Friday, March 21, 2008

Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

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.

[The Book of Three is my first book for the Once Upon a Time II Challenge. Visit the Once Upon a Time II Review Site for more fantasy related review.]

6 comments:

Nymeth said...

The characters and the story do become more complex as the series progresses. The last two books are fairly dark, and Taran grows extraordinarily as a character in "Taran the Wanderer", my favourite book in the series. I hope you enjoy the other books more!

DesLily said...

wow.. it's been many MANY years since I read that series of books.. I'll follow and see how you like them as you read on!

Dark Orpheus said...

Nymeth I'm about 3/4 into "The Black Cauldron" and I like the gradual development of the plot and the possibility of growth in Taran. I agree with Lloyd Alexander's Author Notes, where he wrote: "Even in a fantasy realm, growing up is accomplished not without cost."

The theme of sacrifice is big in "The Black Cauldron" -- I'm definitely going to continue with the series.

Deslily Hmm.. just wondering how many years was that? :)

The story is starting to move in a better (maybe because it's darker) direction for me. I hope the momentum continues. Taran is definitely going through the kind of life-changing experience that forces a character to mature.

Pour of Tor said...

I loved this series when I was little. I believe when it was over I declared to my mother that I was in love with one of the principle characters, while weeping hysterically because it was over. Strangely, I now can't remember anything about it. Your post reminds me that I need to return and reread Lloyd Alexander's books.

Dark Orpheus said...

Pour of Tor It's amazing how many people read it in their childhood, while I had to wait until I am an adult to get to it.

What a deprived childhood, eh?

Carl V. said...

You are not alone, I never read these in my childhood either. It is interesting because having read Lord of the Rings in its entirety for the first time over the last couple of years, it really has spoiled me for fantasy that appears to be exactly along the same lines. That doesn't mean I don't/won't read it and end up enjoying it, but it does tend to push me towards different subgenres of fantasy that aren't so LOTR-ish.