Do you like The Lord of the Rings but wish it was easier to read and had more humour? Then The Chronicles of Prydain is for you. Intended for a younger audience, this series of five books is a good read for adults too.
Inspired by Welsh mythology, the chronicles are set in the medieval fantasy land of Prydain, a land of great warriors, enchanters, prophecies and kings. The protagonist is Taran, an assistant pig-keeper who dreams of adventure. He is drawn into the battle between good and evil, gaining wisdom and loyal friends along the way. The first in the series, The Book of Three, introduces us to Prydain and to the main characters – Taran, feisty Princess Eilonwy, the bard-king Fflewddur Fflam and the good-natured creature Gurgi. The second, The Black Cauldron, is concerned with the quest to find and destroy an artefact which Arawn Death-Lord uses to create zombie-warriors, the Cauldron-Born. The third, The Castle of Llyr, is a mission to find Eilonwy and also introduces the hapless Prince Rhun. The fourth, Taran Wanderer, sees our hero on a quest to find his roots. The fifth, The High King, is about the battle for Prydain and ties up the loose ends. The style and content of the books does develop and mature, like Taran himself. I like all of them but my favourite would be The Black Cauldron (the title of which was used for the notorious 1985 Disney film – more on that in a future ‘film of the book’ post).
The strength of the books is really in the character of the ‘companions’ (as the group of friends are often termed). They are the sort of characters you grow very fond of, each with a distinct personality and quirks. The writing style is not especially literary but it has an elegance and charm. Although there are some tragic moments, particularly in the last two books, there is humour and happiness too. I only have two criticisms to make. One of the best characters, Eilonwy, is almost absent from the third and fourth books, although the fact that we are missing her does allow us to empathise with Taran, who is certainly missing her. And the defeat of Arawn Death-Lord, which the series has been building up to, could have been drawn out more. Blink and you miss it.
Inevitably comparisons will be made between Prydain and The Lord of the Rings. There are many similarities. The main difference (for me, at least) is that Alexander’s writing holds my attention all the way through.
First published individually between 1964-8. My editions published by Fontana in 1986 in two volumes. This was a re-read.