The Xanadu Adventure

It's funny, but I feel like a great deal of my childhood reading was wrapped up in Lloyd Alexander (this is no understatement if you wikipedia this guy and see just how prolific he was). I may have loved The Chronicles of Prydain but I really fell in love with Vesper Holly. To this day, "Vesper" is still in the running for baby names if I should ever have a little girl.
So a few weeks ago, I discovered the "Never-Ending Book Quiz" on Goodreads and I started thinking about all the good books that deserved trivia questions. And naturally, I thought of Vesper. So I went online to remember all the exact titles and there on the list was a book I had never read before... The Xanadu Adventure published in 2005. I was graduating college in 2005, so I suppose it isn't surprising that I wasn't searching the young readers' section for unread gems, but I was still surprised that I had not yet heard of this sixth Vesper Holly book, printed fifteen years after the fifth. I ordered it immediately from an amazon seller and a few days ago, it arrived.

In The Xanadu Adventure, you find all the little touches that have come to characterize Vesper Holly books for me... the random expedition to an exotic locale, the cliffhanger endings to the short chapters, the narrator Brinnie's tendency to jump to conclusions, Vesper's cool-headed sense of reason, and, of course, our arch-nemesis Dr. Helvitius. In this adventure, we set off in search of Troy, but instead, we find an artificial Xanadu created by the wealthy and ridiculous Dr. Helvitius (all the truly great villains are wealthy and ridiculous, you know). Oh, and we also find a whole civilization of people (amazingly enough, an undiscovered people who are clearly the descendants of escaped Trojans) that possess the key to deciphering the language the Weed is studying, which sent us off on this adventure in the first place.

As we've gone along in the Vesper Holly books, we've acquired a few characters that we can't seem to shake. In the beginning, it was just Vesper and her guardian Brinnie running from place to place. Then we found Smiler and Slider, handy twins that are characterized by their mechanical know-how (particularly when it comes to boats that are of questionable sea-worthiness) and brute strength. There's Aunt Mary, Brinnie's wife who is surprisingly resourceful and nimble, much to her husband's surprise. And let us not forget "the Weed," a young man with academic pursuits who stumbled into our story and Vesper's heart. I can't say that I don't enjoy the side characters, but there was something a little less complicated about Vesper and Brinnie on their own in foreign countries. The more characters we acquired, the closer I knew we were coming to an eventual end of the stories. We were weighted down with people and soon it would be too much for such a troupe to wander into adventure.

And even while Vesper was always a bright and energetic young woman, it's in this book more than any other that you realize time has passed and we're not dealing with static characters whose ages do not change. There's always something a little melancholy about watching a character you love grow up. It's not like Vesper's an old woman or anything, but even the idea of her actually getting married and having a child is a bit much for me. I suppose it was good of Alexander to let us know that she's taken care-of and that even in marital bliss, she won't be losing her spunkiness... but I don't know if I needed assurance on that front.

Alexander, however, might have... I hadn't known this before reading the book and writing this review, but apparently Alexander had a step-daughter (his wife's daughter, whom he adopted) who passed away in 1990 - the same year the fifth Vesper Holly book was published. I won't speculate more on that, but it does add a note of melancholy as to why it might have taken fifteen years to see Vesper's final adventure in print. I wrote the line about wikipedia-ing Lloyd Alexander, then realized I had never done this, despite how many of his books I have read. So I went ahead and looked him up in Wikipedia and apparently he died exactly a year ago today.

In any case, The Xanadu Adventure is certainly a worthy Vesper Holly send-off and for a short while, it made me smile to find myself in the crowded company of the characters I knew and loved... particularly that of Brinnie and Vesper. I hope that more children will come to love them, too, as Alexander's work should delight children for generations to come.

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