The Chronicles of Prydain: A Review

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
Henry Holt and Company, 1964-1968

If there was ever a series that steered the craft of my childhood it was The Chronicles of Prydain. First published fifty years ago these novels established Lloyd Alexander as a giant in children’s literature. Across five books and five years the Chronicles of Prydain, garnered a Newbery Honor (The Black Cauldron), a Newbery Medal (The High King), and two ALA Honors for The Book of Three and The Castle of Llyr.

Alexander’s inventive tale follows the exploits of Taran Assistant Pig-Keeper. At the outset Taran resides in the pastoral paradise Caer Dallben with a three-hundred-year-old wizard and a seasoned war veteran. When his charge, the oracular sow Hen-Wen, escapes her pen and flees into the forest Taran is thrust into adventure and finds its not exactly what he hoped for.

Alexander deftly handle’s his young hero’s coming of age, taking care to never force him into contrived situations. This is never more clear than in Taran Wanderer, the fourth volume of the Chronicles. Its tight focus and lack of world-shaping quests make for the most introspective and, what I feel, is easily the best-written novel of the entire series.

Long ago I yearned to be a hero without knowing, in truth, what a hero was. Now, perhaps, I understand it a little better. A grower of turnips or a shaper of clay, a Commot farmer or a king–every man is a hero if he strives more for others than for himself alone.

Taran Wanderer, Lloyd Alexander

During his many journeys across the entirety of Prydain, Taran is joined by three tried-and-true companions. Together, they go from revering the legendary figures of old to becoming ones in their own right.

Fflewddur Fflam: a boisterous and gregarious minor king of the north with a penchant for stretching the truth and magical harp that keeps his tongue in check.

Princess Eilonwy: the queen of strange metaphors and a descendant of enchantresses who never misses an opportunity to tease Taran. Her only tie to her ancestors of Llyr is a magical bauble, the Golden Pelydryn, that glows at her will.

Gurgi: a strange creature, neither animal nor human, but both. He is the most loyal and trustworthy companion one could hope for and a steadfast friend of Taran whom he refers to as “kindly master”.  He is often concerned for his “poor tender head”, protecting himself from “thrashings and smashings” and when he can next fill his belly.

The wonderful, magical land of Prydain. A land so fascinating I doodled it every day of first grade rather than pay attention.

It was truly a pleasure to re-read this series that has given me so much. The Chronicles of Prydain introduced me to the wonderful possibilities of fantasy and instilled a life-long adoration of farm-boys thrust into adventure. My original journey with Taran, Gurgi, Fflewdur, and Eilonwy will never be forgotten.

Series rating: 4 out of 5 crunchings and munchings
Up next: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

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