Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Chronicles of Prydain

(This isn't really going to be a "review", per se...more of a rambling collection of thoughts on one of my favorite fantasy series, partly because I love talking about it and partly because I'm curious whether any of you are fellow fans.)

When I was young and unafraid around seven or eight years old, I was introduced to Disney's The Black Cauldron.  I enjoyed it all right, and my family would watch it every so often because it was my sister's favorite.
Fast-forward several years later.  I was eleven and even more of a bookworm, and it happened to come to my attention--I can't remember how--that there was a book named The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander.  My interest piqued, I found it at my library, discovered that it was second in a series, and began to read.

The Book of Three is the first book in the series.  From Goodreads: "Taran dreams of adventure, but nothing exciting ever happens to an Assistant Pig-Keeper--until his pig runs away. A chase through the woods leads Taran far from home and into great danger, for evil prowls the land of Prydain. With a collection of strange and wonderful friends whom he meets on his journey, Taran finds himself fighting so that good may triumph over evil--and so that his beloved home will not fall to a diabolical fiend."

The Black Cauldron From Goodreads: "Taran, the Assistant Pig-Keeper, and his friends are led into a mortal struggle with Arwn and his deathless warriors. Taran must wrest the black cauldron from them, for it is the cauldron that gives them their evil strength. But can he withstand the three enchantresses, who are determined to turn him and his companions into toads? Taran has not foreseen the awful price he will have to pay in his defence of Prydain..."

The Castle of Llyr From Goodreads: "In the imaginary kingdom of Prydain, Princess Eilonwy must leave her friends to go to the Isle of Mona for training as a proper princess. Because Eilonwy has magical powers, she is sought by Achren, the most evil enchantress in the land. Shortly after her arrival on the Isle of Mona, something sinister and secret befalls her. Eilonwy's loyal friends—Taran, the Assistant Pig-Keeper; Flewddur, the bard; and Prince Rhun, her intended husband—realize her peril and set out on an exciting and terrifying mission to rescue her. They encounter great forces of evil as well as private—sometimes painful—revelations in the course of their journey."

Taran Wanderer From Goodreads: "Taran, the assistant pig-keeper who wants to be a hero, goes questing for knowledge of his parentage, hoping that his journey will ennoble him in the eyes of Eilonwy, the princess with the red-gold hair. Accompanied by several loyal friends, Taran begins his search when three wily enchantresses of the Marshes of Morva send him to consult the Mirror of Llunet for the answers he is seeking, cryptically promising that "the finding takes no more than the looking." During his adventures he meets Craddoc, the shepherd, and the common people of Prydain, whom he comes to respect and admire. With their help, he continues his mission to learn the secret of the Mirror and the truth about himself."

The High King From Goodreads: "Since The Book of Three was first published in 1964, young readers have been enthralled by the adventures of Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper and his quest to become a hero. Taran is joined by an engaging cast of characters that includes Eilonwy, the strong-willed and sharp-tongued princess; Fflewddur Fflam, the hyperbole-prone bard; the ever-faithful Gurgi; and the curmudgeonly Doli--all of whom have become involved in an epic struggle between good and evil that shapes the fate of the legendary land of Prydain."

Now on to the fun part. :D

I love these books.  They're just a little below Lord of the Rings and Narnia in terms of great writing, engaging characters, and a touching storyline.   Taran, the hero of the piece, is an interesting take on the farmboy-turned-hero type story; though he originally goes on a quest (and matures somewhat through it) because he dreams of high adventure, he ends up going on adventures because it is his duty, not because he wants to.  The way he matures through this series is incredible, and it's all completely believable.  I'll confess, he annoys me not a little in The Book of Three, but by the time we get to The High King, I admire him greatly.

Eilonwy in Disney's The Black Cauldron
The supporting cast is amazing.  Eilonwy is quick-witted and tomboyish (not to mention hilarious--her similes make me crack up every time I read the books), but she's kind and loving and is a "lady" in the true sense of the word: courteous and genteel.  Fflewdur Fflam, a would-be bard, is funny and practical; Gurgi is...well, he's Gurgi; Doli, a dwarf who wishes he could turn invisible at will like the rest of his family, is gruff and always annoyed but somehow winds his way into your heart anyway; Coll, a warrior-turned-farmer, is sensible and wise; and Gwydion, Prince of Don, is heroic and brave.

One of my very favorite characters is a minor one (as usual): Prince Rhun of Prydain's neighboring country Mona.  He is introduced in The Castle of Llyr as clumsy and inept, but has quite a bit of growth and ends up thoughtful of others and selfless.

Taran and Eilonwy in Disney's The Black Cauldron

The stories are actually extremely funny at times, and then get serious and manage to speak Deep Truths without sounding pretentious.  Some of the language can get archaic, but then in pops Eilonwy or Fflewdur to relieve the tension and prevent the book from getting too stuffy.  
And then there's the ending.  Oh my STARS, the ending.  It's somewhat similar to the finish of Lord of the Rings, but it concludes in an almost exactly opposite manner.  It's bittersweet and heartwrenching, and yet it's the only ending the book could have.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes, because Lloyd Alexander has a way with description and dialogue that I absoballylutely love...

