Series: The Fantastical Adventures of the Invisible Boy
By Lloyd Alexander
When I first met The Gawgon, I never suspected who she was: climber of icy mountains, rescuer of King Tut’s treasure, challenger of master criminals, and a dozen other things. But that came later, after I died – nearly died, anyhow.
“They really thought you were a goner,” my sister said cheerfully. She had come to stand at my bedroom door. “What a nuisance you are.”
In April of that year – one of those sour-tempered Philadelphia Aprils – I had the good luck to fall sick. I was delighted. Not that I enjoyed the worst part of it, but the best part was: it kept me out of school. Aside from a beehive buzzing in my head and a herd of weasels romping through my insides, I was beginning to feel pretty chipper.
No one told me straight out what ailed me. I was eleven and had not reached complete visibility. My relatives, talking among themselves, tended to look through me – the Amazing Invisible Boy – or change the subject. I did overhear my mother and my aunt Rosie whispering in the hall about something Aunt Rosie called the New Monia.
“Thank heaven it wasn’t the Spanish Influenzo,” she said to my mother.
“Spaniards! What else will they send us?” Aunt Rosie lived in a state of eternal indignation and distrusted anything foreign.
“That’s right, you nearly croaked,” my sister happily went on. “Uncle Eustace was ready to sell us a tombstone.”
Uncle Eustace, my father’s brother, indeed sold tombstones for a living. As a result of sinus operations, deep scars criss-crossed his face. It made him look grim and sombre, an advantage in his line of work.
“If I croaked” – I made frog noises – “it wouldn’t bother me. I’d come back as a duppy and haunt you.”
Duppy was the West Indian word for “ghost”. I learned it from my father, born in Kingston, Jamaica. The prospect of meeting a duppy scared the wits out of him. Otherwise, he was completely fearless.
“There aren’t any duppies in Philadelphia,” my sister said. “So shut up about them. Just be glad you weren’t quarantined.”
I was not glad. I was disappointed. I would have liked one of those red or yellow stickers plastered on the front door, a badge of distinction. We still lived in the house on Lorimer Street then, and I had seen a few go up in the neighbourhood, usually for measles, chicken pox, diphtheria (the Dip Theory, Aunt Rosie called it). Every so often a boy suddenly vanished as if the goblins had got him. The black-lettered warning would appear, then a few days later, the boy himself, grinning behind the windowpane, his face magnificently blotched – almost as good as being tattooed. What was done with girls, I had no idea. They were a tribe apart.
I knew my sister was frantic over the possibility of a quarantine. No one could have gone in or out except the adults and our family physician, Dr. McKelvie. She would have been confined to quarters along with me. She was seventeen, and it would have devastated her Tulip Garden.
The Tulip Garden was the name I gave her circle of girlfriends, all looking much alike with their bobbed hairdos of chestnut, auburn, blond on slender necks. Their meetings were forbidden to me. I could only lurk in the hall while, behind her bedroom door, the Tulip Garden whispered and giggled. Separated, they would have withered; or their hair might have fallen out in despair. When no quarantine was needed, my sister grew more kindly disposed towards me.
“You’re going to be all right, blighter,” she said. She held her nose and stepped away from the door. “Pee-you. What do you do in here?”
She hurried to her room as if legions of my germs might attack her.
As for what I did: apart from reading everything I could lay my hands on, my favourite occupation was making up stories and drawing pictures to go with them. Before coming down sick, I had taken a fancy to piracy, gorging myself on Treasure Island, Captain Blood, and The Sea-Hawk. Now sitting up again, I went back to the high seas.
My mind began drifting. The Spanish Influenza got mixed up with the Spanish Main, with quarantines, duppies, Uncle Eustace, and my grandmother’s green parrot, Nora. The best pirates had beautiful ladies to worship from afar. I did not. I had only begun to suspect that girls were interesting beings. But I remembered my Jamaican cousin Allegra – we had, the year before, taken a trip to Kingston. Golden-skinned, with a peach and turpentine fragrance of mangoes, she would, I thought, be just fine.
The Sea-Fox stood at the railing of the quarterdeck, his trusty parrot Nora on his shoulder, a spyglass to his eye. Who would have guessed this slim, steel-sinewed youth, captain of the most dreaded pirate ship to sail the Spanish Main, was the son of Lord Aldine, England’s grandest nobleman?
A curious fate had set him on this course. Stricken by a terrible case of the New Monia, he had been sent on a sea voyage to regain his health.
“No member of this family has had a sick day since the Norman Conquest,” declared his father. “Off you go, you puny blighter. Never set foot in this manor again till you’re fit to wrestle a bear.”
Months later, sailing homeward strong and vigorous, he was sorry to end the happy life he had found on the open sea. But then, nearly in sight of England’s bleak and rainy shore, pirates attacked — “Avast! Belay!” — boarded his vessel, and swarmed over the deck.
