I’ve gotten rather far ahead on my reading, so I’m going to discuss this entire five book series at one time to catch up. By the time this book was recommended to me by my grade school librarian, I had already read The Hobbit, and she thought I would like this one. I did! Alexander is careful to explain in all of his introductions that the series is based on legends from Wales, though creatively reinvented by him for his books. No mention is made of Tolkien, but I recognized similar ideas and themes, particularly in the final book. This may only be a case of two writers going to the same sources, but I can’t help thinking Alexander had read Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” and was influenced by that too. I have no problem with that, what he did is quite different, with appealing characters that will amuse and entertain readers, and clever plots to keep the pages turning. The books also have emotional depth and the relationships and life stories of the main characters ring true and make this series the best that the author produced, in my opinion. Others agree, the second book was a Newbery Medal runner-up, and the fifth won the prestigious Newbery medal for children’s literature in 1969.
In the first book we meet Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper of Caer Dallben. Dallben is an old man who spends his time studying magic tomes like “The Book of Three,” while Taran and Coll, an older worker at the Dallben farm, take care of crops and livestock like the oracular pig, Hen-Wen. Taran is charged with caring for Hen-Wen, and when the pig runs off into the forest, he follows. Soon he is drawn into deeper matters, as he meets Prince Gwydion, son of the high king of Prydain, the land where all the stories take place. Gwydion also wants Hen-Wen found, and they are soon joined by an odd shaggy man, Gurgi, who at first threatens them, and then begs to join them. As the story moves through more of Prydain, we learn about the threat of Arawn, the Death-Lord, who imperils all the good men and creatures of Prydain. Taran loses Gwydion when they are both imprisoned by an evil queen, but he and Gurgi gain two more friends, Princess Eilonwy, who has some magic of her own, and the traveling bard Fflewddur Fflam and his magic harp. Later they meet the dwarf Doli, a curmudgeonly character who loves to complain but helps them all the same. Taran and company try their best to thwart the plans of Arawn and his champion, The Horned King. Eventually they rejoin Prince Gwydion.Continue reading