26 January 2008
Here's an oldie but a goodie. I reread this for a 5th/6th Grade Book Discussion Group that I am hoping to get off the ground at work. I'll be curious to see what the kids make of it.
I read somewhere (and I'll have to find the citation before Tuesday night!) that The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha was a very personal book for Lloyd Alexander. This is not hard to believe. Storytelling plays a crucial part in the book, and Alexander was a master storyteller.
Lukas-Kasha is a layabout young man who is at his best when making mischief. One day, a traveling magician, Battisto the magnificent, rolls into the town where Lukas lives. He sets up shop and calls for a participant who is "bold enough to face every peril, to dare the unknown." Lukas steps up to the challenge and promptly gets his head ducked into a bucket of water. He is transported to another location, where he is dragged out of the sea and promptly declared King Kasha. And that's just the start of his problems. He finds himself caught in a power struggle with his Vizier, caught between two warring nations, and caught between the desire to live the lazy life of a pampered king (a role he is naturally suited for) and the growing realization that he has the wisdom and the quick wits to rule wisely. All while wondering when and if Battisto will ever pull his head out of the water, and take this new life away.
When I read this book as a middle schooler, I felt it was bittersweet. I remember talking with the friend who introduced me to it about that (and we talk about it still!) Reading it now, I have a much different interpretation (not to mention a new theory for just what exactly happens to Lukas-Kasha while his head is submerged in the bucket.) I have since read every book Lloyd Alexander has written, and can neatly place this volume within the canon. I have the benefit of nearly 20 years between readings. As a pre-teen girl I was totally caught up in the interpersonal relationships between the characters and heartbroken when I saw them come to an end. I could see the point Alexander was making, but I didn't approve! This time around I "get" what Alexander was saying: life is a journey; there is no certainty but uncertainty; stories have the power to heal and protect us. I also noticed the non-stop action in this book, and thought that I really must recommend it to more boys! And I couldn't help thinking how much Nur-Jehan, the bold and spirited Beishangari slave girl (who of course is so much more than she seems--as are all of Alexander's heroines) sounds like a Klingon, with all her talk of honor and warrior codes. I love the way we (that's the royal "we" BTW) cross-pollinate Art with the references and experiences we pick up every day. There is a lot of that in this book, too, as the characters apply knowledge from one sphere of their experience onto another.
Alexander dedicated The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha to "all who can imagine it really happened, and for all who wish it could". I now count myself among both camps. They are equally satisfying.