loved and didn’t expect to be praised for it.”

Alexander’s most famous work is “The Chronicles of Prydain” a five-book, high-fantasy series that includes “The Black Cauldron,” winner of a 1966 Newberry honor and the inspiration for a Disney film of the same name, and “The High King,” 1969 Newbery Medal winner.

Jared Crossley, currently a student at BYU, read the Prydain books in junior high after purchasing the set from a school book fair. “My older sister loved the books and I actually bought the set for her,” he recalled, “but somehow I left them in my locker and eventually decided to read them. I loved them and read them several more times over the years. They helped fuel my love of creativity.”

While searching for inspiration for a film program entry project, Crossley came across the library’s collection and decided it would be the perfect subject for a short film. He had no idea the small project would turn into a major nonprofit endeavor with eager supporters in high places.

“I went to lunch with Jim Jacobs and told him about my plans to make a short film about Lloyd Alexander inspired by the collection in the library,” Crossley said. The retired BYU children’s literature professor and author of “Lloyd Alexander: A Critical Biography,” immediately agreed to help.

Soon other big names jumped on board, including Michael Tunnel, a BYU professor and author whose dissertation about Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles was published by Henry Holt as “The Prydain Companion: A Reference Guide to Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles.” Hollywood filmmaker and entertainment designer Steve Christensen, who’s worked with movie legends like Steven Speilberg and JJ Abrams, found out about the film and offered his skills as a producer, and best-selling fantasy author Brandon Sanderson is backing the project.

The film now reaches far beyond the BYU collection. “We will be traveling to New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Drexel Hill, Pa., to obtain footage and conduct interviews. The film will have exclusive interviews with many of Lloyd's friends and associates, including Ann Durrell McCrory, his editor, Shakkkryn November, Mike Tunnell, Jim Jacobs, Kemie Nix and Sandy Limont. It will also showcase artwork of Prydain from artist Justin Kunz,” Crossley said.

The nonprofit project also aims to reach beyond merely telling the story of Alexander’s life. “We want to create exposure for reading and add to the educational community. The film will be a resource for libraries, teachers, schools, educators and fans,” Crossley said.

“I love what Jared is doing,” Wadham said. “It takes a lot of strength to launch a small project into something this huge with this much potential. It’s an amazing project.”

Crossley replied, “The hard part is already done for me. Lloyd Alexander lived the life and did the writing. All I have to do is share his wonderful legacy.”

The finished film, “Lloyd Alexander: A Documentary,” will premiere at BYU in October 2012. There will be a short 10-minute version shown in the Harold B. Lee Library throughout the day on Thursday, Oct. 18, with a panel of the filmmakers available for questions. The longer 60-minute version will be shown on the evening of Oct. 19. The Alexander’s Box exhibit and other items from BYU Special Collections will also be available for viewing. The premier is free to the public.

The film also will be shown on publisher McMillian’s website and the Philly Free Library website.

If you would like to see the Alexander’s Box exhibit at BYU, contact Rachel Wadham, rachel_wadham@byu.edu, to schedule a visit.

Crossley is accepting financial backing for the film and hopes to reach his goal of $15,000 in donations by July 1. If you would like to help him reach this goal, visit the Kickstarter website. Gifts, including copies of Lloyd Alexander’s books, copies of the film and exclusive T-shirts, are available with donations.

You can also find the film on Facebook and Twitter.

Teri Harman, author and book enthusiast, writes a bi-weekly column, Book Matters, for ksl.com and also contributes a monthly book segment to "Studio 5." Her debut novel, "Blood Moon," will come out the summer of 2013. Visit book-matters.com

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