Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Journey Is the Treasure: The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio by Lloyd Alexander

Twice a Newbery winner (for The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain) and The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain)) Lloyd Alexander's last of thirty-nine books, published posthumously, shows that he retained his ability to tell a cracking good adventure story right to the end.

Such a tale is The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, which begins with Carlo, nicknamed Chuchio, or jackass, a callow and dreamy young man whose head is too full of the quest for treasure and fame to attend to the lackluster details of his work in his merchant uncle's counting house. Caught in a catastrophic accounting mistake, his uncle boots Carlo out with curses but also a final purse of gold to seek his fortune where he may.

But in a tattered copy of Arabian Nights given to him by a mysterious bookseller, Carlo finds a map of the Road of Golden Dreams which he fervently believes will lead him to a vast treasure. Joined along the way by Baksheesh, a good-hearted but lazy, lying, and loquacious camel tender, Salamon, a grizzled but still visionary seeker, and Shira, a beautiful girl bent on the revenge of her father's death at the hands of a villainous slave trader, Carlo blindly sets forth on his quest.

On the road with these unlikely companions, Carlo cheats death over and over through the silver-tongued skills of Baksheesh, comes to feel with Shira the desire for vengeance for her cruel oppressor, shares a dream of their love with Shira bought from a magical dream seller, and finally discovers the location of the long-sought horde of riches when he is able to read his treasure map with the eye of experience and wisdom gained on the road.

But the ultimate treasure is not the gold and jewels he knows are buried below the caravanserai where Shira was born, but the joys and of the journey he has shared with his companions, At last, Carlo and Shira set forth to resume their quest for knowledge and novelty together. As Carlo recalls,

"I could hear Salamon's words when he learned I was seeking treasure."

"What a shame if you should find it," he had said. "Your quest would be over. And then, what? No, the journey is the treasure."

For Lloyd Alexander, it was the journey--the story yet to be told, not the end of the quest--which was indeed the treasure in his many books, as The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio proves. As Alexander reminds his young readers through the words of the finally older and wiser Carlo Chuchio to Shira's young brother, "You'll make your own journey, when you're ready."

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