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The Chronicles of Prydain

Style: Good

Attitude: Positive

In Brief: Love, friendship and perseverance overcome the wiles and tricks of many enemies, each side striving to turn the ancient magic of their land to its own advantage.

Cover of The Chronicles of Prydain

Author: Lloyd Alexander

Series: The Chronicles of Prydain

Publisher: Collins

Published in: 1968

Age Range: Pre Teens+

Period: Dark Ages

Setting: Prydain (Ancient Wales)

Genres:  ClassicFantasyFriendshipGrowing-Up


Characters:

  • Taran is the young but idealistic Assistant Pig-Keeper at Caer Dallben, home of the sorceror Dallben. Impetuous and generous, he longs to prove himself a mighty warrior in the service of Prince Gwydion, to prove to the feisty Eilonwy that his unknown ancestry should be no obstacle to their deeper friendship.

Synopsis:

Taran, often through his own well-meaning thoughtless haste, but helped by chance, finds himself embroiled in the struggle to free the land of Prydain from the clutches of the evil Arawn. The friends he makes along the way see his generosity for what it is and recognise before he does his shy love for the Princess Eilonwy, always ready to stamp her foot and proclaim the shortcomings of a certain Assistant Pig-Keeper, but never far from his side. After besting the powers of darkness two or three times, Taran wishes to journey alone to discover what he can about himself, returning only when he's sure he's worthy to defeat the Dark Lord and to claim Eilonwy's hand.

Notes:

The first book, “The Book of Three”, introduces us to Taran, the Assistant Pig-Keeper at the farm of Dallben, an aged enchanter. He finds himself caught up in a quest to defeat the Horned King who is after Hen-Wen, the oracular pig for his master, the Dark Lord Arawn. The next two books, “The Black Cauldron” and “The Castle of Llyr” take us through more adventures of Taran, the spirited Eilonwy and their friends. The penultimate book “Taran Wanderer” is quite different, representing more of a rite of passage for Taran, and leading to the final volume “The High King” is which he finally comes into his own.

Written some forty years ago, this series of five books mixes the traditional heroic motifs of the Young Warrior, the Aged Mentor, the Good Friends, and the Fair Maiden with the ancient legends of the Three Fates, the Black Cauldron and a colourful collection of other characters. The virtues of the characters are uppermost, and often in ways more subtle than is usual in comparable books written today for youngsters.

The very shy courtship, for example, between Taran and Eilonwy is a delicate matter, the reader grows aware of it as its participants do. Eilonwy, a powerful Enchantress in her own right, combines a touching femininity and a resilient and active bravery without losing an iota of her character. Taran himself, a simple and idealistic farm boy at the start, takes it upon himself to become someone worthwhile, someone who can stand alongside his greater friends, someone who has the right to ask Eilonwy for her hand.

The supporting characters — the regular cast, so to speak — are noble, simple, and caring. But not without their faults. Doli, the dwarf who can become invisible, grumbles goodnaturedly whenever something is asked of him; Gurgi is like a good Gollum or a hairy Dobby, resolutely loyal to Taran; Fflewddur (whose name I could not possibly pronounce) is given to stretching the truth about his prowess, and is brought back to earth by the snapping of his enchanted harpstrings; Achren is an interesting character: an evil enchantress who captures Gwydion and Taran, she turns up later as housekeeper at Caer Dallben.

The style of the books is a little less racy than one is used to from the equivalent modern books, and may therefore be less attractive to children. And the repetitious nature of certain of the characters' main traits can be a little wearying. There is, though, a sparkle which lights up those different characters, and the reader is drawn towards Taran as he fumbles his way through his adventures, never quite sure of what he's doing, but always wanting to do what is right.

“Morgant?” Taran asked, turning a puzzled glance to Gwydion. “How can there be honour for such a man?”
“It is easy to judge evil unmixed,” replied Gwydion. “But alas, in most of us good and bad are closely woven as the threads on a loom; greater wisdom than mine is needed for the judging.
”King Morgant served the Sons of Don long and well,“ he went on. ”Until the thirst for power parched his throat, he was a fearless and noble lord. In battle he saved my life more than once. These things are part of him and cannot be put aside or forgotten.
“And so shall I honour Morgant,” Gwydion said, “for what he used to be, and Ellidyr Prince of Pen-Llarcau for what he became.”

Sunday 11th December 2005