|In Short:||An excellent introduction for children/young adults to the genre of Fantasy|
|“For each of us comes a time when we must be more than what we are.”|
|-- Dallben, The Castle of Llyr (1966)|
The Chronicles of Prydain could easily be
subtitled as "My First Fantasy" (There are so many
potential parenthetical asides that could be made to that
statement, that I just can't decide between them all, thus I am
going to leave it alone and not give any. Er... except this
one). At least it was for me - this was my first introduction to
fantasy literature. Heck, I even made a school diorama for the
first book, The Book of Three (do kids even make
dioramas anymore?), using LEGOs no less! It may have even been
my first diorama, too! This series is all about firsts.
The series follows the tale of Taran, a young man who knows nothing of his heritage, whose sole position in life seems to be stuck at being an Assistent Pig-Keeper (though the fact that the pig in question can see the future has to count for something, right?), and who just wants to go off on adventures and make something of himself. He's hotheaded, headstrong, impatient, eager to please, and yet uncertain of himself - pretty much everything that any kid growing up can empathize with to at least some extent. Throughout the series, he finds himself in the company of a variety of interesting companions, such as Eilonwy (a princess and heir to some old magic), Fflewddur Fflam (a wandering bard whose harp strings have a tendency to break whenever he colors the truth), and a strange yet fiercely loyal creature named Gurgi (who really just wants more crunchings and munchings).
Most of the books deal with Taran and his companions going up against the evil lord Arawn in some fashion or another, though the third book is about Taran's (possibly misguided) attempt to rescue Eilonwy from a trap, and the fourth book is all about Taran going off on a journey to try to find out his heritage. This fourth book emphasizes the most overarching theme found throughout the series, that of maturation. We the readers follow Taran as he grows up to become a man from the boy he started out. That's not to say that the story and the action is secondary by any means. There is plenty of action for kids to get excited about reading: sword fights, chases, escapes, magic swords, giant cats - it's all here. (Wow, I almost feel like the Grandfather from The Princess Bride in describing this. Yes, there are sports in these books!)
I was recently enlightened to an aspect that I had never realized before, but helps explain why I, and so many other readers, connect so well to Taran (and thus to the books in general). Taran's appearance is never described anywhere in the books. It is left up to the imagination of the reader (I, personally, envisioned him as a cross between Richard Simmons and Darth Vader, but that was probably just me), and as such, it is easier for the readers to picture themselves in Taran's place (for I, too, am a cross between Richard Simmons and Darth Vader, which probably explains why there are no staff pictures to accompany the staff bios here at Geek Speak Magazine) and empathize with the struggles that he endures throughout the series.
The language and tone of the books is rather simple and straightforward, as one might expect from children's literature, but it doesn't feel dumbed down. There are darker subjects explored, such as death, loss, and sacrifice, and each handled quite well. What I'm not sure about, though, is how enjoyable and/or meaningful the series would be for an adult reading it for the first time. In many instances, children's literature can be enjoyed by all ages (such as with Redwall, reviewed last month), and I certainly enjoyed this series again upon recently rereading it. However...(dramatic pause)...that may have been more due to the nostalgia factor than anything else. I wonder if an adult reading the books now would be pulled into the story as much as kids are, or if the feeling would be more "meh. It was fine, but pretty standard. Nothing special." Hard to say.
So I highly recommend the series for any young geekling (I believe I was around 8 when first reading them), as an introduction to Fantasy and just as a great series, no matter the genre. I would also recommend it to anyone, but again do not quite have the confidence that it will be enjoyed and appreciated to the extent that it should as much as I have had for other series geared toward children. Still, any series that forces someone to look up how to pronounce a double-f name like "Fflewddur Fflam", or what in the world a "bauble" is, has to mean something, particularly one that was the basis for the first ever non-G-rated Disney movie (The Black Cauldron, which did not enjoy the success of the book series). So go buy copies for your kids, for your nieces and nephews, and for any Assistant Pig-keepers you may encounter!