Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Chronicles of Prydain

The Chronicles of Prydain Series
By Lloyd Alexander
Published by Henry Holt and Company
Copyright © 1964 – 1968
Review by Anthony Kendrick

The Chronicles of Prydain is an epic fantasy series by the late and great fantasy author Lloyd Alexander. To really appreciate his work you must read this series. Think the lord of the rings but on a feudal level, and written for children.

The series contains these stories:

The Book of Three – In which Taran an assistant pig keeper sets off to find a runaway pig that tells the future and ends up on a quest to save Prydain from the forces of evil. He is joined by Princess Eilonwy who possess a strong will and mostly latent magic, Fflewddur Fflam who splits his time as a king and a bard who is known to stretch the truth a little, Gurgi Taran’s faithful page though I’m not quite sure what he is, and Doli a stout hearted but curmudgeonly dwarf.

The Black Cauldron – In which Taran having showed is mettle has been selected by Prince Gwydion to accompany a band of warriors who will travel to Annuvin to seek out and destroy the Black Cauldron from which the evil Arawns undead cauldron born warriors are created. In his close company is the noble bard Adaon  and the glory hound Prince Ellidyr who has a chip on his shoulder. However, finding the cauldron and destroying it will be two separate tasks altogether.

The Castle of Llyr – In which Taran will accompany Eilonwy to the Isle of Mona where she will learn to be a proper princess. However, Taran will soon find out that there are others waiting for them there that wish to awaken Eilonwy’s magic for their own evil ends. When Eilonwy is kidnapped it is up to Prince Gwydion, Taran, Fflewdur Fflam, Rhun the noble yet bumbling Prince of Mona to find her.

Taran the Wanderer – In which Taran sets out on quest by himself to find out who he truly is. His travels take him from the dangerous Marshes of Morva in the southeast all the way to the Free Commots in the western lands eventually meeting up with Fflewddur Fflam. Along the way he will make many new friends, and a few enemies, and he will learn the value of wisdom and hard work and the disservice of pride.

The High King – In which the Chronicles of Prydain come to an end and the whole land is primed for the ultimate battle between good and evil. The most powerful weapon in the world has fallen into the hands of Arawn Lord of Annuvin and Prince Gwydion and Taran must raise an army to meet this threat. A race against time and an inhuman foe that gets stronger the closer that they get to Annuvin will test Taran’s army to its limits. In the end Taran will have to make the most crucial decision of his life.

The Chronicles of Prydain are loosely based on old Welsh myth, or at least this is where the ideas sprang from after which the stories took on an entirely different life. As a man of paternal Welsh descent (well back in my ancestry), I cannot help but like these books for that fact alone.

Lloyd Alexander has written a protagonist for the everyman, or boy. Taran , his most complex character, comes from little means, but his true birth is a mystery that his own kind master will not tell him. Taran wants so badly to be a great prince and warrior rather than the assistant pig-keeper that he is. What I love about this series though, is that Taran learns that while some bestow nobility at birth, true nobility is something that is learned and earned. Taran himself, will come to be truly noble, but you will have to find out how for yourself.

While there are a few small exceptions, many of the other characters in this book are quite simple in scope, but that is okay because they are there to help move Taran’s story onward and they assist him magnificently. However, some of these characters do at time have moments of complexity. I absolutely loved Gurgi, though I have no idea what kind of creature he actually is, he starts off seemingly as a sniveling and conniving little creature whose only care is feeding his belly, but he turns into one of Taran’s most trusted companions willing even to die for him.

While there might be temptation to compare The Chronicles of Prydain to The Lord of the Rings, it really isn’t necessary. While there are some similarities, there are more than enough differences, some significant, to let them stand on their own merit and to simply enjoy them both.

Lloyd Alexander is among the best fantasy writers of all time, but he has been forgotten by the book reading public for some time now. Students today have never heard of him. Most readers of my age have not heard of him. I really want to change that. I highly recommend his quintessential works “The Chronicles of Prydain”. Once you read this you will be hooked.

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