Pitstop in Prydain

Original cover design by Evaline Ness

While working my way through my Gothic Literature Reading Challenge, I was replacing a book on my library shelf when my hand came to rest on a group of books I had pilfered a few years ago from a local library sale: the Chronicles of Prydain children’s books by Lloyd Alexander. Beloved by kids from my generation and beyond, the story of Taran and friends has always held a special place in my heart. The series consists of five books and if you don’t know them, I highly recommend them for kids and adults.

Some rereads of children’s favorites as an adult doesn’t pack quite the same punch (Honestly, Katie John?) but these stories are an exception. For one, there is still much wisdom  to be gleaned from their passages. Taran’s official title is the humorous and often repeated Assistant Pig Keeper (that the pig Hen-Wren is an oracle renowned throughout the land is another matter), and like many a young hero before him, must grow into manhood through a series of quests. There are battles of good and evil in every volume, and when there are deaths (not graphically depicted but very effective) they are important and often character’s weep. In other words, kids can handle it. And for this age group (late elementary school) the life lessons are poignant.

“There is greater honor in a field well plowed than in a field seeped in blood,” speaks a wise warrior shortly before his death.

Princess Eilonwy is a particularly wonderful female character that will intrigue young girls (and big ones). She is lovely, smart, and every bit as adventurous as her male companions. The romance between she and Taran grows slowly over the story series, and it’s one of respect and true friendship. Other characters include an over 300 year-old wizard, an awkward, but sincere bard, and a creature named Gurgi who speaks in rhymes…plus awesome villains like the Horned King, the evil enchantress queen Achren, and Arawn the Death-Lord. There are also plenty of battles, magic swords, witches, and castles.

The Map of Prydain

From the names of the characters and the setting, one would think Lloyd Alexander was from Wales, but he was my home turf of Philadelphia. Here is a good documentary about the author (in 3 parts) which offers a lot of practical advice for writers. He wrote for seven years (juggling a day job) until his work was published, then many years after that till he found his true genre: children’s fantasy literature. Interesting to note: he wrote these books for himself, not for specific “children” which is probably one reason these books are such classics, and still enjoyable for adult readers.

Disney is currently developing the series. When I told my older sister this (she used to read The Black Cauldron to me–the witches scared me) she groaned, “They’ll ruin it!” I’m afraid she might be right. Fantasy lives best in one’s own imagination.

Once I complete the gothic reading list, this may start me off on a fantasy reading list.


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