Forgotten Children’s SF Writers: Alexander Key

Posted on March 4, 2007. Filed under: Children's Literature, Science Fiction |

Last week’s post left me thinking I needed to get over to the library, check out whatever Alexander Key books they had and be ready to blog summaries and reflections, Key being a children’s science fiction writer who’s known for little other than his sympathetic aliens.

Here’s the hitch, our library–which I adore and find generally delightful and well stocked–has NOTHING by Alexander Key. Now that I’ve fished around a bit, that’s not such a surprise. Of his 22 novels for children and young adults, only The Forgotten Door is still in print. Of his two novels for adults, The Wrath and the Wind was reissued in 2005 by a small press. Not much of a legacy. But it happens all the time–somebody dies, the copyright holders do nothing to keep the work in print and–zap!–a generation later, the whole wealth of an author’s body of work is largely inaccessible. It’s how American publishing works.

It’s just that, in this case, I feel like I have a debt owing. Alexander Key was my favorite science fiction writer when I was a kid. Yep, for me, before there was Bradbury, before there was Heinlein, before there was Ursula LeGuin, and way before there was Alice Sheldon, there was Alexander Key.

If you buy the party line on why Key’s work has not endured, it’s his sentimentality (telepathic animals) and moral earnestness (aliens are often both wiser and nicer than we are) that have kept him from the iconic status of such genre greats as, well, Bradbury, Heinlein & LeGuin. I don’t buy the argument. Keys is no more sentimental than Heinlein and probably less morally earnest than Bradbury or LeGuin (how could he be more?).

I think the reasons he’s not better known are as follows: 1)He wrote almost exclusively for children and young adults in a genre that, in its haste to legitimize itself with adult readers, has become much less kid-friendly in the last thirty years; 2)He died the year he finished his last novel and his heirs, who have also died, did not keep his work in print; 3)He bears the taint of Disnification (Escape to Witch Mountain and Return from Witch Mountain were both made into Disney movies), which has made him easy to dismiss.

What am I going to do about the situation? What do I want you all to do? Well, this post’s a start. I do know there’s a small cult following online, even a little Internet archive of his lesser known works. I’m not linking you there, as I have no desire to bring a cease-and-desist order down on somebody’s well intentioned labor of love. Besides, if tracking the copyright and convincing somebody to bring the works back in print or sign them over to the public domain proves to be as impossible as it sounds, I might just be starting a little DMCA-violation archive of my own. Stay tuned. 😉

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4 Responses to “Forgotten Children’s SF Writers: Alexander Key”

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I just finished reading this book to my 5/6th grade students and they loved it! I read this book during the blackout of 1965. I brought it home that day and finished it late that night. It was my first scifi and to this day I want to go live on Jon’s planet.

Hey Patricia,

Glad you enjoyed the post. Alexander Key is magical. And it’s not just the one book either. A lot of his work is out of print, but it’s worth fishing around for.

Thanks for your comment!
Marta

Alexander Key has a cult following. I’ve spent hours researching copyright info.
Impossible. SAD but true!!
Here’s a good link for his books. AND other out of prints authors.

Sorry but the link wouldn’t show in my post fantasticfiction.co.uk
You have to add your www and his name when you get there.
Hope you succeed.


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