Using Welsh myth and legend as a basis, Lloyd Alexander wrote a series of novels under the umbrella heading, The Chronicles of Prydain. Aimed at younger readers, this was a collection of stories that were never really on my radar as a kid. By the point I was of an age to think about reading them I was already deep into other books, and so they missed the opportunity to be my first introduction to the world of high fantasy, which happily fell to Tolkien.
But having never read them, and only having Disney’s not very well-adapted animated feature as a reference point, I thought it might be time to attend to that.
The first instalment is a short, quick adventure titled The Book of Three, and introduces us to a collection of characters, who all come join up with the hero of the piece, the young, Assistant Pig-Keeper, Taran. He oversees the care of a pig named Hen Wen, who he learns has ocular and prophetic powers, and is now sought by Arawn of Annuvin, the Kingdom of the Dead, and he has sent his most terrible war-leader out to recover the animal, The Horned King.
This dangerous being is aided by the Cauldron-born, the reanimated, living dead, impervious to weapons – definitely a frightening image for a book aimed at young readers, but isn’t as fully explored in this title as I imagine it will be in the second book, called The Black Cauldron.
When Hen Wen flees from Taran’s home, he finds himself caught up in a huge adventure that introduces us to a young girl, Eilonwy, a half-animal, half-man companion named Gurgi, a king turned bard, and a hero Taran doesn’t recognise at first.
They encounter magic, good and ill, and Taran learns what it means to be a hero, and it is not what he thought. He also learns the value of friendship, and may be dancing around the blushings of first love with Eilonwy. I guess I’ll have to read more of the series to find out.
It was a very fun read, and I can see parallels between Welsh myth, and some of Tolkien’s story telling, and the occasional story beats. But that is going to happen on quest stories, certain things have to happen to move the story forward, and in the realm of fantasy it’s easy to say so and so stole/borrowed/paid homage from so and so.
I don’t think I would have enjoyed these books at ten, or even twelve. My mind was out amongst the stars at that time, and sword and sorcery wasn’t my thing then. I’m glad I waited.
And now, I can explore the entire series at my leisure (though I’m sure I could have done that as a child as well) and get the most out of it that I can.
I enjoyed my journey with Taran, and can’t wait to see how his adventures play out in the next book.