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Friday, April 17, 2015

Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books

I recently re-read the five Chronicles of Prydain, by the late Lloyd Alexander. The books, in order, are The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron (which was a Newbery Honor book), The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King (which won the 1969 Newbery medal). If you are interested in plot details, the previous links are to the Wikipedia articles for each book. The series is loosely based on Welsh mythology, but, at its core, it is a coming-of-age story.

There are some real characters in the books, which are easily distinguishable by their voices. Fflewdur Fflam, a minor king who prefers to travel as a bard, but has never met all the requirements for being one, has a harp with strings that break whenever he exaggerates. He exaggerates a lot. He also says "A Fflam is always ... (ready, brave, loyal, etc.)" on all sorts of occasions. Gurgi, a strange creature, perhaps something like Sasquatch, or an intelligent ape, or a very hairy human, uses rhyme most of the time (sneakings and peekings, crunchings and munchings, etc.) The Princess Eilonwy talks a lot -- she rattles on and on. Taran, the central character, is an Assistant Pig-Keeper, and of only one pig, and Eilonwy keeps reminding him of that, in a friendly way. Other characters remind him of that as an insult.

There are many other characters, not so prominent, but also clearly drawn. There is Dallben, who is over 300 years old, and "meditates" (sleeps) a lot. But he is an enchanter, with real powers. One of his powers is to interpret the oracles of the pig, Hen Wen, who points to sticks with symbols when she is predicting the future. There's Doli, a dwarf, and one of the Fair Folk -- fairies -- who hates turning invisible, because it makes his ears hurt, and is good-hearted but consistently grouchy. There are Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch, the three fates, or three norns, of the story. They have considerable magical powers, have lived forever, or at least for a long time, but don't help anyone very much. There is Gwydion, the brave and selfless warrior champion of the aged high king, Math.

There's plenty of maturing, on Taran's part. As I said, this is a coming-of-age series. Taran starts the books as a kid who longs to be a hero, like Gwydion. But he decides that being an Assistant Pig-Keeper, and of good character, is not such a bad thing. He also learns to appreciate the work of craftspeople, in particular a potter, a weaver, and a smith, as much as he honors swordsmanship.

There is a lot of conflict between good and evil, and it's clear who is good, and evil, although there are a couple of bad characters who redeem themselves. The worst character, Arawn Death-Lord, doesn't really appear in person, although his influence lasts throughout the books.

The setting is typical sword and sorcery material -- before the introduction of gunpowder and the internal combustion engine.

Our local library classifies these books as "J," juvenile. They are suitable for such readers, but, if you have never read this series, it's a good read, no matter what your age. There's no bad language, except for Fflewdur's frequent "Great Belin" -- whatever that means. There's no sex, although Taran does decide that he wants to marry Eilonwy, and she makes a similar decision. There is some violence, and some characters die.

Thanks for reading this post.

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