Today is Good Friday, and a public holiday. I've taken advantage of the day off to start on the first book of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles: The Book of Three.
Lloyd Alexander wrote in his introduction to The Book of Three, that while some of the characters and plot lines may seem similar to Welsh mythology, it is only very loosely inspired by the Welsh tales.
As the story goes, we are introduced to Taran, a boy dubbed the "Assistant Pig-Keeper", who dreams of battles, honour and a life out of his home of Caer Dallben. He lives with Dallben, a three-hundred year old scholar and Coll -- both of whom are more than meets the eyes.
One day the bees and the chickens flown away. Recognising this as an ill omen, Dallen asks Taran to bring Hen Wen, the oracular pig to him. But Hen Wen runs away instead, and Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper, runs after him. Here his adventures begin. Along the way he meets Prince Gwydion, a son of Don and War Leader of High King Math -- a sort of a Strider figure in the story.
As it turns out, Arawn, the Death-Lord of dark magic and darker ambitions, is after Hen Wen also. His champion and War Leader is the Horned King, a terrible warrior who wears a mask of skull and an antlered helmet; the Horned King is assembling an army towards Caer Cadarn.
The premise of the story is familiar -- it is a young hero's quest, with Taran being helped by companions he picked up along the way. He also earns unexpected allies through his random acts of compassion. There is little that seems extraordinary about Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper, but he manages to come up as a hero at the end. As Dallben reminds him later, no great task is ever undertaken alone. The role Taran plays is not to be the sole hero of the mission, but the one who help hold it all together.
When asked what he wishes as his reward, all he asks for, is to be home at Caer Dallben. Yet when he is home, he finds his surroundings different, perhaps a little smaller, though he still loved his home. Dallben tells him then, that in fact, Taran has become larger after his experience.
I have to admit I'm not 100% taken with The Book of Three. I find the plot a little too abrupt -- things move too fast without sufficient build-up to the action. Taran stumbled upon Gwydion a little too conveniently -- even in The Lord of the Rings, there was a dramatic run-in with the Nazgûl before the hobbits are rescued by Strider.
It may be unfair to compare The Book of Three to Fellowship of the Ring -- but I am the kind of reader who would appreciate a richer fantasy world with deeper characters.
Recognising this, I am still going to continue with The Black Cauldron, the second book in The Chronicles of Prydain. Perhaps the tale will pick up as I progress down the series.