Now lithe and muscular as a tiger, and handsomely sun-tanned, the lad fought so ferociously, to the wonder and admiration of friend and foe alike, that he was unanimously acclaimed — “Hip-hip hooray!” — captain of the buccaneers. All hands turned pirate, eager to serve under his command. From that day, he and his loyal crew became the terror of the sea lanes; his good ship Allegra could overtake any sluggish merchantman — “Surrender, you lubbers! Join us or walk the plank.”
Lord Aldine assumed the boy had either died at sea — proving a flaw in his son’s character; or the ship had sunk — proving incompetence on the part of the shipmaster. Had the noble lord a slightest inkling of his son’s profession, he would have exploded with purple rage.
The Sea-Fox narrowed his gaze on Kingston harbour; the green hills under a cloudless blue sky; the coconut palms and mango trees swaying in the warm breeze; taverns and storehouses clustering at the waterfront; the governor’s gleaming white mansion rising above the town.
He smiled with satisfaction and called for the bosun, a grizzled old sea dog, brow and cheekbones crisscrossed by cutlass scars and a bad sinus condition.
“Mr. Eustace,” ordered the Sea-Fox, “strike the Jolly Roger.”
“Haul down the skull and bones? Aarr, Cap’n, what’s afoot?”
“Then run up the yellow flag. Quarantine. Pestilence aboard.”
“But, Cap’n” — the puzzled bosun frowned — “there’s not even a case of measles. Except for Dr. McKelvie, the ship’s surgeon, seasick as usual, we’re hale and hearty, all the rest.”
When the Sea-Fox explained his plan, Mr. Eustace grinned and tugged a forelock: “Aye, a sweet little scheme. Aarr, Cap’n, they don’t call ye Sea-Fox for nowt. And so we take the town, is it?”
“Kingston?” The Sea-Fox laughed. “Mr. Eustace, we shall take the whole island.”
The bosun’s face lit up. “Aarr, then we loot, sack, rifle, pillage—”
“Whatever amuses you. Seize the jewels, gold, ginger ale, and all the mangoes. Spare only the governor’s mansion.”
The Sea-Fox again turned his spyglass landward to focus on the upper floor of the building where Allegra, the governor’s golden-skinned niece, had stepped onto the balcony.
“As for plunder, Mr. Eustace, divide it equally among the crew. But,” the Sea-Fox murmured, “one priceless gem is mine.”
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When David falls ill his tough old Aunt Annie offers to tutor him, and he soon grows fond of The Gawgon, as he nicknames her because of her resemblance to the terrifying Gorgon Medusa of Greek myth. Together they embark on exciting imaginary adventures rescuing King Tut’s treasure, scaling mountains and outwitting master criminals. When David's dry-as-dust aunt volunteers as his tutor, David is devastated. This is worse than school! But it turns out that Aunt Annie has some secrets to share, and together they set off on an exciting fantastical voyage. A riotously funny and deeply personal story of wonder, discovery and friendship, full of eccentric characters and fantastical adventures. Lloyd Alexander, author of the Chronicles of Prydain, has received two Lifetime Achievement Awards for Children's Literature.
“"A warmly delightful read for children aged 10 and upwards."”
Fiona Lowe, School Librarian Journal
Lloyd Alexander is one of the most respected and best-loved of American authors, with a huge following worldwide. He has written over forty books for adults and children. The Chronicles of Prydain have won many awards, including the highly prestigious Newbery Medal for The High King, as well as the Newbery Honour for The Black Cauldron and the ALA Notable Book for The Book of Three. He is best known for his tales of high fantasy and adventure, and in 2003 he was awarded a Life Achievement Award by the World Fantasy Convention. Lloyd was born in Pennsylvania and lived, until he died in 2007, a few blocks away from his childhood home. He met his future wife, Janine, in Paris while attending the University of Paris. After they married, Lloyd wrote novel after novel and it was seven years before his first novel was published. His magical stories have now sold millions of copies and have been translated into thirteen languages. “I never became a world traveller, an explorer, an adventurer. But I did become a writer, which is pretty much the same thing.” Lloyd Alexander
“This book is delightful, a warm homage to creativity and the power of the imagination. The story of the relationship between the two main characters is punctuated with David's own adventure stories, creative writing that has been kick-started by his aged aunt. ”
Jo Klaces, TES
“Lloyd Alexander’s latest book is beautifully written and, as such is capable of touching the young and not so young reader ... The Fantastical Adventures of The Invisible Boy would make a good book for an independent reader in the upper primary age range. Equally, it would make an excellent class read ... This is a book of two parts being both imaginative and reflective; as such it should have wide appeal ... It might also prove an inspiration both to reluctant writers and to those adults who believe in teaching "outside the box". ”
Jan Foale, www.writeaway.com
“Gently amusing and deliciously comic by turns, it meanders along offering an unusual insight into the life of an American family in 1920’s Philadelphia ...There is much to savour and enjoy here. A warmly delightful read for children aged 10 and upwards.”
Fiona Lowe, School Librarian Journal