I'm going to write about the final three books of The Prydain Chronicles in a single post, since I ran through all three books in the same weekend. It was a furious weekend, full of reading and sleeplessness.
The Castle of Llyr, Book III of The Chronicles of Prydain, opens with Princess Eilonwy, Daughter of Angharad, Daughter of Regat of the Royal House of Llyr, she of the red-gold hair and the too-sharp tongue, leaving Caer Dallben. Eilonwy is being sent to the Isle of Mona, where the King and Queen will teach her how to be a princess.
If you know what kind of girl of a girl Eilonwy is, you would snicker too.
Coll embraced Eilonwy. "When we see you again," he told her, "I doubt we shall recognize you. You shall be a fine Princess."
"I want to be recognized!" Eilonwy cried. "I want to be me!"
I smiled when I read this. It endears Eilonwy to me, because she wants nothing more than to be recognised for who she is.
Eilonwy is the last living successor to the magic of the House Of Llyr. The magic is available to Eilonwy on her reaching her womanhood. Achren desires the power for herself, and for this purpose, Eilonwy is kidnapped and brought to Caer Colur, the castle where the House of Llyr once stood.
Although her storyline is smaller than Taran, she too has to make a choice – and she chose well, proving she is capable of sacrifice. For one of the great themes of the Chronicles of Prydain is as Dallben said, "For each of us comes a time when we must be more than what we are." Though what this will be is often unknown to us until the time comes.
Taran Wanderer, Book IV continues the journey of Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper (can you tell how much I love saying this?) as he tries to find out more about himself. Specifically, he now knows he wishes to marry Eilonwy, and to do so, he needs to be worthy of a princess. He goes off to answer the question of his parentage – because a princess cannot marry a nobody, much less an Assistant Pig-Keeper.
Taran Wanderer is the dramatisation of something Taran said in The Castle of Llyr, about Prince Rhun: "For a man to be worthy of any rank, he must strive first to be a man." This is the tale of Taran striving to master himself, to learn to be a man.
This is actually my favourite book of the series. My earlier dissatisfaction with the stereotypical plot structure of the series has greatly dimished. Fantasy often works by means of metaphor, and Taran Wanderer works in a systematic structure of a Hero's Quest. Taran has several encounters. From each he learns something valuable. He then undergoes apprenticeship of various trades – from each he learns the wisdom of Life.
From the blacksmith – the life is a forge. "Metal's worthless till it's shaped and tempered!"
From the weaver – that we choose the pattern of our lives. If we do not like the pattern we have woven, we can either continue, or choose to start over. "Either finish a cloak you'll be ill-content to wear, or unravel it and start anew."
From the potter – he learns to put his heart into clay and gives shape to what lies within. "Craftsmanship isn't like water in an earthen pot, to be taken out by the dipperful until it's empty. No, the more drawn out the more remains. The heart renews itself, Wanderer, and skill grows all the better for it."
I appreciate wisdom that is pretty and lyrical – but just because a truth is delivered in a simple but familiar adage doesn't make it any less meaningful. Less glamorous, perhaps – but not necessarily less valuable.
By the end of Taran Wanderer, he returns to Caer Dallben – wiser and changed. He is now a man who can do anything he sets his mind to – and that is the truest mastery of self.
The High King, the final book in The Prydain Chronicles brings the battle against Arawn to the forth. There is betrayal, death, loss, sacrifice, grief – and courage. Finally, there is victory. The secret of Dallebn's Book of Three is also finally revealed, along with the secret of Taran's parentage.
But was the ending satisfying for me? There was closure, and it ended as one might suspect -- the fact is nothing was surprsing about the ending. I have enjoyed the reading of the series, but I know I wouldn't re-read it in any near future.