chronicles-of-prydainThe Book of Three (1964), The Black Cauldron (1965), The Castle of Llyr (1966), Taran Wanderer (1967), The High King (1968)
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
GRADE: A

The Chronicles of Prydain could easily be subtitled “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 LEGO no less! It may have even been my first diorama, too! This series is all about firsts.

I feel like the Grandfather from The Princess Bride. Yes, there are sports in these books!

It is the tale of Taran, a young man who knows nothing of his heritage and who fears he will be stuck as a mere Assistant Pig-Keeper forever, despite undergoing magical training at the same time. (That the pig in question can see the future has to count for something, right?). Taran just wants to go off on adventures and make something of himself. He’s hotheaded, headstrong, impatient, eager to please, and yet also quite insecure – something anyone, not just any kid, 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 is all about Taran going off to find himself. (Hint: he, too, is heir to something…) This fourth book emphasizes the most overarching theme found throughout the series: 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 action are secondary by any means. There is, in fact, plenty of action here to get youngsters excited: sword fights, chases, escapes, magic swords, giant cats, it’s all here. (Wow, I feel like the Grandfather from The Princess Bride. Yes, there are sports in these books!)

taranwandererI recently discovered a new aspect to this book that perhaps explains, in part, 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).

The language and tone of the books is rather simple and straightforward, but it doesn’t feel dumbed down. There are darker subjects explored, such as death, loss, and sacrifice, and each handled quite well. In many instances, YA literature can be enjoyed by all ages, and I certainly enjoyed this series upon recently rereading it. However…(dramatic pause)…that may have been more due to the nostalgia factor than anything else, and I have to wonder if an adult reading the books for the first time would be pulled into the story as much I was as a kid. Hard to say.

So, while I highly recommend Prydain to any young geekling — as an introduction to Fantasy and just as a great series, no matter the genre — I do not quite have the confidence that it will appreciated as it should be by an older audience. 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!

“For each of us comes a time when we must be more than what we are.”
— Dallben, The Castle of Llyr (1966)

BUY IT NOW

About the author

K. BURTT

K. Burtt is Geek Speak Magazine's Associate Editor and resident megalomaniac. In between devising nefarious schemes for world domination, he spends his time reading, gaming, and pretending to be a 14-year-old teenager pretending to be an adult online, because he feels that is an underrepresented group.