View Full Version : Talking about the Prydain Chronicles

03-13-2013, 06:43 PM
So, I came to The Chronicles of Prydain inexcusably late in my life. I probably ought to have read them as a child or teenager, along with The Once and Future King and others that are often considered classics of fantasy or otherwise fantastical literature for young people. But in this case (as with The Once and Future King, I was fortunate; The Chronicles of Prydain hold up well enough that even at 26, I was able to enjoy them thoroughly, enough so that I spent most of my time reading them wondering why I hadn't read them sooner. How had the world around me failed so spectacularly that these stories had not been given to me, suggested to me, or put in some place where I could stumble across them by happy accident?

So, what's it all about?

The Chronicles of Prydain are a series of five books (and a couple of short stories, as I recall, all prequels written after the main series was finished) written by Lloyd Alexander from 1964 to 1968. They are, in order: The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer and The High King. The second book won a Newberry Honor and the last a Newberry Medal, and somehow both managed to do this without the ultimately instructive and enlightenment-inducing deaths of companion animals. The stories are inspired by (rather than based on) Welsh mythology; they draw names, places, concepts and ideas from the mythology (the Mabinogion in particular) and put them in a setting that is fantastical, but quite strongly evokes pre-Roman Britain, Wales especially. There is some creative license taken with the mythology, in that some of these characters and ideas are not portrayed in quite the same way they appear in Welsh mythology proper.

The central figure of these five books is Taran, who is, perhaps not unique, but certainly rare among fantasy heroes. And why?

Well, the thing is that the major narrative cycle of the books is that Taran isn't a destined hero or anything like it; he's just some random kid who got caught up in the greater adventure of those destined types and rose to the occasion.

I also like that the books do touch on some more mature themes as they progress, in a way that is subtle but not overtly dark. The heroes' successes in the latter half of the series tend to be bittersweet, without feeling emotionally manipulative.

Some of you may or may not realize that you've been exposed to part of the story already. In 1985, Disney made The Black Cauldron, which awkwardly hammered the plots of the first two books together, and also borrowed the romance angle from The Castle of Llyr, and shoehorned it in. I liked the artwork and animation of it, personally, but reading The Chronicles of Prydain suddenly made the movie much harder to appreciate.

So! If you haven't read these books, go and do so! And if you have, read them again! And then come here and talk about it, because I have things to do at the moment and can't talk any more.

03-13-2013, 07:00 PM
The greatest crime I ever witnessed was checking TVTropes for a Chronicles of Prydain page and finding that no one had made one.

03-13-2013, 07:33 PM
I already made this thread. You want a TV tropes page, you go right ahead and make one. :toastybert:

03-13-2013, 07:35 PM
I would rather not sully one of the few bright spots left of my childhood memories, thank you very much. :P

03-13-2013, 07:46 PM
I don't think I've ever even seen these books in the Wild. I know when the Sierra On-line game for Black Cauldron came out I went looking at the school and public libraries.

03-13-2013, 07:56 PM
First time I read these books, I found them in my school library (I was in middle school at the time.) Unfortunately they didn't have all five books, so I read them out of order. About a year later I bought the whole series from a book store and read all five in order. I still re-read them from time to time. Alexander is definitely the greatest influence on my writing of any author I've read.

Was the adventure game any good? I might be interested in at least seeing it.

03-13-2013, 08:29 PM
I don't think I've ever even seen these books in the Wild.

Here you go, little buddy. (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=prydain)

I love the Belgariad, but the Prydain Chronicles are their own special thing. So many great characters and events in just a few short books, each with a much different scope and and usually a self-contained story, but all part of a whole. Lloyd Alexander had a gift.

I've got them all somewhere, and the short story collection The Foundling as well. And now I want to read them again.

The Cauldron Born were probably my first real introduction to zombies and they are still unsettling and tragic to think of. The way they all die and all scream when Taran finally kills one with Dyrnwyn is quite a moment.

03-13-2013, 09:05 PM
I have yet to read The Foundling. This is a tragic hole in my book collection that I should have mended years ago.

03-13-2013, 10:09 PM
The greatest crime I ever witnessed was checking TVTropes for a Chronicles of Prydain page and finding that no one had made one.

Apparently that's not the case (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/ChroniclesOfPrydain?from=Main.ChroniclesOfPrydain) now.

Also, I came in here to mention The Foundling, since I was informed that there were more than just a couple of short stories, but apparently this was already known.

03-13-2013, 10:12 PM
Apparently that's not the case (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/ChroniclesOfPrydain?from=Main.ChroniclesOfPrydain) now.

Not after I found out there wasn't one, no.

03-14-2013, 10:46 AM
I definitely need to read these books again - it's been years and years, and they were right up there with Lord of the Rings for me when I was a kid. I remember Alexander's Westmark Trilogy being really good too, though I don't think I read it as much as Prydain.

Also I was just looking at Alexander's wikipedia page and it turns out he grew up right in my area! Neat!

PS - Fuck you Macmillan why are these ebooks $7 each uuuuugh

03-14-2013, 11:08 AM
Prydain's probably one of my favorite series from when I was younger, and I still like 'em a lot. Taran Wanderer is probably my favorite of the bunch just because of how introspective it is. I think the thing that impresses me the most is how well each subsequent book matured, without going too far into grimdark territory.

Looking up the mythology that inspired it is entertaining, since mythological Gwydion is kind of a dick.

03-14-2013, 04:17 PM
Wow, I haven't thought about these books in a long time. Glad to hear that they hold up.

