I actually started and finished the Chronicles of Prydain (Young Adult Fantasy) by Lloyd Alexander almost two weeks ago, and didn’t take the time to write up my reviews until now. I’m going to lump all five books together (The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Lyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King) and do my review both as an overarching story for the entire set with a few individual comments. I’m not going to go too in-depth because I don’t want to ruin storylines for anyone who hasn’t read the series. Overall, I enjoyed these books thoroughly and if I didn’t already own them, I would take extra measures to ensure that I did.
I’d read these books as a kid and remembered liking them, so I decided to pick them back up and see if what I remembered was close to my thoughts as an adult. I’m doing this with a lot of books these days, as I try and find the absolute best mix to take with me on my upcoming extended research trip.
The Book of Three originally came out in 1964, which somehow absolutely shocked me. I don’t really know why, but I had expected the series to have come out much later than that. The sheer amount of vision in creating Prydain, all the characters, and story was just amazing. I liked how each book could stand alone, but that there was an over-arching story that attached all of them together. I liked even more how the series revolved around Taran, an Assistant Pig-Keeper. Taran, just like any teenager, dreams of great deeds and heroics, but he also genuinely cares about the important people in his life, including Coll, Dallben, and Hen Wen, the oracular pig. He cares about Hen Wen so much that he chases after her into an unknown forest.
The entire series follows Taran and his search for his place in the world. He doesn’t know who his parents are, or what kind of blood flows through his veins. Even though he didn’t know anything about where he came from, Taran demonstrates throughout the whole series that people should be judged based on their actions and intentions, not based on what station they were born to. As Taran searches for keys to his own heritage, he makes an assortment of true and loyal friends, including the High Prince Lord Gwydion, Gurgi, the Princess Eilonwy, Fflewddur Fflam, and Doli.
There were two moments in the entire series that stuck out with me more than anything else in the books. The first was when Gurgi was trying to convince Taran that it was in his heart to serve a kind and noble master and the second was when Taran learned about his future as a potter. Both of those particular scenes stuck out with me because of the simple power of each one.
Gurgi was definitely my favorite character and I really appreciated the balance of humor, emotion, and high-stakes adventure throughout the series. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the Disney version of The Black Cauldron, but I read the back of the movie a couple weeks ago and noted that the events listed as the movie synopsis seemed to have very little to do with the book. It felt a little bit like Disney might have tried to cram a good portion of the Chronicles of Prydain into that one cartoon. I think one of my goals for the next couple weeks will be to find and borrow the movie and see how it compares to the book.
Overall, I strongly recommend this series, both for young adult readers and adult readers alike.