Tuesday, July 29, 2014

the chronicles of prydain

a couple of weeks ago, after encouraging jackson to read it, i was inspired to read a series i had read before in my early teen years, and i am so pleased that i did.

i had read lloyd alexander's "prydain chronicles" some 25 years ago, but had forgotten a great many of the details of the story that make this such a rich literary adventure.  reading it again, here in my late 30's, was just as rewarding as i remember it being when i was a teenager, if not more so.

the series consists of five books, admittedly aimed at younger readers, (but literature aimed at younger readers in the 1960's feels a bit more advanced than much of what is aimed at 13-year olds today), which tell the story of a young man who lives and operates under the undistinguished title of "assistant pig keeper."  this lowly position is held by a boy named Taran, who wants more than anything to be a hero.  eventually, the adventures of his life afford him the opportunity to become just that, but he learns along the way that being a hero is not exactly what he thought it would be.  in this, then, it becomes a series of stories about identity, and discovering who we are based on our decisions and our actions, rather than our titles and our heritage.

but i'm making it sound too boring.  it is pure fantasy, with terrifying villains and honorable heroes.  it's got battles and escapes and spells and trolls and dwarves and a pig that can give prophecies.  it is a wonderful story of companions, Taran, with eilowyn (a girl about his age), fflewddur fflam (a traveling bard with a magical harp which breaks a string every time f.f. "colors" the truth a bit), and gurgi (a loyal beast of unknown species).  it is full of adventure and loss, victory and sorrow, and, in the end, a wonderfully exhilarating climax, followed by the real coming-of-age of a true hero.

the story is generally based on the lore of wales, with all sorts of welsh spellings and the geography of such a land, but lloyd alexander took the colors of those ancient tales and used them to paint his own picture, one with a strong moral character which wonderfully never becomes didactic or heavy-handed in its morality.

i would highly recommend these books (two of them are newberry award winners [and the first two were merged into one of the most disappointing disney films of all time, called "the black cauldron"]) to young readers, and maybe even to not-so-young readers like myself who would enjoy not only a fun, fantastical adventure, but would also like a reminder about what it means to truly be yourself.

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