“Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we can do. Our capabilities seldom match our aspirations, and we are often woefully unprepared. To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers at heart.”
The Chronicles of Prydain, a well known and well loved series by so many, and one that had slipped past my radar as a young girl, look I really loved Narnia and The Harper Hall I just could not put them down. So for the first time ever I went on an adventure that I know deep down in my heart I would have loved all those years ago.
I learned about this series only a few years ago, because I wanted to re-watch Disney’s The Black Cauldron and I don’t own it and this was before Disney+. So I went to the internet to find out what streaming service had it, none did, BUT my library had a copy so naturally I borrowed it from them. But while I was picking it up, my librarian (who is absolutely amazing FYI) said “Oh I love the books this is based on” I was baffled, I had no clue it was based on a book series (of course after re-watching it I noticed the part that said “Based on the books The Chronicles of Prydain by Llyod Alexander” so that goes to show how little I pay attention sometimes). After that I made it a goal to read the books, and this was the year as I jumped at the opportunity to buy them all when my local B&N had the whole series in stock.
Now enough about me babbling about myself and my connection to the series lets talk about the books! First and foremost I love the editions I got, the covers are just so amazing and eye-catching.
What is the series about?
The Chronicles of Prydain follow the adventures of Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper, who sets out to become a hero. Along the way you met a score of fellow characters such as the strong and sharp of tongue Princess Eilonwy, the bard who gets called out on his lies by his harp Fflewddur Fflam, Good ol’ dependable Doli of the Fair Folk and of course the resident creature human beast thing (I don’t know what he is haha) Gurgi, don’t worry he is very reliable. All of these characters find their paths crossing and get involved in the struggle between good and evil. Arawn the Death-Lord is back and his army of cauldron born roam the land and Taran and his new friends set out to stop this evil.
I’m going to skip past all the comparisons to Tolkien, they are out there and everyone and their mom points it out, so I don’t really care to bring it up for the millionth time. At the core of the series it really is all about Taran and his many many quests in his battle to stop evil from taking over Prydain, while also simultaneously learning who he is as a person. It’s a very simple story to follow that has a ton of characters, funny moments, and happy endings. But what I loved and appreciated most was that Alexander did not shy away from including death and heartbreak into his story. Taran goes through a lot in this story and it isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. In one installment he learns how even he himself is capable of thinking dark thoughts in response to a very realistic event, but he soon learns how he acts after having those thoughts are what truly make him the person he most desires to be. This is an amazing lesson that is so flawlessly included in the story, and Alexander does this numerous times through out all 5 books.
Each book does an amazing job standing on their own, as well as being apart of a larger story. Each installment has a beginning and an end (so no cliffhangers) This is, in my personal opinion, a brilliant approach for writing a long children’s series. Keeping a child engaged in reading can be hard and from dealing with my own personal experience with my daughter, cliffhangers a no go for her, so this is a series that would work perfect for her, she knows there is more, but she gets closure at the end of each book which is great.
For me personally book 2, The Black Cauldron, was the best. The entire book just had this melancholy feel to it, from Taran and his self wallowing pity to Ellidyr, I was completely immersed in the story but what captured me the most was Ellidyr. Being able to watch this man who you met as a nasty young lord and slowly realize he acts this way out of pure desperation to be worthy of anything and it ultimately lead to his downward spiral was just fascinating. You start out just hating the guy but then towards the end you start to feel sympathy for him because you understand all of his actions and its heartbreaking. Thusly leading to the end and the impact of his final choice hitting that much deeper. (The final scene with his horse Islimach shocked the freaking hell out of me though, I can not deny that).
My Least favorite of the series is without a doubt The Castle of Llyr, which frustrates me as I was really looking forward to it. I wanted to learn so much more about Elionwy as she was my favorite character and I know as a young girl I would have just loved her to bits, and from the title alone I knew this was going to be the one where that happened. But sadly Alexander went the route of completely removing Elionwy from the majority of the story and spent so much time focusing on Taran and his random side quests. To top if off she was removed from the story because she “needed to learn how to be a proper young lady” (which lead to a series of events) because being a strong willed and sharp of tongue lady is still frowned upon even when creating a fantasy world. Then when she finally comes back into play all of who she is is stripped from her and of course she ends up needing to be saved by Taran. It was a serious mood killer for me, and would have upset me very much as a girl. After that she proceeds to be absent for the entirety of book 4 Taran Wanderer, and while I understand why, it makes her lack of appearance in The Castle of Llyr all the more frustrating.
All the other 3 books where entertaining but really didn’t have much that stood out for me, I did not hate them but I wasn’t completely in love with them either. They each brought something different and each had their layered lessons sprinkled all through out them, very heavily in Taran Wanderer which I will admit had a lot of great character growth for Taran and is vital to the overall story. I will say though the final chapter of The High King was odd as hell, and I would have thought the same thing as a girl. The whole Summer Country thing was just so….weird.
Also for the record I would have been madly in love with Prince Gwydion had I read this as a young girl, he is everything I love in a male character, rational, well-balanced and kind, but also he had that playful wit about him (and the adult me loves him for all these things too but also I loved how he treated and spoke to Taran), just letting you all know that because it is very important.
This was an adventure long overdue and one I’m still baffled I completely missed, but I’m glad I went on it, better late then never right! It’s a tale that holds up quite well (minus a few bits with Elionwy) but a tale none the less that feels timeless. It’s a great entry series for a child who wants to step into the world of high fantasy, with lots of lovable characters, brilliant life lessons with love and sorrow to create a world most enchanting.