"'Since no one has mentioned it,' said Eilonwy, 'it seems I'm not being asked to come along. Very well, I shan't insist.'
'You, too, have gained wisdom, Princess,' said Dallben. 'Your days on Mona were not ill-spent.'
'Of course,' Eilonwy went on, 'after you leave, the thought may strike me that it's a pleasant day for a short ride to go picking wildflowers which might be hard to find, especially since it's almost winter. Not that I'd be following you, you understand. But I might, by accident, lose my way, and mistakenly happen to catch up with you. By then, it would be too late for me to come home, through no fault of my own.'"
 ― Lloyd Alexander, The High King

 "There is more honor in a field well plowed than in a field steeped in blood."
― Lloyd Alexander, The Black Cauldron
"'I can't make sense out of that girl,' he said to the bard, 'Can you?'
'Never mind,' Fflewddur said, 'We aren't really expected to.'"
― Lloyd Alexander, The Book of Three

 "'By all means,' cried the bard, his eyes lighting up. 'A Fflam to the rescue! Storm the castle! Carry it by assault! Batter down the gates!'
'There's not much of it left to storm,' said Eilonwy.
'Oh?' said Fflewddur, with disappointment. 'Very well, we shall do the best we can.'"
― Lloyd Alexander, The Book of Three
"'I can't stand people who say 'I told you so.' That's worse than somebody coming up and eating your dinner before you have a chance to sit down.'"
― Eilonwy, The Book of Three 
"It is harsh enough for each man to bear his own wound. But he who leads bears the wounds of all who follow him."
― Lloyd Alexander, The High King
"I have never known courage to be judged by the length of a man's hair. Or, for the matter of that, whether he has any hair at all."
― Lloyd Alexander, The Book of Three
Have you ever read the Chronicles of Prydain? 


Kiri Liz said...

*waves hands in the air* Oh, me!! I'm a fan!! Never mind that I've only read them once, but hey! They're really good books! *mental note to read them again... SOON*

I read all the books first and loved them, and then watched the Disney film some years later. Can't say that I was too impressed it. I liked how they did Taran and Eilonwy and Gurgi and Fflewddur, but it was kinda ehhh on the plot. I guess I thought it a lot darker than I remembered the book to be, and I didn't care much for some of the changes. But I won't kill it completely. Maybe one day I'll watch it again and enjoy it. Who knows?

YES! I had the exact same thoughts on Taran! Ahhh... sweet Eilonwy. Faithful Gurgi... Fflewddur Fflam is hands down the best character EVER! I absolbloominglutely love his lute!! :D

O_O I know! That ending!!

Ahhhh!! Quotes!! Love 'em!

Marissa Baker said...

Never saw the Disney film, but I love this series, especially Eilonwy. Come to think of it, it's been a while since I read them. Maybe that will next on my reading list!

Oooo, quotes! Here's one of my favorites:
“Stale water is a poor drink,' said Annlaw. 'Stale skill is worse. And the man who walks in his own footsteps only ends where he began.”
― Lloyd Alexander, Taran Wanderer

Miss Jane Bennet said...

Kiri Liz,
Yayyy! Glad to find a fellow fan--I keep hearing the Chronicles of Prydain are Lloyd Alexander's most famous work, and then meet almost nobody who's read them. Makes me wonder about his other books, haha. (Have you read any other of his novels?)

Yes, Taran and Eilonwy and Gurgi were well-done, and I liked Fflewdur's personality--but Fflewdur just isn't Fflewdur without his spiky yellow hair. :P In any case, I agree with you about the plot; they changed it up a little too much for my taste. It appears that Disney won't be trying for a movie out of Prydain again...which is really too bad. I think they'd make great films.

INDEED YES. I love everything about him. :D
I know, right? I love quotes, and they're especially fun with such a witty writer. ;)

I'd love to hear your thoughts if you read them again! :)

Oooh, I love that one too. Annlaw Clay-Shaper was an amazing character, yes? ARGH WHY DID HE HAVE TO DIE.

And of course Llonio died too; Alexander has this trick of starting out his books/series lightheartedly, and then all of a sudden killing off most of the minor characters. :P

Who were some of your other favorites? What was your favorite of the series? My personal favorite is probably..hmm. It's a tie between The Black Cauldron, Taran Wanderer, and The High King, I guess. ;)

Elizabethany said...

Hey! Just letting you know that I've tagged you!

Ivy Miranda said...

I nominated you for the Sunshine Award!

Ivy Miranda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marissa Baker said...

Sorry it took me so long to respond to your questions. I'd just finished a book, so I decided to re-read the series :) I think my favorite is The Castle of Llyr. I would pick The High King, but too many people I like die in that book :( I really liked Prince Rhun.

Re-reading them, I realized that I'd forgotten how annoying Taran was in the early books, and how much I grew to like him by the end. Eilonwy is still awesome, and so's Fflewder. It's just such a good series!