Isabelle Holland FAITH McNULTY - Essay

FAITH McNULTY

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Alan faces the world alone [in Alan and the Animal Kingdom]. This causes him no dismay. What does dismay him is the certain and terrible knowledge that if adults—any adults—take over his life they will destroy his animals….

Isabelle Holland tells Alan's story the way fantasies are best told: with simplicity and convincing detail. Alan's problems are entirely credible. His journey, alas, is not a thrilling voyage on a raft. It is a trip into today's world. His crises and hair's breadth escapes involve ringing telephones, crime in the streets and above all money. How does a 12-year-old cash a check? How does he pay a vet when his cat is sick? Because of this urgent problem Alan meets a man as isolated and as proud as himself. Thereafter the story becomes both serious and touching.

As Alan's problems multiply it becomes inevitable that he will be cornered and his Kingdom will fall. Events force him to admit emotions he has long suppressed; rage, a longing for help and companionship, even a stirring of affection and hope. When at last Alan loses his long, brave battle to fend off the entire world he finds that surrender is not quite the defeat he feared. He learns it is possible to make peace with his own species and yet not betray his Kingdom. A story that began as a fantasy of escape ends by pointing out that emotional entanglements are inescapable—and not all bad. This is an "orphan story" with an interesting twist. Alan tries his wings and crashes to earth, learning that in the real world no one flies alone.

Faith McNulty, "Flying Solo in Adult Skies," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1977, The Washington Post), June 12, 1977, p. E4.