In 1964 Lloyd Alexander began a timeless tale of a young boy, yearning to be a man. Loosely based on Welsh mythology, The Chronicles of Prydain feature some figures familiar to fantasy readers: dwarves, princesses, bards, and giants. But what sets these books apart is the sparse simplicity of the story telling. Leaving behind the baroque style so popular in fantasy— elaborate descriptions of minutia, colorful and poetic language in battle – Alexander tells a simple hero story in plain language, taking the time to firmly build his main characters. The Chronicles of Prydain has the feel of a beloved story passed down by parents to children rather than the epic tapestry we’ve come to expect from fantasy.
The Chronicles of Prydain is primarily the story of Taran, an Assistant Pig Keeper and orphan, who longs to become a hero. Alexander uses Taran to show us that the heart of a true hero yearns not for war, but peace; follows not the easy route, but the right route, no matter the difficulty; and that true heroes are forged not by their mighty battles, but by sacrifice for their ideals and friends.
Taran’s best skill is in making friends. In spite of his occasional youthful lapses, Taran is a truth seeker and believer in justice. His honesty and forthrightness draw good friends to him and cause enemies to reconsider their choices. Among Taran’s companions are a wild creature, a girl with the heart of a warrior, an occasionally truthful bard, and a grumpy dwarf. A company that feels cozy and real. In particular the princess Eilonwy has great spirit and, like Taran, captures what I think is a common experience of youth, a feeling of powerlessness in the face of expectations. Also an orphan, Eilonwy is not interested in following her prescribed role. Staying home and sewing does not interest her at all; she’d rather be out adventuring, a pastime to which she is better suited in both temperament and skill.
The Chronicles of Prydain is composed of 5 books, and 8 short stories. The much-beloved series has been honored with numerous awards including the American Library Association’s prestigious Newbery Medal. The focus on justice, honor, and sacrifice reminds me a bit of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of The Rings. If you enjoyed Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series, you should definitely check out The Chronicles of Prydain.
The coming of age elements of the story coupled with the exploration of adolescents making their way in a magical world should be a shoe in for most young readers. But I recommend the series to readers of all ages, particularly those interested in fantasy novels. For adults, it is always educational to see the things that inspired today’s writers when they were young.
A prophesy whispers of a city united by hands of death herself. Not a skeletal specter, but a 12 year old girl in a frilly dress. Heavy is the mantle of the Reaper on such young shoulders. Can Rom face ancient foes, dangerous criminals, and her own destiny? Or will she and all she loves perish? Find out in The Chronicles of Aesirium.