03-14-2013, 06:03 PM
I just read the five books for the first time last year; I didn't find them particularly well-written by YA standards. After five books, it felt like Alexander got better at crafting a story, but not at telling it in an interesting way. Like his protagonist's pottery, the writing is merely sufficient.

Taran Wanderer is easily the best of the bunch, and the one I'm most likely to read again.

03-14-2013, 07:44 PM
I personally felt that the writing was simple, direct and to-the-point. But again, this was five years ago. I wasn't exactly reading for purposes of evaluation, so anything that wasn't egregiously bad might have gone unnoticed. I just remember enjoying them a lot.

I do think I liked Taran Wanderer the best, though. Like I think I mentioned in the OP, it seemed to be straightforward and kind of obvious, yet also managed not to be really heavy-handed somehow. Kind of a neat trick, really.

Red Hedgehog
03-14-2013, 09:57 PM
Taran Wanderer is very clearly the best of the books. I don't remember much of them since I read them when I was 10 (over 20 years ago), but I do remember that. I was somewhat curious to go back and reread them after hearing pence give his review - curious to see whether I agree with him or thing they hold up better.

03-14-2013, 10:18 PM
Taran Wanderer was my least favorite as a kid due to its meandering story, but I'd easily call it the best of the five books today. Interesting that pretty much everyone seems to agree.

Mostly I appreciate how it serves as the climax of Taran's character development. Book one has him run off to do an important quest, and have it end up pretty much exactly as you expect it would when a kid runs off to do an important quest. He botches everything and the adults have to come in and fix everything while rolling their eyes at him.

By the end of Book 4 he has earned the respect of kings and commoners and you really feel like he's finally reached the level of the mythic folk hero he's always wanted to be. Naturally, by that point he's come to understand that being a wandering hero is fairly pointless when there are so many other concerns in life.

03-15-2013, 08:40 AM
It's been, geez, probably sixteen years since I read these books. Back then, The Castle of Llyr was my favorite. Now I'm pretty sure I'd like Taran Wanderer the best for the reasons that others have mentioned.

Evil Dead Junkie
03-15-2013, 09:16 AM
Manthese books were enormously influential on young edj. I've revisited them on occassion and i'm gratified at how they held up. I love that Alexander apparently thought that the purppse of Children's literature was to scare the shit out of children. The deeply freaky cauldron born have already been mentioned, bit how about The Horned King his arms literally stained red by all the blood he spilled, introduced burning folks alive iside wicker baskets freaky pagan style.

Good times

I've Also always been fond of the ending which is basically Taran turning his back on The Grey Havens so he can help restore his war ravaged homeland. Frodo was a pussy

04-04-2013, 08:57 AM
I came across The High King early in my fantasy reading career (sometime after I had starting chewing through Shannara) at a book fair in school. I'm pretty sure it was there because of the Newberry Award and the guy on the cover swinging his sword around and looking all cool and hero-y grabbed my young attention quick.

I enjoyed the book but never picked up the earlier novels. Maybe one rainy day I should remedy that.

04-05-2013, 08:26 AM
Apropos. (http://www.avclub.com/articles/revisiting-fate-and-parental-lies-in-real-life-and,96092/)

04-10-2013, 04:33 PM
It wasn't until I was in college that I discovered that Lloyd Alexander was also the translator of Sartre's Nausea. That rather boggled my mind.

10-28-2017, 01:03 PM
I decided to pick up the Book of Three and just finished it. I don't have any nostalgia for this series (although I thought The Arkadians was hilarious in 5th grade), so my take on the one I've read so far is basically along the same lines as pence said 4 years ago (whoops, threadromancy). I can plainly see that these would have been much more accessible to a elementary or middle school reader than trying to read Lord of the Rings was at the same age. I'm interested to know how someone who came to the series as a child might have been impacted by them. The things that are just a little too heavy handed (taran's penchant for bad decision making, eilonwy's unerring judgement and sensibility, and fflewddur's extravagances) reading as an adult might have been a lot more subtle as a kid, and give more of a sense of building characters, rather than immediately telegraphing the archetypes each belongs to.

10-29-2017, 10:43 AM
I started reading those around sixth grade, so for me they largely established those archetypes. I didn't even really notice them at the time. I was a bit bored by long stretches of Taran Wanderer as a kid, but I ate up all the rest.

I'd read The Hobbit by then, and/or had it read to me, but nothing heavier. It helps that my sixth-grade teacher read The Book of Three to us as a class over several weeks; he had a tendency to do voices for the characters, so Gurgi has a particular sound to me.

10-29-2017, 11:21 AM
Fflewddur Fflam ranks as one of my all time favorite characters. He's so over the top that how can you not love him? I can't think of an 'archetype' or even any other character that fills quite the same kind of role he does.

10-29-2017, 11:35 AM
Well, he's the Fflam of the piece

Octopus Prime
10-29-2017, 12:30 PM
I only (very) recently discovered the series, and I can definitely see Taran Wanderer being a horrible slog if I were a child, but the strongest of the series as an adult.

Book of Three was still my favorite of the lot, however.

10-29-2017, 12:53 PM
I read Drawing of the Three as a youth and it didn't make a huge impression on me. I read the rest of the series in High School smack dab in the middle of devouring any epic fantasy shit I could get my hands on. The other books were Good, but Taran Wanderer smacked me on my ass. It was the first time I saw that a fantasy book could be about a Character rather than fireballs and swords and battles, that the Epic often paled in comparison to the Personal. So yup while the series is mostly Children's Books, Wanderer was the first truly Adult fantasy I ever read.

10-29-2017, 03:08 PM
I can definitely see Taran Wanderer being a horrible slog if I were a child, but the strongest of the series as an adult.

This was my exact experience.