Rereading THE PRYDAIN CHRONICLES by Lloyd Alexander

Cover illustrations by Evaline Ness

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.

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All images © DC Comics. From PLASTIC MAN #5, July-Aug 1967

These two titles both involve humor but are otherwise unrelated, I’ve just grouped them to get an article of the right length. Plastic Man, created by writer/artist Jack Cole, began at Quality Comics, and had a successful run of 64 issues from 1943 to 1956, and also appeared in their POLICE COMICS. When Quality got out of the comics business, DC bought some of their properties including this one, but they did nothing with it until 1966 when talk of a possible Plastic Man film prompted them to launch a new series. The film never happened, but the character was popular enough to last 20 issues, and often returned and appeared in other titles. Gaspar Saladino lettered the first DC issue. Ira Schnapp designed the logo and lettered many of the early covers, but Gaspar filled in on the one above, where his angular display lettering is quite different from Ira’s more rounded approach.

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All images © DC Comics. From THE PHANTOM STRANGER #8, July-Aug 1970

This mysterious DC character had two series separated by 16 years. For the first one from editor Julius Schwartz, a run of six issues in 1952-1953, Gaspar Saladino lettered many of the stories but none of the covers. For the second from editor Joe Orlando, running 41 issues from 1969 to 1976, Saladino lettered only covers. I’ll begin with those, the first is above. He did the logo as well as the dramatic caption at the top. The treatment of ICE is effective.

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All images © DC Comics. From THE OUTCASTS #2, Nov 1987

There are just two O titles I haven’t covered yet, both from the late 1980s, and both with only cover lettering by Saladino. THE OUTCASTS is up first, a twelve-issue series from 1987 to 1988. Gaspar’s blurb uses unusual letter shapes and texture that adds interest.

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All images © DC Comics. From OUR FIGHTING FORCES #85, July 1964

Like the other DC Comics war titles, this one, running from 1954 to 1978 was edited by Robert Kanigher for many years, and he used his favorite letterer, Gaspar Saladino on most of the stories until the mid 1960s. Gaspar returned to letter lead stories for the final two years. Ira Schnapp was the regular cover letterer, but Gaspar filled in for him occasionally, as on the cover above, which has his wider and more angular balloon and caption lettering. When Schnapp left the company in 1968, Saladino became the regular cover letterer. I’ll continue with covers first, then stories.

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